Through history, global trade has been the olive branch and common language that unites diverse cultures around the world. From the first long-distance trade around 3000 BC, all the way to the Silk Road, the discovery of the American continent, and the development of the Internet, people have engaged in buying and selling. So how did trade thrive considering all the self-destructing wars and disasters that have hit humankind in the last 5000 years? Relationship Building.
Sourcing is part of human history, business etiquette is the life-blood that has made it prosper, and they rely on correctly managing the relationships we form. The reality is that we usually take for granted how important relationships are, so whether you are just starting your first job or you are a seasoned veteran of the business world, do not forget that you need to be able to interact in a positive manner with other individuals. Building and keeping good rapport is critical and often a far more valuable attribute than just being a brain that grew arms and legs. Remember that there are people behind every spreadsheet and presentation.
The Sourcing team acts as both the glue and the buffer for the different relationships that a business needs in order to optimize their spend; understanding your clients, customers, vendors and the rest of the sourcing ecosystem will give you an edge when engaging with them. For some, this might come naturally, for others, not so much, so getting to know a little about who you are dealing with or what their interests are can help break the ice and ease that relationship. You do not have to be an expert on the person and you are not a psychologist either, just one detail is sufficient to start a conversation that will relax the business atmosphere. Eventually you will find something in common that helps to reinforce the relationship, especially if you are there to negotiate. Being seen as a human tells the other person that you can be trusted, that you have empathy, flexibility and great communication skills, all of which are critical for a good negotiation.
Another important aspect of business etiquette has to do with cultural customs and manners. When meeting with clients, vendors, or others, you should always be thoughtful of where they come from, especially if they come from abroad. When dealing with new clients or vendors it’s always a good idea to check the web for some business etiquette tips for that specific country, culture, or region. A good example of this is exchanging business cards with the Japanese or Chinese, they will present their business card to you by holding it from the corners with both hands and may be accompanied by a slight bow. In response you should accept the card with both hands and a reciprocal bow. This process should be repeated by you as well with your business card as a sign of respect.
Be conscious of your actions to avoid being considered rude or indifferent. Practice basic courtesies like avoiding using your phone, computer or other tech gadget in meetings. Consider what signals your body language is sending; are you laid back when you should be sitting straight and attentive? Are you holding the weight of your head with your fist? (You shouldn’t be, unless you are posing for Rodin!). Routine tends to relax some of these basic principles, especially in internal meetings or more comfortable settings, but remember to show your colleagues, clients, and suppliers respect by staying engaged in the discussion.
Basic preparation and awareness will help you in these moments in order to leave a good impression and facilitate communication and relationship building. Just like stone tools evolved into power tools, so have relationships and trade; better relationships yield better results. It is up to all of us to build on that progress by taking an extra minute or going the extra mile to find common ground. Once you have established and nurtured these relationships, you will notice that most negotiations and hardships can be settled more easily and productively.