Like most people, I begin each day by checking my inbox and cleaning out the unimportant emails. And of course, more of those emails get deleted than get read.

That’s an awful lot of marketing effort that goes straight into the trash. The same can be said for social media channels. You have to wade through a sea of uninteresting, negative posts to glean out the few that make you think “Right on” or “I get it” or simply “More of this, please!”

How great would it be if all that communication were positive, respectful and important? What if most of our time spent writing or reading emails and social media posts was uplifting rather than a stolen opportunity to take a jab at our business, political or personal adversaries?

I believe that positivity breeds positivity. I’d like to live in a world where everyone practices in compassionate marketing.

What is compassionate marketing?

We get it, each brand has a different angle, and sometimes that angle plays to not-so-warm-and-fuzzy emotions. That doesn’t mean your marketing can’t be compassionate.

So, what is compassionate marketing? It’s the practice of creating messages that demonstrate that you and your business genuinely care about the people you’re marketing to—that you know something (or want to learn more) about what they want and need. It’s about positioning yourself and your business as open to the idea of nurturing new and existing business relationships. It’s about taking the high road and not just making a hit and run sale.

This advice may seem like common sense, yet so much of the messaging we see every day in social media and digital marketing is rude, negative and inconsiderate. Most of us have probably become desensitized to messages like these:

  • Spammy email that somehow makes it into your inbox, addressed to you, suggesting you need some service you’ve never asked for. Frankly, these emails are more than just annoying—they’re downright rude. They insult the reader’s intelligence first, by assuming (or not even caring) whether he or she is the right person for making such a decision. Second, by positioning the message in such a way that insinuates readers have sought out such a service (when they haven’t). And third, by wasting readers’ time by obligating them to undergo an unsubscribe process.
  • Negative and inconsiderate social media marketing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are such versatile channels, used in many different ways for many different purposes. So much good can be accomplished, and yet, how many times have you seen the same Facebook ad sandwiched in between your friends’ posts, and thought to yourself “I’m so sick of seeing this?” Or rolled your eyes at the sheer tackiness of the message (“9 out of 10 moms don’t know about this” [insert fad diet supplement miracle])?

If you do happen to fall prey to clickbait, you’ll inevitably waste precious minutes before you realize you’ve been lured into a sales pitch. These are minutes you won’t get back, and the marketer doesn’t care.

A bigger issue

Digital communication has opened the door for people to say things they never would have the courage to say face-to-face. That’s just as true for digital marketing as it is for Twitter users.

When you’re talking to someone who isn’t right in front of you, you don’t have to deal with the immediate consequences of saying something that isn’t thoughtful or true. Communicating from behind a computer screen emboldens even the very meekest among us. If you haven’t taken the necessary steps to shield yourself from the political storm unleashed by the latest election, you know that to be true.

Point is: that sort of brazen carelessness in communication carries over into our professional lives. And as business owners trying to build business relationships, if we’re not careful, any lapse can really damage those relationships and our reputations.

It may be possible that your business’s DNA just isn’t conducive to success in social media or email blasts. There’s something to be said for recognizing that and seeking out other options. We have ways to help you become an expert in 1-to-1 marketing as well.

What do you THINK?

There are a lot of voices out there, and such a limited amount of time to attract a potential customer’s attention.

All digital marketers have a choice. We can hoodwink readers with a misleading click-through to steal their time and attention, or take the time to write informative, creative and captivating content, and earn their time and attention. And their business.

At Civilis Consulting, we subscribe to the old THINK mantra. Before you send out a message, whether for business or personal communication, first determine its worthiness according to this standard: T-True, H-Helpful, I-Interesting, N-Necessary, K-Kind.

When you or your company consistently filter your communications, and take steps to apply compassion in your marketing, you’ll be surprised at how many people will be willing to listen. And be happy to buy.

We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please share them! And if you think that sometimes you may be guilty of rude marketing, and want to take steps to be more compassionate (and more effective), give us a call.

Marketing automation is a big buzzword these days. It’s being touted as a silver bullet that can alleviate a myriad of marketing woes. The very term, Marketing Automation, could lead one to believe that marketing can, indeed, be automated. But wait, not so fast.

Technically speaking, marketing automation is a type of technology that allows for the scheduled distribution of content across multiple digital channels, and the best marketing automation software is pretty user-friendly and has some really slick dashboards.

So, can marketing automation software solve your particular marketing challenges? Consider this…

It’s Hungry for Content

Before you can distribute your content, you’ve got to have it. And marketing automation software is a hungry beast. As it turns out, creating all that meaningful content that your marketing automation software requires is a very challenging and burdensome part of ‘doing’ marketing automation.

