What is your business about?

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.

(note:  image from  dbarronoss on  Flickr,   some rights reserved)

Reader Interactions


  1. Sam @ Webcam Jobs says

    Another well written and thought out article, and I couldn’t agree more. An interesting piece of information that I received a while back is when writing, always keep one customer in mind and think from his/her point of view.

    Thanks for the invaluable information. And I’ve added “Cluetrain Manifesto” to my book list 🙂

  2. reno says

    relationships certainly matter, and I think they hold more weight in certain fields but you can’t deny that price in many cases matters more, walmart for example.

  3. Barbara says

    Well, my business is relationship oriented because I provide services, often one on one and over a period of time (coaching, vocational counseling,advocacy). So relationship building is not my challange. I can certainly say though, I have Dawud perform Miracles on my web headaches precisely because of the relationship and trust he instills in his customers. He is a master of customer service.

  4. Dawud Miracle says

    “…always keep on customer in mind and think from his/her point of view,” – this is the essence of effective marketing. I always tell my clients, write as though you’re writing to only one person.

    Agree with you on Walmart, though it’s a bit out of context. I work with service providers and keep my hands out of retail. With retail, there’s no loyalty without service. So when it comes to providing a service, people (almost) always go for who they know and trust – which is all about relationships.

  5. C. Gill ( Pakatan Students Consultant ) says

    No doubt about it. References or strong relationships are the key to success in the business especially in service industry.

  6. Georgeg says

    Our business is at least 50% based on relationships (probably more). A lot of the people that do business with us have told us that the reason they did business with us is that they “liked” us and felt like they could trust us.

    We give them a lot of reasons to trust us and quite frankly we view our clients as friends. I am not sure how that works long term if they decide to ever do business with a different web marketing/web design firm, but I think we probably would still feel like friends.

    It’s not really what I expected to happen, but that’s the way it has worked. I think it makes huge difference in our success.

  7. rokettube says

    Another well written and thought out article, and I couldn’t agree more. An interesting piece of information that I received a while back is when writing, always keep one customer in mind and think from his/her point of view.

  8. Alan says

    And what do you think about NLP and stuff like that? Does it really help to make relationships more solid?

  9. magazin says

    Thanks for your post on my blog. While I agree that collecting and publishing other people’s passwords was shady, keep in mind the timeline: Aug 29th, contacted the proper authorities; Sep 7th contacts the people affected. With, admittedly, no data to back me on this point, I would think he didn’t hear back from the administration. That’s typical of Carleton, and many people when you tell them about security problems in their jurisdiction. Releasing his finds publically is just doing what real security researchers do when they can’t seem to get a hole patched.

  10. Sheing@gift cards says

    It’s important to build relationships between client and provider. This post is well-written and it’s user-friendly.

  11. Howard Flaschen says

    SO TRUE! Its especially true for us in Real Estate. Our lifeblood is referrals and staying ‘in touch’. Over 80% of people surveyed said that they would refer their Realtor to a family member but only 7% actually do. Why? The Realtor didnt stay ‘in touch’. Those numbers are scary and an opportunity for those of us committed to Full-Time Real estate and Full-time realtionships.

  12. Dehydration symptoms says

    Well atleast ours is 100% based on relationships! We usually have retailers taking tens of crates from our go-downs. Thus in this competitive market, especially due to the recession, it is very important to actually sustain the relationships!

  13. tekniker says

    Well, my business is relationship oriented because I provide services, often one on one and over a period of time (coaching, vocational counseling,advocacy). So relationship building is not my challange.

  14. Wedding DJ San Diego says

    Absolutely! I’m a DJ in San Diego that specializes in weddings and corporate gigs. For weddings, I often get ‘how do you know the bride and groom’ asked. This is because I get to know them so well and it comes through on the day of my events. Recently I even had a comment of ‘you seemed much more like a friend than a person that had been hired to play music’.
    Trust me, making good relationships will increase your business!

  15. Ben says

    Excellent post! It’s a great reminder to re-evaluate how one’s business is creating and maintaining quality, long-lasting relationships with not only customers but partners and competitors. Networking is so very important these days, and maintaining good relationships is how you do just that. I agree that relationships do have to come first.

  16. Ernest says

    Building rapport with your client or customer would be the perfect thing to do. It would be like beneficial not only for you but for both parties. Thanks for the information. This would be a great heads up and a nice article to share on tweeter and facebook.

  17. Nick Boyle says

    To me, relationships are the key to building your business. If you don’t get out there and build a contact base, you can’t expect to do well.

    I’ve seen so many ventures fail because people just expect business to come to them. Business should be about relationships, building relationships with clients and only then will you get more revenue from your work.

  18. Arnold Ramirez says

    Successful businesses don’t just communicate with prospects and customers for special sales. Today, making your company indispensable is a vital key to marketing success. It’s a terrific way to add value, enhance your brand and position against your competition. Here are seven relationship-building strategies that will help you transform your company into a valuable resource:

  19. Web Design Melbourne says

    The way we do business and the tools that we use may have changed dramatically but the fundamental thing for any business is reall the relationships we build and maintain with clients/suppliers/staff members and that will never change!

    Great article Dawud! I just found this blog and am finding it very useful.

  20. kisner says

    i really admire businessmen who knows how to value relationships..it entails more than respect, trust and commitment..venturing in an agreement is like marrying somebody.

  21. Mark Taylor @ Cheap Hoodies says

    Our business is about having a good relationship with clients, making profit of course. I think it’s essential to have good branding and marketing because it is important for a business to be awareness in the market.

  22. prkun says

    Interesting take on this issue. I for one have seen quite a few twists on this and can usually spot the holes inside the arguement on the other hand, on this occasion I belelive your writing is such that every person must be in agreement with this. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  23. damper says

    Another well written and thought out article, and I couldn’t agree more. An interesting piece of information that I received a while back is when writing, always keep one customer in mind and think from his/her point of view.

  24. webcam modelling says

    I am not sure about the statistics, but I bet a client with whom you share a great working relationships is X times likely to recommend you to others than a regular client.

  25. Deducta says

    You are so right on the money when you say that cultivating relationships with the customers is essential to one’s business. Some of the face-to-face dealings might have been eradicated by being online but nevertheless…. a happy customer is worth its weight in gold!

  26. Elysse Parsons says

    Relationships are very essential no matter what business or industry you’re in. Relationships do build trust. What’s great about this is if you take care of that relationship, they would definitely refer you to others. That’s the best way to grow a business..through referrals. Nice post. Keep them coming.

  27. Tabby says

    I’ve tried many things in my blogging. I’ve never really been a people person so networking eluded me for some time. But it’s the most important thing for any business. Relationships with clients get repeat business and relationships with other businesses get new business. You just have to do it.

  28. Diamond Cuts says

    It’s the truth. It’s all about relationships. A friend of mine (who is very successful) says that it is the most important word in business. Another thing I read recently which I thought was really good was “social media is your parlor not your soap box”, encouraging people to create a community and share ideas rather than have it be “one way traffic” where they preach to the multitude.

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