3 Things you need to develop long-term relationships

In August, Ginger and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage. We began dating while attending Louisiana Tech University. What started as an acquaintance through a mutual friend group developed into a friendship and culminated in a lifelong committed relationship.

In 1981 we were married, sealing our commitment to one another. Going through the phases of “hanging out with friends,” then on to dating, and then eventually engagement, was all part of the process leading to marriage. I wonder how successful our marriage would have been if we had not gone through that relationship development? Arranged marriages are common in some cultures but are very foreign to most Americans.

Becoming a Partner

You are probably asking yourself, “What does the paragraph above have to do with manufacturing—or any business concern, for that matter?” Well, honestly there are a lot of parallels between building a successful, long-term marriage and building a successful business arrangement, particularly a successful partnership.

After all, each relationship with a customer that develops into a long-term partnership begins much the same way as a marriage courtship.

Even further, when businesses decide to form a legally binding arrangement like a merger or acquisition, the stakes if the “marriage” does not last can be catastrophic. Just as when a marriage ends, the divorcing parties in a business relationship are not the only ones impacted by the separation.

Several years ago, I wrote an article and blog that was titled “Becoming a Trusted Partner.” The content of that article still resides in a slightly different format on the KTM Solutions blog.

By starting small, both entities in the relationship can learn about each other and develop mutual trust in a safe environment. As the relationship develops, mutual trust and commitment can increase over time and culminate in becoming a trusted partner.

Like a good marriage, all parties take care of one another. Because there is a relationship between the entities, there is great collaboration and both parties work diligently to protect the relationship and work toward mutual success. Both parties develop a track record together where trust is key, and each party can assume the best intentions in the other.

This doesn’t mean there are never struggles or conflicts. But because of the relationship, and commitment to the partnership, each party works to make the marriage successful.

Finding Compatibility

Have you ever experienced a scenario where one party attempts to rush the relationship? KTM Solutions has been in existence for over 16 years. During our tenure, we have had suppliers assume even on the first visit that they had earned “partner” status. As a successful business, KTM Solutions has also had multiple suitors wishing to merge or buy the business.

In almost every case, these “marriage proposals” came before we had even done any business together. Although business mergers and acquisitions can be impersonal, almost like an arranged marriage, I wonder how much more successful these “marriages” would be if both sides were to develop a relationship and learn to work together first?

KTM Solutions has developed relationships with several complementary businesses over the years. These relationships were developed by working together over a period of time and getting to know each other very well. We have learned to communicate and share learning. We understand each company’s culture and how it fits with our culture. We take care of each other. When one of our partners is struggling, we work with them to help them rise. If our company has a problem, we know we can count on these relationships to help us solve the problem.

We also have this kind of relationship with some of our customers. They know they can trust us to give them fair pricing, quick response, and support, even if it’s outside of the contract terms we originally agreed to. In short, we take care of each other and ensure that the other’s best interests are served. In my humble opinion, to become a trusted partner with a customer should be the goal for all service providers.

Achieving Stability

To be perfectly honest, it’s getting to the “trusted partner” relationship that makes this work enjoyable. But this is where the marriage analogy breaks down. It is possible to have this type of relationship with more than one customer and supplier. In fact, I suggest that we should strive to find ways to be a “trusted partner” with all of our customers and suppliers.

If you can get to that level of relationship, I am confident you will find much less stress in your life and much more enjoyment. Achieving mutual success is what KTM has always strived for. I encourage you to make that goal a key part of your personal and business plan. I am proud of my marriage to Ginger and the relationship we have built. In fact, it is a relationship that we both continue to build and improve.

I guess you could say we have a partnership that is built on mutual trust and the desire for mutual success. Wouldn’t it be great if you and at least one of your customers could look back at some point in the future and say, “The last 40 years have been a wonderful win-win partnership; I’m so glad we started working together all those years ago”?  It’s never too late to start the journey toward trusted partner.



Paul V. Kumler, P.E., is president and founder of KTM Solutions, an engineering company that services the aerospace and large-scale manufacturing industries. KTM Solutions designs and builds custom machines and “tooling” (jigs, fixtures, below-the-hook lifting systems) supporting a broad clientele and various industries. (www.ktmmechanical.com) The company is headquartered in Greer, South Carolina, with a remote office in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Kumler serves in several volunteer roles including the SC Aerospace Advisory Board. Mr. Kumler, a professional engineer, is licensed in Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. He is married to Ginger A. Kumler. Together, they have two grown children and three grandchildren.

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