Marketing automation can be a very efficient tool for distributing your content…but not for creating it. It’s best to leave that to the humans.

It’s Best for an Inbound Marketing Model

If you have thousands of prospects in your database who are already active in a variety of channels and who need to hear from you frequently as part of their buying decision, and if you have a lot of content to distribute to those folks, then marketing automation software can help you distribute the right message to the right people at the right time.

On the other hand, if your prospect or client list is relatively short and exclusive, marketing automation software might be overkill.

It Requires You to Know Your Target… Very, Very Well

Crafting genuine messages that resonate with your clients and prospects requires a deep understanding of what makes those people tick…what they care about, what keeps them up at night, what nagging questions they have.

You simply have to know—intimately— who your clients and prospects are and how (and when) to speak to them in a way that will move them to do business with you. No software—no matter how user-friendly—can do that for you.

It’s Pricey

A subscription to that cool user interface and flashy dashboard can cost thousands per month. So be sure to assess the ROI of such a tool.

Know how much you can spend on acquiring a new client (depending on your industry, it’s usually15-20% of revenue) and evaluate the price of marketing automation software plus the costs associated with producing all the content this new software will require.

There’s a Learning Curve

Learning to use this new technology takes time—in man hours (i.e. $$) as well as time span. You’ll want to have at least one person on your team become an expert on how it works and you may need to invest time and money into training them to use it effectively. So, identify or recruit someone on your team who has the aptitude and desire to learn a new technology—and who will be around for the long haul—and dub them your marketing automation guru.

The gist of the story: Marketing automation can help you effectively distribute very targeted messages to a segmented database of clients and prospects. But like with any software, it’s a specialized tool designed for a specialized set of marketing challenges.

If you have questions about whether marketing automation is right for your business, or want to learn how to use it to create and maintain relationships with customers and prospects, we can help you sort it all out. We love this stuff!

Advances in technology have helped make amazing strides in modern business relationships. Unfortunately, not all of its uses have been positive. There has been a trend toward the automation of customer interactions that have made them much less personal and meaningful. This is because technology can be used for two different (and often competing) purposes: efficiency and effectiveness.

Efficiency vs. effectiveness

Many companies are operating under the ideology that using technology in their market space to increase their volume will also increase efficiency. Sure, technology allows you to automate marketing efforts—it’s not much more difficult to send out 10,000 emails than it is to send 10 emails. But if there are only 10 people who will find the content beneficial, all you’re really doing is irritating 9,990 others with your email blast.

What’s more effective is to increase intimacy, not volume.

By its very nature, technology allows for tasks and processes to be automated. And the key metric in automation is usually efficiency: producing more and more at an ever-decreasing cost. When efficiency is applied to human relationships the focus on “producing more” shifts thinking toward quantity over quality.

Companies begin to see people (even their own customers) as statistics measured in objective behaviors like “opens,” “clicks” and “triggers.” Customers or prospects who are put off by the automated interactions are only seen as “opt-out” or “bounce” statistics. This shields the company from experiencing the emotional reactions of its customers—which can have catastrophic effects on the relationship.

Think of the old-fashioned shopkeeper who sees a customer leave his or her store unhappy. In the online world, it’s difficult to observe unhappy customers as they leave a website or opt out of an email list. The old-fashioned shopkeeper would respond quickly if a lot of customers were walking out dissatisfied. But in a technological customer relationship, the company is spared the emotional interactions with unhappy customers and is much more likely to repeat or amplify the very behaviors that turn customers off.

Do-not-call lists and spam filters are examples of how consumers work to protect themselves from the barrage of efficient but ineffective technological communications they all receive daily.

Use technological tools to listen

If used correctly in relationships, technology can increase effectiveness. People can interact in ways never before possible. Grandparents can see live video of their newborn grandchild from thousands of miles away. People with narrow, specialized interests or needs can find each other. And companies can treat customers and prospects better by knowing, remembering and acting on more and better information about them. Interactions can be customized to the needs of the individual customer based on their unique characteristics.

There are extraordinary amounts of personal information online—from important life events like marriages, all the way down to what someone had for lunch. People wouldn’t put this information out there if they didn’t want others to see it. If you’re not using these clues to learn more about your customers, chances are you’re just blasting them with what you want to say, rather than what they’re interested in hearing.

Treat these people with respect and listen to what they’re saying. The fact that you’re listening will make you stand out in a crowd from the hundreds of other companies who are simply talking at them.

Creating intimacy

It is important that marketers always focus on using technology for effectiveness over efficiency. Remember that the goal comes first and the tools are selected to help achieve that goal. Don’t be the type of marketer to start with the tool then set the goals based on what the tool can do.

If you’d like some ideas for how to use technology to increase intimacy, rather than destroy it, reach out to us.

