Sow the Seed Before You Need the Crop

As an early-stage entrepreneur, I didn’t fully appreciate the value of nurturing relationships. I thought that if I worked hard and presented a logical case, others would want to work with me. Eventually I realized that I was missing an important part of the equation.  

I wanted CCAW to enter a new segment of the automotive parts industry. It was a massive market and where I saw our growth occurring. We invested in creating a better technological approach to selling these products, but I couldn’t get any vendors to listen. None of them wanted to give us a shot. The conversation would go something like this: “This is great, but we don’t know you” or “How do I know you can do what you say you can do?” I tried for months to get someone to give us a shot. No dice. Then I finally got a lucky break. Someone I had worked with moved to a new company that we’d been eyeing as one we’d like to work with. He vouched for us and described the fruitful relationship we had with his previous employer. An established relationship opened a door that had been closed for months. All of a sudden we got the green light to start doing business with them. We quickly grew the business to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. The vendor was blown away.

There were tons of things I did wrong in this situation, and the biggest was not establishing relationships with these vendors ahead of time. I should have been telling them about my vision and how we were going to make it a reality through innovative technology. I should have been sharing the success we’d had in other product categories. As we built the technology, I should have been updating them. If I had done these things, I’ll bet the conversations would have been much smoother when we were ready to go live with the new category.

I learned that a great idea can be dismissed if it comes from a stranger. And that the same idea (or a worse one) from someone known and trusted can be welcomed on the basis of the strength of the relationship.

If you’re trying to do something that can’t be done without someone else’s buy-in, make a point of cultivating a relationship with them before you need them. They’ll be more likely to want to work with you.