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Small Business Advice: Relationships Are the Key to Success

Business is about relationships. Relationships are about people. So it should be obvious that people do business with people, not businesses.

Yet I’m always surprised how many small business owners miss this. Somewhere in all their efforts to develop their business plan and marketing strategy they seem to forget that it’s about the people.

Maybe it’s using terms like target audience or niche market that somehow dehumanizes their thoughts, I’m unsure. Or perhaps it’s the way we think about business in general as being a cold, cut-throat world where business owners are always trying to gain an upper hand on the competition. I know it’s hard to see people when we’re thinking like that.

Yet successful businesses have something in common – people; people buying their products and services. It’s people who make the decision to buy. It’s people who use what we sell. It’s people who give us valuable feedback on how to do it better. And we shouldn’t forget that it’s people who are our best marketers.

All of this being true, why are more business owners not putting the people they sell too first? Why are they not spending time getting to know what the people they can serve want? And perhaps more importantly, why don’t small business owners spend more time learning how to communicate with the people who make up their target market?

Is it fear? Or is it that we never learned solid people skills in the first place?

Or could it be that we enter into a mindset around business that tells us that we can’t be ourselves; that being human makes us unprofessional?

One thing’s for certainly, it’s healthy relationships that lead to healthy business. So why don’t more small businesses get it?

You can guess by all the questions that I’d love to hear what you have to say on this one. I have my own theories that I’ll bring out in the conversation in the comment box.

(note: image from RyanDianna on Flickr)

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Comments

  1. Julian Sutter says:

    I know first hand what can come out of personal relationships, or rather being personable in business. All of our larger clients are gained that way.

    Were I see the problem is when the lines of friend and client become blurred. In a region of bro deals and hook ups, it is easy to be caught off guard.

    We have had to take a firm stand with clients in that any one of them could screw us over. So we have to be firm and keep on our toes.

    All that said, I just finished 2 hours of “drop a line” emails to clients, Personal messages, non of this Eblast crap.

  2. I have been thinking about some of these very same questions lately. The most successful small businesses I deal with want are the ones that have good relationships and give back to the communities they are in. The same is true of the online businesess I deal with. THey have developed strong relationships with their clients and it pays off. The businesses that are just there to make a fast buck don’t last. They might make a few dollars but they tick everyone off and no one will buy from them again. Maybe it has to do with what they think is more important. The dollars of the people. Don’t have any answers for your questions but if you find some let me know.

  3. As a small business owner new to the scene, I want to learn as much as I can about how to sell my services and become profitable enough to keep going.

    So, early on I read and absorbed lots of advice on marketing and branding, all designed to help me “fill a niche” and “find my target audience.” Those are good things to know and I’ve culled some valuable info from the mass of materials out there.

    However, after doing all of that I found myself thinking in those terms and getting away from what I love about my business, which is helping art directors get the best creative illustration while having fun in the process.

    Art Directors = People!

    It’s been a long road to discovering that the best way to market myself is to simply *be* myself. When I can do that, I can have more casual conversations with art directors, which gives me insight to what they really need.

    When I try to “act” like what I think they expect, it feels false and I think others sense it, too.

    People just wanna work with other people, whatever the work is.

  4. Dawud –

    Excellent questions!!

    “…why are more business owners not putting the people they sell too first?

    Simply, they were never trained or told to.

    “Why are they not spending time getting to know what the people they can serve want?”

    For the longest time business was built on interrupting people and seeing them as simply the consumer. No need to ask for their opinions or what they want.

    “…why don’t small business owners spend more time learning how to communicate with the people who make up their target market?”

    They are too concerned with making payroll!

    “Is it fear?”

    Yes

    “Or is it that we never learned solid people skills in the first place?”

    Yes x2

    If the new marketing is conversations than this is a practice that new businesses must adopt. I may be wrong here – but it seems that business development was built upon some “old school” foundations. Foundations that never put people on top of the priority list.

    The industry I’m involved with is VERY traditional. There are some old school methodologies at play and many are not willing to change. Not that I can blame them.

    I think all businesses do put people first when it comes to revenue and consumers. I don’t think that having people’s input in the decision making process of building a business has been fully adopted yet.

    The more that do practice this the better.. for them… actually for us because there is no us and them anymore in my opinion.

  5. Building relationships, although most rewarding for a business over the long term, takes time and effort – things many business owners are not prepared to invest. It’s counter-intuitive, but people see it as a sort of distraction from running the business, when in truth, their customers are their business.

    Lack of people skills? Fear? Definitely. I think many business owners, at the start, instinctively know that they must prioritize people and relationships for the business to grow. It’s easy to lose focus on this when you’re neck-deep in details and the constant pressure to meet revenue deadlines.

    Thanks, Dawud, for this excellent post.

  6. Small business owners are too busy building their business than to build relationship. Period.

  7. We just have to look around us. Simple businesses – why one haircutting saloon and not the one closer to home? Why one plumber over anyone else? Why one doctor and not the one closer home? The only one answer is relationship. If small businesses will not learn from these, they would unnecessarily struggle.

