What is the most important asset in your business? Your product or service? Your infrastructure? Capital? Not really.
Your most important asset is the relationships you build along the way. Whether with customers, suppliers or others in your supply chain, these are more important than any other element. I have been establishing two businesses on the same core asset: healthy relationships with like-minded, smart, competent people.
A few years ago I was assigned a project on one of the fastest growing core business segments of my then employer, a large Swiss financial services institution. I was asked to go and build relationships with a large portion of the company that covered interesting markets, and to position my team's products. To build bridges and create distribution platforms where none existed before. I had just joined the company and I had two challenges. I knew little of that particular niche financial product just yet, but this being 2011 I knew a lot about the financial crisis that had just swept across our world, I knew of its roots, as I had been fighting against them from my London based firm for over 4 years, and was only too familiar with high financial exposure, creative risk assessments and margin calls (yes, the film came later). On the downside, I knew nobody in that area of the company, had just arrived from London and was new to Switzerland.
However what we offered was high quality and I was good at relationships. Within 10 months I had mastered the ins and outs of the products and implemented successful product distribution strategies for all global teams, creating new links and networks. This resulted in strong relationships with internal stakeholders, repeated sales of complex structures, and strong mutual trust. My then boss defined me as "outstanding at relationships", at what I did overall and he even went on to organize sessions where I was asked to explain my colleagues and peers how I had built such good bridges and nurtured such beneficial relationships. That was interesting to see. The answer was easy, I did not need powerpoint slides. I care and I listen. I seek real competence. I give before thinking of what's in it for me.
There is no secret, only the habit of committing to give value, to someone else, without asking for something in return. Gary Vaynerchuk calls this 51–49. Jesus called it the Golden Rule. (Read on here)
Most of my corporate life stakeholders are now a vital part of my businesses.
Fast forward of 7 years, I have made successful investments, invested in myself, left the corporate world after 17 years of fun and started successful businesses that were profitable in a matter of weeks. That is however not to say the road has been bump-free, that I have not made mistakes, that life is a fairy-tale or that I ever work less than an average of 12-14 hours a day.
If you want to put it into business terms, what I nourish is my - and my firm`s - social capital. Studies have shown that close to 90% of business decisions increasingly leverage personal relationships. Business relationships can be taken to a deeper level, to a level where trust and understanding, and even empathy come into play. I have always been a "people`s person", a listener and have consistently connected people and joined dots over the years. Whether I should take any real credit for this habit, or whether it is a result of family background, a strong interest in real genuine people that makes me stay clear from loud-mouthed incompetence, or an innate sense of business, is not something I know with certainty.
Trust plays a massive role in building business relationships. The late, famous salesman and public speaker, Zig Ziglar’s quote says it all.
“If they like you, they will listen to you. If they trust you, they will do business with you.”
Trust is built over time and is built on empathy. Understanding where your clients are coming from and understanding their challenges in dealing with a topic, can work wonders for building that relationship.
The best investment you can make in your business and your future is to spend time and build relationships that go deep. Take time to get to know people. People are the lowest common denominator in our businesses. People make, buy, deliver, sell and consume our products and services. Yet, in our current digital age, we will sacrifice relationships by depending solely on email or text to communicate.
'It is in conversation that you discover people’s wants, needs, fears, suspicions, problems and perspective. Conversation takes a commitment of time and it is not a one-time event.
Make it a priority to develop deeper relationships with people. It will pay huge dividends in the quality of the relationships and the opportunities to help and serve one another. Focus on the other person and learning about them. Find ways to help them and they will find ways to help you.
Building strong relationships requires a commitment of time and effort. In my world, nothing happens unless it is on the calendar. Commit it to the calendar and then intentionally focus on relationship building.’ (Source: Forbes)
In the past few months I have met a good amount of very interesting and inspiring entrepreneurs, each with great stories, most working hard to bring and drive impact into our world, into people`s lives and businesses.
It was during an exchange with lovely Katherina G. of Impact Hub, that Flurin`s story came up, and once concepts such as "measuring relationships" were mentioned, I knew I had to go and find out more.
I met Flurin Capaul over tea a few weeks ago, he is the CEO and Founder of Boonea, and helps firms to leverage their relationships, improving significantly their B2B outreach.
Q. Flurin, can you tell us a bit about you and your work?
A. Hi Manuela, of course. I am a 39 year old Swiss software engineer turned entrepreneur. I discovered an interest and love for programming in my late teens and even kicked off my own open source projects early on. After the army I started my career in the IT department of a large Swiss bank and attended night school while working full-time. Over the years I worked in New York, Singapore and Switzerland and noticed how important relationships are professionally as the basis for collaboration.
Q. How did you go from witnessing the importance of solid relationships to making a business out of it?
A. I believed that relationships could be measured, scientifically. I pitched a small test project internally to my then employer, developing an algorithm, running tests and gathering results. I did not have a specific focus at the beginning, I wanted to have solid research to build business cases on. Soon I knew that if we wanted to develop our project to the next level, I had to leave the company and iterate the idea outside of a corporate environment. I have always deeply enjoyed to organize, collaborate and turn ideas efficiently into reality and now I am able to put all this to full use.
Q. So what does Boonea do?
A. Boonea builds AI for B2B sales. Relationships are key in sales and our technology understands relationships automatically. With our network we can boost sales funnels and drive business development goals ahead faster. From detecting warm leads to automated relationship building advice to alerting weak key account coverage.
Q. Who are your clients?
A. Our clients are companies with at least 500 employees and a B2B business division. We measure relationships based on the communication data of the firm. Communicating is investing into relationships. Boonea has an approach to model the firm`s complete network.
Q. What inspires you?
A. My biggest inspiration is Roger Schawinski, a Swiss media pioneer. He has an incredible can-do attitude, inspires confidence and has a strong bubbly personality. He likes to quote Jimmy Cliff “You can get it if you really want, but you must try and try”. This sums up running start up scenarios pretty accurately.
Q. How do you get things done?
A. (Smiles) What helps me to get things done is a burn rate that depletes our liquidity... But more seriously - at the core lies the knowledge that we are on the absolute right track. Research as well as businesses confirm our belief: relationships are key in business development. Our approach of using artificial intelligence to help sales and business development teams focus on what they do best - developing relationships - puts a focus on collaboration.
Q. What drives you?
A. At a personal level my goal is to build a strong business, where every employee, customer and partner truly understands how real and genuine collaboration benefits everyone.
Q. Any advice for our readers?
A. My personal mantra is that if the going get’s tough, we must keep our head up and persevere. Any tough situation will eventually blow over, you just don’t know when. This might not be very helpful in the moment, but the strong belief that there is light at the end of the tunnel always helps. Focusing on the bigger picture always helps - in life and business.
Q. What would you practically change if you could to improve productivity?
A. If I’d have to reduce it to a single thing - don’t answer all your emails. Not everything needs immediate attention, there is much more value in staying focused on a few key activities without letting disrupting notifications distract you.