My chief marketing officer and I traveled to southern China recently to visit a large supplier of our blinds.
Everything about this company was enormous and impressive: the sheer size of the operation, the thousands of people it employs, the efficiency of their processes, their rigorous emphasis on quality control. Still, as impressive as it was, what really fascinated us was the value they put on candor.
Unlike our American suppliers, who tend to be tight-lipped about their business strategy, these Chinese owners were surprisingly open. They were willing to talk with us about their growth projections, their expansion plans, and their business challenges.
Sharing this kind of information was helpful as we discussed how we could do business together, not just over the coming year, but also over the coming 10 to 20 years. We generally don’t see this level of openness in our American suppliers, who seem to believe that sharing information is a sign of weakness.
But is it? I believe business relationships only become more valuable with more candor. So with that in mind, here are four things you should reveal to your strategic partners:
- Revenue projections. We Americans tend to say, “Keep your numbers close to your chest.” But that attitude can prevent your suppliers from managing their inventories and other resources efficiently. They have to guess at the price and service levels they need to offer you: If they guess too high, they may lose the business—and you may lose them as an excellent resource. If they guess too low, you may still lose them as a resource. No one can afford to lose money for long.
- Obstacles. No business relationship or project is perfect. Keeping quiet about potential obstacles thwarts success for everyone. If you’re honest, you can work together to solve the problem. Even if you can’t solve it, at least you won’t be blindsided by it.
- Success metrics. When our manufacturers give us special promotions, we share the resulting sales results with them. Yes, they gave up margin initially, but they can see the long-tail halo effect: more future purchases at full cost.
- Appreciation. Some people think that because you pay people to do their work, you don’t owe them anything more. Sure, your attorney stayed up until midnight to finish your contract—"that’s what I pay her for!" But appreciation can go a long way. The next time deadlines loom, whose work do you think she’ll finish first?
Because the Chinese executives shared their strategic information with us, we were equally open with them. Instead of dangling the carrot of the vast volumes of business we could bring them, we both felt comfortable saying we’d start relatively small, build mutual trust and grow together on a shared path.
It was a pleasure dealing with people in an open, respectful, long-term, aligned fashion. Yes, I realize that my naïveté might be showing; I’ve heard the Chinese are tough negotiators.
Still, it’s nice to think that we could always do business in a way where everyone comes out a winner. Don’t you?