Relationship Management: It’s More Than You Think
By Pepper de Callier

The idea for this column came from a conversation I was having several years ago with Jim Amos, the CEO of what was then the world’s largest non-food franchiser, Mail Boxes, Etc.

We were having coffee in his office one day, and I asked him what the most serious skill deficits were in the management level people he’d recently encountered either through interviews or who had worked for him. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “Pepper, it has to be relationship management.  People today think that relationship management is all about getting someone to buy more of whatever it is you’re selling.  They miss the point entirely!  It’s about building trust, active listening, caring about people and trying to see things from their point of view, being reliable, and offering assistance at times with noquid pro quo in mind.”

Jim’s intensity and his words stayed with me and caused me to reflect on our conversation for quite a while.  Relationship management has taken on even more importance as a required skill since we had that conversation.  In the past when people discussed relationship management it was in an external context—customers.  Today, though, it is just as important in an internal context—people inside your organization.

Let’s take a look at the external component first.  We are all in business to make money, right? Wrong.  Successful people are in business to serve others. Period.  The money comes as a result of serving others in some way.  How?  It’s quite simple.  People like to do business with people they trust.  How do you earn their trust?  By building a relationship that is geared to long-term, not short-term transactions.  For example, let’s say you are selling widgets and you meet someone on a sales call for the first time and in your conversation you learn that they’re exploring new ways to structure their employee training program. (Nothing to do with selling widgets, right?  Wrong.  Read on.)  A few days later you come across an article in a journal about new thoughts on structuring employee training programs and you email it to them with a short cover note saying, “I saw this and thought you might find it interesting as you structure your new program.” 

Now, what’s happened here?  You have demonstrated to someone that you really were listening to them when they spoke of something unrelated to you making a sale, that you remembered them in a broader context than just as a customer, and that you took the time (time is a key element in building relationships) to send them an article.  In a word it shows consideration and that is what relationship management is all about—consideration of others.  Here’s another example: My biggest client turned out to be someone who I had previously advised not to do business with me on a specific project.  He took my advice and then a year later, because I had earned his trust, he came back to me with another situation that I could indeed help him with.  The relationship actually began when I advised him not to do business with me.  Without going into the details of the situation, suffice to say that, at that moment in time, I honestly felt that for his own good he should pursue a course of action, in this particular instance, in which I would have no participation.  He never forgot it and over the years we have also become good friends.

Let’s take a look at the internal piece of relationship management. Since the demise of the bureaucratic, hierarchical command and control model organizations have become flatter and a new word has emerged in the lexicon of management: matrix.  Simply stated, a matrix is a network of intersections versus a straight line from point A to B.  In a matrix, to get to B from A you might have to go through K and X.  In other words you will need the help of K and X to reach your goal.  In today’s world you must be able to influence the behavior of people you don’t have direct control over and that is done by building and managing relationships internally as well. 

I think this whole concept is summed up nicely by this quote from a magazine interview with Procter & Gamble’s Global Human Resources Officer, Richard Antoine: “The days of the lone-ranger manager who thinks, 'Everyone else is my rival,' are over. Individual performance still matters, but you won't perform well in this complex world if you aren't collaborating with and getting help from lots of people. Leadership is on the list of the top 10 qualities we look for, but so is the ability to build diverse and collaborative relationships.”

Good luck on your way up!   

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

Follow Pepper on YouTube: A new inspirational video message is posted every Monday - Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By. 

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