Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

One in a Row

A couple of evenings ago, I had dinner with two people I have known for years. It all started in 1990, when we were not getting paid for a project their company had an interest in. They stepped in, paid our bill and we finished. Since then, we have maintained the relationship and tried to do our best.

That great night of reminiscing has been on my mind ever since. There have been good times, bad times and even times when the relationship was teetering. Still, the connection has remained solid. How did we form a bond with this large company, partnering on many projects spanning more than two decades?  We stay connected, we communicated, and when we made a mistake with these folks, we admitted it. It all started with one opportunity which we built upon.

Most of us do not need a zillion opportunities, just one chance to have a relationship that may turn into a long term business opportunity. We just needed one in a row with this client. Which then became two in a row… Pretty soon one’s business begins to take shape. Subject to normal cycles, you will be successful following some simple lines.

A few thoughts:

  • I try to talk with our customer relationships as if they’re the only one in the room. Because as far as I’m concerned they are.
  • At the end of the day, it’s all about one relationship, not thousands of Twitter followers, or five posts a week sent to who knows who.
  • Business Relationships are best built when the guns are blazing, the ox is in the ditch and there’s no place to go but up. It may not be this dramatic,  but business relationships can be a bit like a marriage. They are strengthened over time, through ups and downs.
  • With all of the tools in the toolbox–social media, almost instantaneous connects, Web 2.0, good English and the written word not to be forgotten–it is much easier to communicate today than ever before. Find the appropriate means, and stay in touch.
  • Also we always try to start our business relationships where we see opportunity for success, even if there isn’t a project on the immediate horizon.  We look for people and values that are a “fit” all the way around, then see where this takes us.
  • Long term, the experience becomes the relationship. Most companies are built one at a time.

I like our model. What about yours?  


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.