The natural aging process has taught me a lot. As I get older, I find that my memory isn’t as sharp, my physical strength is decreasing, and simple wounds take longer to heal. These are the struggles that everyone faces as an artifact of making annual trips around the sun. Another product that comes with age and continuous learning is maturity and a greater realization of human limitations. As a young man, I had this illusion that I could accomplish whatever I had the intellect and physical strength to do. Maturity and wisdom have shown me that, even as a young man, my actual power to accomplish and make change was very limited. I’ve also learned that no person is an island and that we all need a little help from our friends.
As a business owner, I have learned you can never have too many friends. Informal alliances and solid relationships with suppliers, customers, advisors, and even competitors can make the difference between life and death of your business. Relationships where technicians, professionals, craftsman, and business leaders work together to achieve a mutually beneficial end lead to long-term business success and greater personal satisfaction. When done correctly, each person involved receives a blessing and benefit. Everyone wins.
You might be thinking, “How does forming alliances with a competitor make sense?”
Consider this: Whenever you enter into a business relationship with a buyer, they expect to have their needs met. Occasionally, especially in a services business, it’s possible that your capacity to address the customer’s problem isn’t sufficient to meet their demands (i.e., all of your people are busy serving other customers). Your customer might understand this scenario, but that doesn’t solve the problem.
Having a strategic relationship with a competitor might allow you to meet your customer’s demands and solve their problem. A life lesson: customers remember those who solve their problems, even problems that may have resulted from your own failure. I have found that people tend to remember the resolution to the problem far longer than they remember the root cause. Bottom line, your customer needs you to solve their problem.
At KTM Solutions, we promise to provide “On Demand Engineering,” meaning that we will start a project within 24 hours of a contract (1 business day). In the 16 years since our founding, we have never failed to deliver on this. Probably the most significant test of this promise was a contract that required 6 engineers to start on a project 1000 miles away with very little notice. In fact, we received the request for quote on a Monday, submitted our proposal that Thursday, received the order on Friday, and had 6 engineers on site the following Monday. How did we do it? Relationships outside of KTM and the ability to make quick decisions and arrange the proper business-to-business agreements.
There is nothing more satisfying than solving a customer’s problem. Whether it is providing engineering services, designing and delivering a tool, or connecting the customer to a partner services provider, these solutions are remembered and lead to better business. It’s about trust. Developing trusted relationships with companies that provide a complimentary product and service, establishing long-term business agreements, and finding ways to completely satisfy the customer will lead to success and repeat business. When a trust relationship develops, perfection isn’t a requirement. After all, nobody is perfect. Responsiveness and working to solve any issues quickly and effectively will build repeat trust.
Especially if you are a small business owner, your ability to solve problems quickly may require a little help from your friends. For example, if your business outsources parts of the total solution or requires purchased parts from distributors, having good relationships with sources for those products and services is key to providing an exceptional service to your customer. When a part of the system fails or does not work as expected, relationships where your suppliers care as much about solving the problem and will assist you in a resolution are a must if you are to protect your customer’s interests. It is vital to establish solid relationships before the support is necessary so that help will be there when you need it.
No person or business is an island. I recognize that the success of KTM Solutions is dependent on the success of my partners and suppliers. I also recognize that the customer has a role in this as well. Open and honest dialogue throughout the process makes every job go better. Hidden agendas and lack of transparency lead to issues that need not occur. Business works best when we begin with mutual success in mind. Everyone needs to win and everyone needs to succeed for the transaction to be beneficial to all. One of KTM Solutions’ core business principles is assurance of mutual success. We recognize that our business will not be successful if our suppliers, partners, and customers are not successful.
Perhaps you have a strong relationship with your suppliers, partners, and customers. Maybe you are at the point where you have recognized that brute force and determination are part of building a successful business but that there are limitations to your capabilities and capacity. With this, you have come to the place where you need to establish relationships. Or maybe you are still thinking that you’re an island and that success will only come if you can do it all yourself. If this is where you are, I encourage you to rethink. If you build bridges from your island and develop great business relationships with your partners, suppliers and even your competitors, I’m confident you will find more business, provide a better service to your customers, and find greater enjoyment in the journey.
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, 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.