9 Habits of Amazing Relationship Builders

Participants on a recent Relate Strategy Group  sales mission  created a strengthen industry relationships, even between appointments, with some local sightseeing.

Participants on a recent Relate Strategy Group sales mission created a strengthen industry relationships, even between appointments, with some local sightseeing.

Seemingly ordinary actions like these can produce extraordinary professional relationships.

Of course career success is important but the definition of success in the professional realm is different to each and every one of us.

There is an underlying truth: Authentic success, the kind that is both personally gratifying and defines one’s character, is impossible without building great relationships. Our ability to relate well with people, concepts and experiences makes a career more gratifying, fulfilling and, ultimately, successful. This is especially true in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries.

Extraordinary relationships fuel business collaboration, build customer loyalty, create opportunities, and they make work fun.

So… what does it take to be an amazing business relationship builder?

Relate Strategy Group clients and tourism reps meet with trade buyers on their turf. We literally go the extra mile, taking the buyers’ suggestions to meet in beautiful Irish castles, local venues and their offices, demonstrating to buyers how important they are to the destinations and supplier organizations we represent.

Relate Strategy Group clients and tourism reps meet with trade buyers on their turf. We literally go the extra mile, taking the buyers’ suggestions to meet in beautiful Irish castles, local venues and their offices, demonstrating to buyers how important they are to the destinations and supplier organizations we represent.

  1. Accept Responsibility

    At some point, a customer is going to be unhappy, a vendor might be dissatisfied or a mutual friend feels snubbed.

    After acknowledging the issue, great relationship builders accept responsibility. They take one for the team. They’re willing to step in and take the dressing down. Why? Because they know they can handle it even if others can’t.

    A small selfless act, especially one that’s underserved, cements a relationship. It shows that you’re ready to stand up for others.

  2. Anticipate the Need & Act

    Which server are you going to appreciate more, the one who brought you a spoon with your soup or the one you had to wave frantically to flag down because you can’t eat soup with a fork?

    It may be a silly example but anticipating the needs of others is a skill that gives great relationship builders the space to deliver small moments of thoughtfulness that create a great, big impression.

    Relationship leaders pay attention to subtle cues so they know when others might need a hand and their offers of help are pretty specific. “Is there something I can help with?” opens the door for a finite “No” response.

    Instead, they come up with a specific offer to help that gets past the objection, giving them a chance to roll up their sleeves and make a differences.

  3. Answer the Question that Hasn’t Been Asked

    People do it all the time - they ask a different question than the one they really want to have answered. “What’s that tour like?” usually means “Am I going to enjoy the experience?”

    Your DMO might ask if the property has meeting space; what they really want to know is if you can accommodate a business group, large banquet or conference.

    The international tour operator or local pass product manager might ask what languages your museum docents speak; what they’re really looking for are local experiences that cater to their customers, tourists and inbound visitors.

    A coworker might ask how you felt about their suggestion during the last team meeting; what s/he really wants to talk about is their interest in taking on new responsibilities and expanding their skill set.

    The new travel trade sales person might ask how you built a successful business; they might just be polishing apples and they could also be looking for some encouragement or advice to follow their own dreams.

    The larger questions are often hiding just below the surface. Organizations and leaders who build the best relationships are ready to answer the simple questions and recognize the underlying need.

  4. Get Out of Your Own Way

    Extroverts can be a lot of fun… until they aren’t. When the spotlight fades, challenges arise or situations get stressful, some people just can’t reign it in. Expressing one’s self is great; monopolizing the conversation or falling into fits of drama is obnoxious.

    The professionals who develop amazing relationships know when to have fun and when to be serious, when to step up to the mic and when to let others shine, when to take charge and when to follow.

    Great relationships are multifaceted - professional, personal and comfortable. They require people who are willing to adapt to each situation and to the people around them.

  5. Actions Are Greater Than Intentions

    All the great intentions in the world are a waste without action. People who build great relationships with local, regional and international travel partners take action to show others that they’re being thought of.

    Consider unexpected praise… receiving kind words is like free flowers “just because.” Words of praise help others feel better about themselves. A simple compliment lets others know they are being thought of (that’s kinda nice, right?) and, through your actions, you become associated with others’ feelings of happiness, pride and accomplishment.

