How to harness the feelings that drive successful business relationships

Simon Austin's picture
by Simon Austin
Steve McCarron

Steve McCarron, MD of gyro Manchester, shares the secrets of how to build 'confident optimism' in business relationships:

SM: We all tap into our feelings when making major life decisions – marriage, a house, a family, a new job even – but tend to assume that the rational brain will take over at key moments in our business life.

It was interesting then to see that gyro’s new study, conducted with the Financial Times Commercial Insight Group, found senior-level decision-making is no different in our working life than it is in our personal life.

In fact, complex professional conundrums can be even more emotional, because there’s no chance of narrowing them down to a case of right or wrong.

Financial Times readers told us about the importance of feelings and their impact in a business-to-business (B2B) relationship and we used the data to create The Business Feelings Index.

The good news is that we can codify the emotions behind those decisions. You really can take something as nebulous and amorphous as emotion and work out how to leverage it in a practical way, to help create successful business outcomes.

Our research team identified ‘confident optimism’ as the most important feeling at play in forging strong and long-lasting business relationships. The feeling comes about when decision-makers are not only certain of a company’s expertise, but also steeped in a strong sense of optimism about what that partner can do for their business.

Confident optimism is the feeling that needs to be constantly cultivated from the beginning of a relationship right through to the very end, even when uncertainties like GDPR and Brexit throw a grenade into the system.

During these uncertain times, when there isn’t always a rational answer, we rely even more on emotions and gut instinct to make decisions. Working in this climate makes it more important than ever to keep optimistic and positive in order to foster “confident optimism” in your business relationships.

Uncertainty might make “confident optimism” more important, but it doesn’t have to make it harder: the Business Feelings Index found that 86% of clients saw the first moment of friction as the time when you really find out about your partner.

A crisis provides an opportunity to demonstrate your credibility and commitment to your client because it puts your behaviour under the spotlight.

Even in more settled times, there will always be crucial moments in every relationship when feelings are put to the test, but if you’ve built up a bank of “confident optimism” you have a good chance of pulling through.

Business buying decisions are uniquely intense, career-defining moments, which is what drew me to B2B marketing – I came from a more traditional advertising background – and I’m enjoying the challenge of dealing with decisions that are more weighty and have longer-term consequences than choosing which brand of toothpaste or canned fish to buy.

The stakes may be higher but the emotions come from the same place, which is why at gyro we talk about “humanly relevant” ideas, rather than focusing too heavily on product features and benefits.

And it’s why “confident optimism” is the true marker of a business relationship for Financial Times readers.

Here gyro’s Five Cs for Building Confident Optimism:

1. Content:

Customers need credible proof that businesses are not only experts, but that they will bring innovative thinking to the relationship. Nearly 69% told us they want to learn and to be inspired, continuously, via thought leadership.

2. Cultural connection:

83% say company culture is among the most important attributes in selecting a partner. Decision makers said loudly and clearly that they want to know a partner completely understands their needs. This was true of 70% of respondents.

3. Crisis management:

The first moment of friction is when you really find out about a partner, according to 86% of respondents. Navigated correctly, this is a moment when the relationship can progress to the next level.  

4. Communication, constantly:

When you go quiet, you create a hole in your relationship that worrying fills. More than three quarters of respondents strongly agreed that communication is the connective tissue of successful business relationships.

5. Concluding strongly:

There needs to be a structured end to the relationship and a powerful sense of closure: 65% say they want to walk away feeling that the mission was a success. This shared feeling of accomplishment leads to repeat business.

Once you’ve got these right, you have the tools to build the energy of confident optimism, to keep existing relationships thriving and sparking new relationships into being. It’s the fuel for success.