2 January 2016

The rapport lie... which hides the critical gap to small business customers

Entrepreneurship thought leader John Rosling explains why relationships between big financial and professional services companies and their small business customers hold no value despite the huge investment in building rapport and what they can do to overcome this.

Why are the relationships between big financial and professional services companies and their small business customers utterly devoid of value – despite the huge investment in building rapport?

At a recent event for CEOs of fast-growing private businesses, the head of one of the UK’s largest professional practices opened his address by saying “There are three lies in the world: the cheque is in the post, I’ll love you in the morning and I have a good relationship with my bank”.

The remark was greeted with warm agreement. Yet, the irony was that most of the CEOs would likely say the same about any of their big company service suppliers. Including the one the speaker represented.

The problem is the yawning gulf between most ‘corporate’ professionals and their entrepreneurial customers and partners. Whilst corporates believe they are ‘relationship building’ the impact on the actual relationship is minimal;  Professionals create ‘rapport’. Entrepreneurs crave value.

The truth is that most big company people have no personal experience of running a small, fast-growth business. They find it hard to step into their clients’ shoes. Rapport is established but real empathy is lacking. It’s then too easy for the professional to default to ‘product’ as they’ve never established what the customer really wants.

And it gets worse. Their brains are just wired differently. Big company thinking attracts and rewards those comfortable in their data-driven, cerebral cortex, ‘think’ mode. Fast-paced entrepreneurial environments attract those far more likely to operate in an intuitive, ‘feel’ or limbic mode. Private business makes choices on gut instinct. Professionals make choices empirically. It’s a major handicap in forming powerful relationships.

Frustrated by their experience of corporate relationship management, a group of entrepreneurs set out to design a programme that would transform the relationship between corporate managers and entrepreneurial customers by radically changing the manager’s understanding of what it is like to run a private business and allowing them genuinely to step into the customers’ shoes.

The results have been remarkable, scoring NPS in the 80s and 90s and resulting in measurable improvements in relationship measures across the board as well as significant multiples of ROI in terms of new business won.  As one banker observed “The client had rejected meetings over and over again. Using this new approach we got him talking about what he really wanted to talk about. We had the meeting on Monday. On Friday we got a £5m mandate!”

So what’s the secret?  The programme is all about creating heightened awareness and enhancing both the human intelligence capabilities and the strategic insight of the professional. Where it departs from anything that has gone before is the fact that it has been designed by entrepreneurs and is delivered by entrepreneurs. From a Learning perspective this creates a remarkable degree of impact and engagement resulting in the motivation for sustainable change. As one delegate reported “I learnt more on this two day course than in most of my MBA!”.

In today’s fast moving world ‘rapport’ is not enough. What is needed is the creation of genuine value. And that comes from educating and inspiring relationship teams to truly understand both the customer and their business and to be able to create value for both. That is the source of sustainable relationship. And those who win the relationship battle will win the war. For more tips and advice

Prolific writer and speaker John Rosling is CEO of Contexis and an expert in entrepreneurship.

Sign up to our blog updates