Technological advances have made relationship building easier than ever. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to remember that although these advances provide us with tools to assist us in what we call Relationship Architecture™, these tools, in and of themselves, are not what building a business relationship is all about. There are certain principles that have stood the test of time and still apply today, even with the ever-evolving technology landscape. The biggest problem is that these advances can mask individual inadequacies in creating unbreakable relationships.
Living in a world before laptops and smartphones, our parents and grandparents lacked the gadgets and applications that we have today to help build relationships. Not to date myself or anything, but my career, too, predates cell phones and the web. Did this prevent us from networking and building great relationships? Not at all. Our parents and grandparents may have been even more proficient at this task, because they had to focus on, develop, and organize their relationships without the crutch of technology. Today, there are folks who have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, yet lack any true relationship-building skills. They’ve just got good timing and a better understanding of social media.
Social media is not a new concept. At its core, it is basically networking through technology. The principals are the same as they’ve always been; it’s just the technology that is evolving. Take CB (Citizens’ Band) radio, for example: In the ‘70s, CB radio allowed individuals to broadcast a statement, engage in conversation, and invite people to gather at designated locations. It wasn’t called a “tweet up,” but that’s essentially what CB radio allowed users to do. Though the radius and reach were limited, the basic principles of CB radio are the same as Twitter; only the technology has evolved, providing us with greater opportunity. That is a key point: Technology is an opportunity, but it’s neither the beginning nor the end of a relationship.
When I was growing up, at the end of my street there was a corner store called Marty’s. The owner was a short, bald Italian immigrant who had less than a high-school education. The most he interacted with technology was on the adding machine used to ring up customers’ groceries. But even though Marty didn’t have access to a computerized database, he was remarkable at building relationships because he understood what was important in building interpersonal credibility. He knew he wasn’t just delivering groceries.
Marty was always there to greet us and check in, to see what we were up to and how we were doing. His made us feel comfortable and welcome, and this welcoming atmosphere brought us back again and again. We trusted Marty. He was as much a part of our lives as eating and breathing.
On the other corner of our street was a store called Frank’s, but we never shopped there, even when Frank had specials. Frank was a good dude, but Marty was our guy. Marty’s dedication to the relationship earned him that loyalty. No computer, no smartphone—just a complete understanding of how to build a relationship. Marty understood what many today miss: One must pay attention to and tend a relationship, just as one would tend a garden, if it is to grow and flourish. Marty was a Relationship Architect, and he never even heard of the term.
Relationship Architecture is a method for building relationships by design, rather than over time. It’s an approach not only to expediting new relationships, but also to fully maintaining and expanding on current ones. One of the mechanisms we created as a tool for Relationship Architecture can be explained by the acronym DELIVERS, which is a discipline that helps people pay attention to and tend the relationships they are attempting to build. These ingredients are nothing new to anyone who builds relationships. However, focusing on these elements will ensure that your budding relationships receive the proper care and attention.
Dedication is all about the little details of a relationship; if you can’t get those right, you will be in trouble with the big stuff. The first E is for energy, as positive energy evokes positive responses. Loyalty is pretty self-explanatory. Investment is the core of the acronym, because if you don’t know what people like and dislike, you will never be able to give them what they want. Vision is all about understanding where you want the relationship to go; if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll never get there.
The second E is really two words that work together harmoniously: engagement and entertainment. Make sure you are constantly top of mind with your clients and give them reasons to come back for more. This is a great responsibility. Treat the relationship properly and with respect (which could be a bonus R) and it will always be there for you. Last, but most definitely not least, is sacrifice. Relationship Architects who DELIVER are great; the Relationship Architect who DELIVERS is spectacular. Anytime you sacrifice yourself for a relationship, that action, regardless of magnitude, strengthens the bond tenfold.
DELIVERS works, whether you, like Marty, are trying to ensure your customers’ loyalty, whether you’re trying to expedite the service of a vendor, or whether you’re simply trying to enlist the help of a coworker. The basic problem is not with understanding the principals of DELIVERS; it’s that we do not pause to think about when to put them into action. Everyone’s life is busy and many of us are barely getting done what we need to get done, never mind what we want to do. That’s why having a system to keep you on your toes when it comes to building relationships is so beneficial. If you can truly count on the bonds you’ve created, those relationships and networks will help you accomplish more (and more quickly).
Back in the late ‘90s, I left a sports radio station in Boston to run the marketing department for the New England Patriots. I had never worked for a sports team, and I was new to marketing in general. It was an exciting opportunity, but I was more than worried that I was in way over my head. It was my grandmother who convinced me that I would be fine, reminding me of the relationships I had in radio. I can still hear her: “All of those people you helped and worked with when you were at the station will be there for you in this new chapter of your life.” She was spot on. Just because I was moving on to a new chapter didn’t mean the book was finished.
This turned out to be not only very true, but also the reason for much of my success. Many of the relationships I built in radio were there to help me in various ways when I was with the team. Being able to pick up the phone and make one call to get things done made me not only more efficient, but also more effective. One of the first things I did at the team was build the Patriots Experience, an interactive fan festival. Once built, we needed to fund it; fortunately, a past relationship at The Boston Globe was there to support it and became the title sponsor. Whether it meant revenue or just being able to call a printer and get materials turned around more quickly, the groundwork that had been laid during my job in radio really paid off with the Patriots.
The funny thing is that I didn’t even consciously realize I was using DELIVERS; it just came naturally to me. It wasn’t until I started leading motivational meetings for my sales team that I began developing the DELIVERS discipline. It quickly became apparent that it was much more difficult to get things done when relationships were not properly built.
So, we made a little game out of seeing how many attributes of DELIVERS we could incorporate into a given encounter. Throw a little D in with some I, maybe add a dash of E. It might sound silly, but the more attention we paid to the characteristics of DELIVERS, the stronger the bonds we forged.
Life is hard enough as it is, and while you may think you can accomplish things alone, the reality is that we are each only as good as the people and the relationships we surround ourselves with. The more people we can count on, the more folks we can turn to, the better shot we have of getting things done and making our mark.
It’s not about how smart you are or what tools you employ—remember, Marty didn’t have computers or a high-school degree—it’s all about whether or not you pay consistent attention to your relationships and tend them properly.
It’s not rocket science, but it is a science of sorts. If you follow the formula, you will DELIVER solid relationships.
Lou Imbriano is the president and CEO of TrinityOne, a marketing strategy and business advisory consultancy that works with organizations to turn their marketing efforts around and increase profitability by building stronger consumer ties and a more trustworthy brand. Lou was formerly the VP and chief marketing officer for the New England Patriots and Gillette Stadium, and chief operating officer for the New England Revolution. He is an in-demand speaker on relationship architecture, customer service, marketing, and social media, and he teaches sports marketing at his alma mater, Boston College. Lou is also the author of Winning the Customer (McGraw-Hill, 2011).