What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last week, I attended the American College Health Association (ACHA) Conference in Orlando, Florida.  It was a great opportunity to meet with customers, prospective customers, business partners, and competitors.  I include competitors because they are simply another part of the great circle of business and it can be enlightening to interact with them at these trade shows.

During the course of the week, I was asked repeatedly what made us different from our competitors. It is a fair question and if you want to read a version of my answer, check out this post: Why Northwind?  In a conversation with a potential alliance partner, I was actually given a few more reasons.  Yes, another organization took the time to explain to me why we are more appealing as a partner than our competitor.  The summary of his comments was simply: our reputation.

In a world of positioning, posturing, marketing, branding, influencing, and selling, one person summed it up for me with REPUTATION.  I have never done business with this group and this was my second conversation of any form with them.  Somehow, someway, he had an impression of me and my company.  Very curious, I asked him what he meant.  He said he’d be interested in working with us because of our professionalism and integrity.

Fast forward one day and I’m in a similar conversation with another company.  Intrigued by the previous discussion, I asked similar questions and discovered that the second group was not aware of us but told me that a particular competitor of ours had violated a partnering agreement with them several years ago.  Once again: REPUTATION.

Growing up, I remember my Mom telling my sisters that they only had one reputation and it was priceless.  Despite what this says about the times (since she apparently wasn’t concerned with my reputation), it is good old-fashioned wisdom that is still so relevant today.

Regardless of our efforts to broadcast our story through all of the wonderful mediums available, who we are and what we do still speaks so much more loudly.  Building and protecting your reputation is a long-term, brick-by-brick process that can be undone with a single act.  For those of us that have been selling and serving in a specific industry or niche for many, many years, it is truly priceless.

Here are some suggestions for building and protecting your reputation:

  1. Do what you say you are going to do.
  2. Do the right thing, every time.
  3. Pick carefully those with whom you associate.
  4. Be honest.
  5. When you fail, admit it.  Own it.  Make it right.
  6. Do your best, every day.

Though all six are critical, number 5 above may be the most important.  After all, if you have a career of any length, you will let people down.  Remember that even in mistakes, you are still building your reputation.  Often, the strongest bonds are built in adversity.

The next time you are in a conversation with a customer, prospect, or partner, ask them about your company’s reputation.  If you’re feeling bold, ask them about your reputation (just don’t expect complete honesty).  Read between the lines and ask yourself if you are being the best you can be.  It is never too late to begin building the reputation you want (and deserve!).