Product first, relationships second

Product first, relationships second.

This Friday and Saturday, my father and I went on a business trip to Bangalore and Hyderabad. We met with two of our largest customers in Bangalore and had a bit of a sad set back to our plans for Hyderabad.

Our goal was to demonstrate our new analog and digital meters to these customer and solicit orders and feedback. I won’t bore you with the details but broadly these visits were no different than the ones I make for my current employer. The meetings were warm and frank. We spoke to the business owners rather than management representatives and we had a real personal, heart to heart chat because we have known these customers for over 15 years. The conversations included typical Hindi abuses at times, which was very different than meetings for my multinational employer. 🙂

The customers here are interested in getting more than the best product for their money and adamant about what they want and why. They move slower than customers in the US but pace of change seems similar to Japan and the UK. One of the customers was keen to experiment with new tech, the other wasn’t. Even though he is younger and more tech savvy.

We went to Hyderabad to attend the wedding of one of our dealer’s daughter. His extended family includes many of our dealers and we thought it will be good to meet all of them at once. When we got to Hyderabad we found out that our dealer’s uncle had died the night before. This was sad because this uncle had introduced us to this dealer and he was also our dealer in Chennai since 1972. My father actually cried at this news. This was very unlike any visit is ever been to for my current employer. We decided to postpone all business talks with this family until they had a chance to deal with this loss.

We met an enterprising young guy at another dealer’s shop in Hyderabad. He worked for Selec in marketing for 10+ years. He gave us great input on our strategy for digital and analog meters. This was the best conversation of the entire trip.

Like customer visits for my employer around the world, this trip was about relationships and building trust and demonstrating that we are an innovative company to our customers. It did make me question conventional wisdom, which states that relationships are the key to a successful business. You can have the best relationship with our customers but if they think you are not giving them the best price or not delivering on quality – you will be thrown out. One of 15 year customers did this to us 6 months ago. We can still go to his house and spent time with his family but that business is gone. I’m not suggesting that you stop investing in relationships. I’m suggesting that keep the product first and relationships second.