Best Practices

Best Practices


We have been hearing the term relationship reset for a while now, with regard to both Hillary Clinton and now President Trump attempting to put the relationship between the United States and Russia on a new, more constructive path. Efforts by the former didnt seem to work, and the latter is too early in the process to judge but is fraught with difficulties. No doubt in your business you have some relationships that you might wish to reset. Can you succeed?

Based on my experience, it is indeed possible to reset a business relationship, but it isnt easy. It takes time, commitment and willingness to see past historical differences and disputes. I will recount some of my experiences in this area and offer some tips and techniques.

When I was appointed as a procurement manager some years ago, I became aware of a situation with a major supplier that required attention. There were unresolved pricing disputes going back several years and amounting to a significant sum of money. The supplier did not seem to value our business sufficiently, perhaps in part due to the fact that different supplier salespeople were responsible for different product lines sold to us, and no one seemed to have the overall picture. There was little long-term dialogue or sharing of planning information.

I decided to try to change the course of the relationship, and set up a one-on-one meeting with the manager at the supplier responsible for the lions share of the products sold to us. I went into the meeting thinking that I had the upper hand since the supplier owed us money and we were a big customer. This proved to be somewhat faulty thinking. What I learned at the meeting, which was done in an informal setting over dinner, was that there were issues on both sides that caused the pricing disputes, and that the supplier no longer saw us as a strategic customer for various reasons.

After a long discussion, my counterpart and I agreed that we needed to reset the course of the relationship. What we did included the following:

Set up a small team to research and recommend how to resolve the pricing disputes.

Conducted annual, higher-level meetings at which we could share longer-term business planning information.

Conducted periodic reviews of the overall business between our companies.

Ensured that any issues would be elevated to higher levels of management before they became problematic.

This was, in my view, a successful relationship reset that resulted in quantifiable benefits for both sides.

Another informative situation arose when I was a sales manager. There was a customer whose business we had lost as a result of a bid some time ago. I went to visit the customer well in advance of a new bid, along with the salesperson for the account. I expected that the customer would be receptive to our interest in their business, but to my surprise, the key person told us that they didnt want us as their supplier, as they didnt like how we handled the negative outcome of the previous bid.

We decided that we needed to try to reset the relationship, although it didnt look particularly promising. We apologized for past mistakes, continued to call on the customer on a regular basis and set up periodic higher-level management interactions to show interest and commitment. Interestingly, the turning point came when a certain person in our company left, and this seemed to free up the customer to see us in a different light. Over time, we did get more business and regained the customers trust.

Here are some tips for resetting a business relationship that has gone sour:

First, recognize that the relationship has significant issues and assess the benefits for an improved relationship. Such benefits can be tangible, such as reduced costs or increased sales and margins, or they can be intangible, such as potentially improved supply if the market tightens or reduced stress on the organization.

Investigate your own personal role and your companys role in creating the difficulties, and take responsibility.

Declare to the other party your intent to set the relationship on a new course.

Set up a meeting to discuss the relationship. It is best if you can set up the meeting in an informal environment and perhaps do it as a one-on-one meeting. Get to know your counterpart if you dont already know them on a personal basis. Commit to the other party your intent to change behaviors, whether personal, organizational or both. Seek similar commitment from the other side, as well.

Consider putting out a joint statement to both organizations about the new commitments and the behaviors that are expected.

Consider setting up new structures to support the relationship, such as joint committees or working groups in specific areas of focus. Arrange regular and more strategic interactions as the level of trust improves.

Establish joint goals or projects in key areas and monitor milestones.

Model the behaviors you expect your organization to adopt, and ensure any complaints or problems are elevated and resolved.

I would note that timing of the relationship reset process can be important. It is hard to do it when in the middle of a significant event, such as a bid or a supply crisis. However, it is also important to recognize that the overall reset process takes time, so it is worth getting started sooner rather than later.

It is also worth noting that it may be necessary to carefully consider the people involved in the overall relationship between the companies and whether they are capable or willing to take the relationship reset journey with you. Ensure that they understand their role in the process and that their performance review outcome will in part depend on how they facilitate the relationship improvement.

Resetting a relationship takes time, commitment and effort, but I believe you will be surprised and pleased with the benefits on both a personal and a corporate basis.

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Email her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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