“…since you haven’t responded to my earlier emails, you must not be interested in what I have to offer you.”

That’s the most recent in a string of emails that we’ve been receiving regularly from a CEO who wants to earn our business.

No joke.

These emails come directly from that company’s CEO and are personally addressed to our CEO, so they look and feel like personal messages. And, each one of them has been a little more strident than the last—the tone of the last couple have been downright rude. No, there’s no option for opting out or unsubscribing from these emails, like there would be under normal circumstances. It’s an endless barrage of rude, automated messaging.

So, these increasingly annoying emails, from a guy who probably has no idea he’s being offensive, continue to arrive.

What’s worse, we know the offending CEO personally and believe he’d never be as rude in person as he is in these marketing emails; that he’d probably be pretty embarrassed if he understood the image he’s projecting.

So, what do we think is really going on? This CEO’s company probably has fallen into the trap of marketing automation. His company has email marketing automation software, and a person in the marketing department who monitors the metrics the software generates. He and his marketing person are operating from behind a dashboard of metrics and clicks. The problem here is that metrics don’t allow you see the look of disgust on a person’s face when they’ve opened your annoying email for the hundredth time.

The Online Disinhibition Effect

This behavior has become so common that it actually has a name: It’s called the Online Disinhibition Effect. Put simply, it’s what makes people say and do things online that they’d never dream of saying or doing in person. It’s what makes people leave nasty comments on Facebook pages, or engage in online trolling and bullying.

Say something awful to a person’s face and you must deal with the consequences—they might burst into tears, yell or even take a swing at you. But online, recipients are anonymous. You’re separated by distance and computer screens, and you never have to see the real human’s emotional reaction to what you say. In the case of these emails, their message is not crafted to an individual, but rather a group, the 80 percent of recipients who don’t click email links.

So, the next email sent ratchets up the language, like the poke of a sharp stick, in hopes of getting a click out of the recipient.

It’s a bit like being in your car: When you’re driving, you’re distanced from other people, protected by your windshield, your music, and your controlled climate. Other drivers are just strangers you’ll never see again. You might not even think twice about cutting someone off in traffic because they’re just a car in a long line of a thousand other cars—they’re not human beings trying to pick their kids up from school or get to their meeting on time.

It’s why minute annoyances escalate into road rage. Think of how strange and irrational it would be to flip off a person who was, say, in line in front of you to buy groceries and taking too long to check-out? It happens all the time in traffic.

Marketing automation: Use it wisely

Not all marketing automation is damaging: It has its place. But if used unwisely it can turn a company’s list of contacts into an amorphous blob, an impersonal list of metrics. It removes the human touch. It forgets that we’re not a blob; we’re individuals, with unique personalities, unique business situations, and unique needs. And furthermore, we know who’s sending us these emails. They’re coming with a real human being’s name in the “from” field, and we add a negative mental tally mark to their name every time they send a rude or inconsiderate email.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, this bad-mannered marketing. And it can totally wreck your company’s reputation.

The importance of the human touch

There are ways to personalize—you might even say “humanize”—marketing communication. One-to-one communication through social and digital channels is a great place to start, as it helps to avoid the pitfalls of marketing automation by allowing more personalized feedback. In the end, you want to find a model that treats people, well—the way you’d treat them if they came into your office.

Sure, marketing automation can save your company money. It can generate reports that tell you who’s responding to your message (you then decide whether to use the soft sell or the sharp stick). It can even create short-term business gains. But what message are you really sending in the long run? Does this kind of communication make your company look like it genuinely cares about the people it’s communicating with? Or is your company coming across as bossy and arrogant?

If it’s the latter, you might want to consider how that will affect people’s desire to do business with you. Would it work on you if the shoe were on the other foot? Chances are you already know that answer because you’ve sat aghast after opening the same kind of email we mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Bottom line is: Don’t let marketing automation ruin your reputation. Find a better way. Concentrate on building genuine personal relationships instead.

If you’re worried that your marketing has erred on the side of insolence, we can show you how to market better.

Despite Michael Corleone’s assertion that “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business,” every aspect of business is personal. When people know about you, like you, and trust you, your business thrives. When they don’t, business suffers. Building a successful business is all about building trust, connections, and rapport with your customers and prospects. And without a strong relationship – even if customers are satisfied with your product or service – they may not continue to patronize you.

With the emergence of social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Yelp there are a plethora of vehicles for establishing and maintaining meaningful connections with your customers, but remember that what you say and how you say it is what really matters. It’s not about which social media platform you’re on—those are just ‘dumb’ channels on which to post your content.  Indeed, the message is the most vital aspect of any online interaction.

