Is it about branding and marketing? I’m sure it is. Is your business about sales and profits? I sure hope so. And is it about making some difference in the world? Ideally, that would be nice.
But branding, marketing, sales and making a difference require one thing – relationships. Ultimately, business is about relationships. Doesn’t matter whether you’re selling products or pitching services, ultimately people buy because they trust you. And trust comes from developing a relationship – even if that relationship is built from content on your website.
Whenever I work in my business, make plans etc, I always think about people. I remember that it’s people that I’m doing business with not some segment of niche market (though I may use the terms). And I remember that my own clients hire not my business, but me; they hire me. While they may like, want or need what I know or can teach them, ultimately they’re working with me because of the relationship we’ve built – and are building.
Solid businesses, especially independent and small businesses are built on relationships.
That’s always been the case and it will continue to be the case going forward. Which is why I’m such a big fan of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Sure, Cluetrain’s been around a while. Yeah, many others have said the same things – perhaps even better – since. But I still like the original. I like the way it’s put together. I like that it can be definitive and yet explorative at the same time.
For me, Cluetrain remains the quintessential work on how businesses are relationships and markets are conversations. Probably my favorite section is a piece written by Doc Searls where he describes a conversation he had with a Nigerian Pastor named Sayo:
…After hearing (about ‘markets are conversations’), he acknowledged that our observations were astute, but also incomplete. Something more was going on in markets than just transactions and conversations, he said. What was it?
I said I didn’t know. Here is the dialogue that followed, as close to verbatim as I can recall it…
“Pretend this is a garment”, Sayo said, picking up one of those blue airplane pillows. “Let’s say you see it for sale in a public market in my country, and you are interested in buying it. What is your first question to the seller?”
“What does it cost?” I said.
“Yes”, he answered. “You would ask that. Let’s say he says, ‘Fifty dollars’. What happens next?”
“If I want the garment, I bargain with him until we reach an agreeable price.”
“Good. Now let’s say you know something about textiles. And the two of you get into a long conversation where both of you learn much from each other. You learn about the origin of the garment, the yarn used, the dyes, the name of the artist, and so on. He learns about how fabric is made in your country, how distribution works, and so on. In the course of this you get to know each other. What happens to the price?”
“Maybe I want to pay him more and he wants to charge me less”.
“Yes. And why is that?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You now have a relationship”.
Their conversation goes on to talk about the importance of relationship in public markets. ”Transaction still matters, of course. So does conversation. But the biggest slice in the social pie of the public marketplace is relationship. Price is less set than found, and the context for finding prices is both conversation and relationship. In many cases, relationship is the primary concern, not price.”
In essence, price matters – but not as much as relationships. Just think about the recent purchases you’ve made. How often was it just about price and how often did you pay a little bit more because you had established a relationship with the seller? Branding, marketing, selling and good will all have their foundations in relationships.
So in creating your business, in running your business and in marketing your business, why not make it about relationships first? Sure, you absolutely need to know who you are, what you do, why do it and who you do it for. But once you know that, the rest is about building relationships. And relationships begin with conversation. And now, we’re back to using your website, your email list, social media and search engines to get into the conversation. This is where successful businesses are built.
What specifically are you doing to build relationships in your business? How do you nurture your current and post clients? And how to you build those relationships with prospective clients?
Let’s talk about it.