    The next time a travel trade buyer, industry leader or local partner pops into mind, send them a handwritten note (and maybe some cookies.) After all, you’ve got to be a friend to have a friend.

  6. Admit When You’re Wrong

    Most people wait until someone else has called their actions or words into question before they apologize. Far fewer people apologize without being prompted let alone before anyone notices that they should.

    Your willingness to apologize demonstrates the commitment to personal responsibility which is crucial to building great relationships.

    It’s simply easier to get along with people who admit when they’re wrong, say that they are sorry and don’t try to push blame onto others.

    Great relationship builders recognize that the easiest way to turn a mistake into a learning opportunity and not a permanent roadblock Is to apologize before issues can escalate.

    My dad told me, “The biggest mistake you make is the one you don’t learn from.” Being stubborn, self righteous and too proud to admit one’s mistakes stands in the way of learning, personal growth, great relationships and professional development.

  7. Practice Giving

    Much like the partnerships we develop between destination marketing organizations, local hotels, attractions and activities, exceptional relationships are mutually beneficial.

    Those who might be new to the industry or are attending their first IPW, ABA, World Travel Market, SYTA conference or sales mission are clearly looking to sell their products. They’re also eager to connect with mentors, industry leaders and those who can make introductions, share experiences and create new connections.

    That sounds like a one way street and it very easily could be. To avoid being a selfish brat like Violet Beauregard, think about what you can give to others. A compliment, shared lead, business referral or even some mints during a dull meeting help close that gap between what one may want and what s/he offers to others.

    Others want to help those people who are kind to them. This giving perspective plants the seeds for the good karma fruit when you need it most.

  8. Value the Street Sweep and the Broom

    Good people are good people, no matter what kind of car they drive, shoes they wear, place they came from, title they hold or status they may carry. The same holds true for advice.

    It’s tempting to place greater emphasis on the words coming from the person at the microphone or head of the boardroom and dismiss the insight that comes from the person in the overalls pushing a broom.

    Incredible relationship builders are those who can look past the framing and recognize great advice, no matter where it comes from. They know better than to discount the message because they discount the messenger.

    The folks who push brooms at the most famous theme park in the world spend countless hours learning how to answer every possible question guests may ask. In fact, the street sweeps often know more about the park, characters, stories & rides than the folks in costume. Why? Because visitors approach the people who are most accessible and those they feel would be least “interrupted” by their questioning. Think about it… if you need to find a restroom in a hurry, who are you going to ask for directions - the band conductor or the street sweep? Training and educating front line staff shows how valuable their contributions are to the overall guest experience.

  9. Start Small…

    Travel teaches us that, no matter how we practice our personal values, people share more common than they do differences. We all want to be happy, to have healthy families and to live well.

    Recognizing that common ground helps build rapport, a sense of connection and interest in seeing each other succeed. It may be that you both have dogs, visited the same places, drink your coffee the same way, use the same pen, have the same 7-minute appointment break, or are stuck in the same dreadful queue together for a drink with heavy hors d’ouerves - it’s something you share.

    That may be the full depth of this particular relationship and that's okay. For a couple of minutes, we transcend the buyer/supplier, competitor, newbie/expert, member/association boundary and become two people brightening each other's day. 
    That can be enough because every relationship, however minor and possibly fleeting, has value. People who build great relationships treat every one of their relationships that way.

I’m still flying high and telling everyone who asks how productive and informative it was for us!
— Tracy, Visit Baton Rouge

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About the Author…

stephen ekstrom tourism expert travel industry consultant.jpeg

Stephen Ekstrom is a well-recognized tourism marketing expert whose influence reaches millions of travelers every year. He's been profiled by the New York Times and appeared on CBS, NBC and NY1. He is a fixture in the travel trade and has served as a board member, expert panelist, committee chair, mentor and program facilitator. Relate Strategy Group, founded by Ekstrom in 2010, manages a network of 22,000+ opted-in global travel trade buyers, reaching more than 100 million travelers each year, advising, teaching and assisting smart travel, tourism and hospitality industry suppliers and destination marketers. Stephen currently lives in South Florida with his two dogs, Match & Rudy.