One of the most fundamental insights that we have gained in auditing relationships between clients and suppliers over the years is that businesses don’t have relationships with businesses – people have relationships with people.

Years ago I went to a new business meeting at one of the big breweries. The meeting went well and we clicked, but there was no business at the time. While my contact was driving me back to the station, we were chatting and he mentioned his love of canoeing.

Two weeks later I was reading a Sunday newspaper and there was an article about how canoeing was the new ‘rock and roll.’ I clipped it out and sent it to him with a handwritten note.

He rang me the next day, thanking me for the note and offering me a small project to work on. This, in turn, led to more work and in a year’s time he became a top five client. All through canoeing.

I call that the ‘X’ factor: the quality of the interpersonal dynamics and the day-to-day working relationships which can transform and invigorate performance. But this sits uncomfortably with our finding that in nearly 50% of cases suppliers fail to recognise that their relationship with their client is effectively reliant on just one person. If that person leaves and there is no natural successor the business could walk out the door, too.

The other side of that coin is making sure the right people with the right chemistry are in the right job. It’s what I think of as casting for business. That’s why we always suggest to suppliers that, when creating teams to work together, heads of client servicing see themselves as casting directors. Like director Steven Spielberg, they have to find the right people for the right roles with different skills that they can mix and match.

Let’s call it the ‘A Team’.

This can be a delicate operation. When I was a young account manager at one of
London’s top agencies, we used to put an intellectual powerhouse of a team together for new business prospects. So why were we only converting one in four or five pitches?

To me it was obvious. We weren’t offering clients the team that would be the best interpersonal match but the one that looked most impressive.

The agency was, in a sense, intellectually mugging the clients as they came in the door. This is fine if you are dealing with an astrophysicist, but there aren’t too many of those around. When you are dealing with beer or carpet brands you want people on the team who are not only professional but whose personalities also suit.

After all, you wouldn’t ask Nicole Kidman to play an Angelina Jolie all-action hero, would you? Make sure the right people are in the right role and you can create magic.