Ajay Pattani is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from Chicago and founder (and reigning ping pong champion) of Perfect Search Media, a digital marketing agency. An entrepreneur who understands both the importance of digital communication and interpersonal interactions, Ajay shares the lesson he learned about nurturing the human aspect of his business relationships.

As an entrepreneur who has successfully launched and grown a company, I always thought I was good at managing relationships. But life has a way of teaching us lessons through experiences, and I recently learned one that has forever changed the way I conduct business.

The lesson came in the form of two clients, Kasey Gandham and Mike Shannon, co-founders of Packback, a social learning platform.

Not only do I consider Kasey and Mike to be experts in relationship management, but I'm also blown away by how much they understand the importance of the human element in business.

What's the human element in business?

The human element in the client-agency world can be summed up by one simple concept: We all want to work with people we like. It's important to go beyond the traditional business setting and develop strong working relationships; I'm talking about more than just playing a round of golf together once a year. Achieving a healthy working relationship requires an investment of time, energy and dedication into developing and maintaining it with an eye toward mutual success.

Within two weeks of our initial engagement with their company, Kasey and Mike asked me to grab a drink with them one night after work. As the agency owner, I chastised myself a bit, thinking: "It's my job to ask them to grab a drink." I immediately knew that they understood the value of our relationship moving beyond a superficial business exchange.

To their credit, they went a step further and soon asked our agency account team to join them for a drink--and notably requested my absence. I wasn't offended because I'm usually the life of the party. I saw this action for what it was: a conscious, strategic move to strengthen their relationship with the account team. I was impressed.

Strong relationships lead to growth

As a result of Kasey and Mike laying the groundwork for deepening the personal relationships with both their account team and me, we've seen incredible growth for both of our organizations. This includes the following milestones:

  • The account team knocked our level of service out of the park by completing a major project in a matter of weeks.
  • I became a minor investor in their company, which strengthened our relationship and further aligned our interests toward success.

As entrepreneurs, we always aim to provide stellar client service. To ensure that, we must recognize that there is a human element in everything we do. In our digital age, it is mostly unnecessary to meet face-to-face, because we can complete so many tasks virtually. That's what makes the human element even more powerful: By meeting in person, you let the other person know that you value them and their talent far beyond what they can do for you. You can't overestimate the ROI of a meal or a round of drinks with clients because it goes so much deeper than just eating or drinking together. Meeting in person and connecting on a human level has proven time and again to be the most important investment I can make. My experience with Kasey and Mike confirms once again how success goes hand-in-hand with strong, personal business relationships.

I don't believe that initiating this level of relationship should be dictated by who's invoicing and who's paying. By understanding our client's business goals and relaying our own, we create the opportunity for enhanced success through leveraging our respective networks. We root for the success of all our partners because our success is intertwined with theirs. And the better we get to know them, the higher the level of success we can mutually achieve.

When Kasey and Mike invited me to grab a drink all those months ago, it was more than just an opportunity to sip wine with the founders of a great company. It was the beginning of a brilliant working relationship--and the moment I learned one of the most valuable business lessons of my career.