  8. Yes, relationships are about people. Many folks like to focus on content for computers or robots (automated), but really providing the information on a people or personal level is the key. Then repeat customers can ensue.

  9. I read this recently, in one of my new favorite books:

    “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not quite so equal, people STILL want to do business with their friends.” -Jeffrey Gitomer

  10. Building relationships is a key. Most importantly building trust. We as a company deal with this on a daily basis. We sell so many products to customers on net 30 terms.

    We just have faith they will pay us back. Once you build a relationship. It is a Stronghold that always maintains.

  11. I have gotten tired of “customer no-service.” Businesses don’t seem to care about what is right anymore. If that is the case, fire them.

  12. Eric Shan says:

    If you want to accelerate the business relationship building process there really is no quick or fast cure. There is no magic pill you can swallow and overnight wake up with a strong network of business relationships.

    Business relationships are a time game and a numbers game. You have to spend significant time to get reasonable numbers. Not surprisingly, the 90/10 rule applies to business relationship development. For every 10 hours of discretionary time, you should spend nine of those working on your business relationships and the remaining one hour, keeping up with IT technology.

    If you really want to accelerate your relationship building, think about putting in a consistent 8 to 10 hours per week joining business organizations and getting active in them. Instead of going to 2 or 3 events a month with 20 or 30 people, go to 2 or 3 events a WEEK instead. If you do this you will meet 80-100 people and your odds of creating strong business relationships will increase greatly.

  13. Lakshmi Mareddy says:

    Its interesting that most people forget that its about relationships and people. Funnily enough the softwrae tools have the word “relationship” while they dehumanize the process [CRM – Customer RELATIONSHIP Management].

    One of my sales friends once told me that when you can think like your customer and anticipate their need, then you are a perfect sales person, and in the zone so to speak.

    In a similar vein in web business, I feel having a huge traffic is not indicative of good business, because they may not be from the the target audience we one going for..

    Its amazing how much business gets done over golf, partying, PTO zones than any other 🙂

  14. I totally agree with you there and i think this is especially true for small businesses. Why else then would we have a favorite store or a favorite cafe which we prefer over others, the products and the coffee may be much the same, but the people who provide the service may be much nicer so we like going there!

  15. Relationships are extremely important. There are so many cases I have seen, where someone isn’t particularly brilliant or skilled – they just knew the right people and they were on their way to business success. And while it’s best to present yourself with a friendly, professional tone – there is no need to hide yourself or be “fake”.

  16. This is so basic that we often forget it. Thanks for the reminder!

  17. Lakshmi,
    You’re so right…huge traffic is not indicative of any business success at all. I think that’s what we’re seeing with bloggers – lots of traffic, but little or no business growth.

    How would you suggest rectifying this?

    Nicole,
    Exactly. It’s not just in what’s sold, it’s who selling it to you.

    Simon,
    Don’t you think people who ‘fake it’ eventually get found out?

    Laura,
    How are you using relationships to build your business?

  18. Agree wholeheartedly.

    It is so critical, especially online when you can’t meet your prospects and customers directly, yet many people forget they are talking to someone like them.

    I mean, they often do and say what they won’t say in real life.

    People only buy from someone they know, like and trust.

  19. A helpful article, I wrote an article about this topic on my blog,
    A good relationship is worth a million dollars
    http://www.tamalanwar.com/2008/03/good-relationship-is-worth-million.html

  20. Jimy Wong says:

    I agree that business is about relationship. To be honest, look around you will find there’s a lot of competitors to your business and give me a reason why i should buy only from one guy unless i like him or her on good relationship.
    I prefer a shop that remember my face and name. You feels great and welcomed.

  21. Verty rightly (and nicely) said…

  22. Hendry,
    And that’s why the relationship is so vital.

    Tamal,
    Nice article. thanks for posting a link.

    Jimy,
    I’ve been saying for a while that social media has brought back the ‘small town’ feel was enjoyed in the U.S. a couple generations back. You know, being able to walk into your hardware store and find the owner behind the counter, who you see around town and who knows, personally, the project you’re working on.

  23. lirentrade says:

    I agree too,and the business is not just win win soulution,such as trust each other,and some ohters.because we are human and not just money making machine.

  24. Gotta admit, when you’re doing a lot of online business, it’s really great when you run into a strong, positive personality. Those types could bargain hard (if they want) & not be refused.

  25. Well I guess solid personal skills can’t be build overnight.I mean for someone that doesn’t care about their customers other than making profit building long term relationship is very hard indeed.

  26. Good caring relationship with your clients is the first rule of any business!!

    THANKS FOR THE REMINDER!!

  27. Most companies see customers as numbers, but I think a lot of marketers these days are really starting to understand that one voice out there can influence countless others. The Internet is a very powerful tool when it comes to advertising and establishing a reputation.

  28. Relationship Marketing says:

    Relationship marketing should not be in taken for granted. treat you client or customers nicely as part of the marketing and eventually with the good experience on product or quality they have with your company they would keep on coming back.

Trackbacks

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