Contrary to popular belief, the customer is not always right. Sure, when it comes to partnerships
and building relationships with clients, it is vital to align with their business goals and objectives.
But they hired you to work with them on what is the right course of action, and that is what
relationship management is all about.
They key to building relationships that can last for years and generate further business
opportunities weighs on your ability to truly serve as an extension of your client’s mission.
Sometimes this means more listening than talking and asking questions to learn more about the
organization and its culture and why it is enlisting your services. Most times, there is a much
deeper reason than what appears on the surface, so your engagement of the key players with
whom you will be working is vital to everyone’s success.
In my role as Vice President, Corporate Services at Fannie Mae, I was often considered the
policewoman for the IT Division because I had to enforce operational controls over the other
officers in the department. In order to do my job effectively and best serve the organization, I
was constantly cultivating relationships with these officers prior to issues surfacing that needed
a quick resolution. It was important to be proactive so that when a problem arose, there was
trust and the relationship was already established. It built credibility for myself and my function,
and the officers looked at me as part of their team, not just an outsider there to help only when
there was a problem.
While serving as President and CEO of the DC Chamber, a big part of my job was to influence
votes on legislation by the City Council that had an impact on the business community. I
needed seven votes to pass or defeat a piece of legislation, so every word I communicated to
the Council counted. It was important to build relationships with councilmembers and have
them listen objectively to the business point of view even if they did not agree. We had to
continually be present in city hall re-enforcing those relationships, and not always when we
needed something, but sometimes just listening to their views on key issues. This helped us
when we did come to the table seeking their support because they saw us as an advocate for
the District, willing to attend sessions even when we did not have an issue to debate. The DC
Chamber’s partnership with the DC Council was and was one of the strongest partnerships we
had during my tenure.
In business and in life, relationships are important, and when you really dig down deep, they last
a long time and build loyalty to people and to brands. The entire premise of relationship
management goes beyond the bottom line. It is about ensuring that the partnership makes both
parties better in the long run, and knowing each other’s nuances allows each partner to serve as
a resource to the other.
I see the importance of partnerships every day in my work at Lang Strategies with our client
base. Our clients seek expertise and guidance, not simply someone who says yes to everything.
I assure you, the customer is not always right, and some of my most meaningful work has
evolved because of challenging conversations that the client may not want to hear. In the long
run, they will thank you for it, and authentically be able to call you a partner.