Getting Real: Meaningful Online Business Relationships

Channels like Facebook allow friends and family to have meaningful digital interactions, and with online dating services like, people can even form new relationships with prospective spouses. Review sites like Yelp let consumers find out more about the quality of food and service at a local restaurant or whether a hotel lives up to its website’s promises. Loosely defined, social media extends our ability to make (in some case, quite literally) an online love connection.  So, when communicating digitally with customers and prospects, businesses must be sure that the messages are not mechanized, canned or impersonal. The things that annoy people in a face-to-face meeting (hard sell, boastful, shallow or trivial) are also turn-offs online. If it’s real, it won’t sound like a pitch—because it isn’t.

Social Media Turn-Offs

Here’s what NOT to put on your online channels:

  • Messages that are obviously put out there for some self-serving purpose – It is very annoying to land on a keyword stuffed web page that’s only designed to improve the company’s Google rankings. That kind of content offers no real information and makes little sense to the reader. It will turn off rather than turn on prospects.
  • Generic, canned, boring content that could be found anywhere else – Think of the dentist or car repair shop that uses stock photos and content filled with commonplace facts but provides no relevant information about their particular enterprise. Seeing this kind of web page or blog post won’t help the customer decide whether to patronize the business.
  • Content that wastes readers’ time because it doesn’t give them what they are seeking – People are busy and want to quickly find the answers to their questions or access materials that meet their needs.  It is quite annoying to find out that the content doesn’t deliver what it promises.
  • Messages that are boisterous and self-promoting and NOT about what’s important to the prospect –Why your company wants someone to buy is not the same as answering the questions a prospective client has about a product. Make sure your content is about your client’s needs, not yours.
  • Content that makes claims that are clearly untrue or outlandish – Your goal is to build trust, so overblown claims will simply drive customers away.

Effective Social Media Messaging

Prospects become customers when:

  • Messages strike an emotional chord and make the reader feel something – joy, surprise, even fear or worry – connects them emotionally with what makes you and your business unique. By revealing the source of your inspiration, you establish a genuine connection. Shared experiences, circumstances, or points of view will help your customers feel a personal kinship with your business.
  • Content exposes your vulnerabilities a little – Real people aren’t perfect and you want your prospects to realize that, like them, you are human. Just like your customers, you have needs, quirks, and make mistakes.
  • Messages show who you are – Help your prospects relate to you, and give them the opportunity to assess their compatibility with you. That empowers them and saves everyone a lot of time and expense by ensuring a better match between you and the prospect.
  • Quality content makes them happy they read it – It is hard to set priorities in our busy world, so if the message doesn’t enrich prospect’s lives by being helpful, entertaining, or educational, they will resent that you have wasted their precious time.

Use Social Media to Convert Prospects into Advocates

Do you have customer evangelists like the ones have attracted?  They don’t come along every day and those relationships must be nurtured. Converting prospects into customers, then loyalists, and then advocates happens when real relationships are created along the way. Used well, social media messaging can help. But be sure that your content is authentic, relevant, and engaging. And If you have questions about content marketing or social media, let us know!

Photo courtesy of Thomas Leuthard

Look, we’re business people too. Ironically (given the business we’re in), we too have had our fair share of marketing and advertising failures. Over the years, through our own foibles as well as through those of our many clients—we’ve learned that there are no marketing silver bullets. To drive leads and ensuing revenue, success will be found in a carefully crafted and customized combination of marketing and advertising initiatives.

So, what is one to do when it finally does start to work? Let me share with you what we’ve learned to do (and not do) to capitalize on a successful marketing campaign.

Expect it to work

We know some of you have become so jaded about marketing that, deep down, you don’t really believe that your latest initiative—be it AdWords, some slick marketing automation software, or a package of radio spots—will actually drive inquiries, let alone achieve a respectable ROI.

How unfortunate would it be then, that when you finally hit on a winning marketing strategy, you weren’t ready to leverage its success? So first and foremost, be prepared to process those conversions. Have a plan for the following:

  • Know who will respond– Everyone in the company should know who will respond to incoming inquiries. Consider whether you need different salespeople for different types of inquiries.
  • Know what to say– It’s likely that the customer should do most of the talking and the salesperson should listen intently and ask plenty of questions:
    • What problem does your potential customer have?
    • What is his/her appetite—in the way of budget—to get this problem solved?
    • Who all will be involved in deciding whether you will do business together?
    • What information does this lead need to get from your salesperson in order to move to the next step in the buying process?
  • Know the steps in your selling cycle– Make sure everyone involved knows what to expect next. Is a presentation in order? An in-person meeting? Is it time to bring a technician into the conversation?

Respond…and be human about it

We’ve seen it time and again: Inquiries come in, leads appear on the radar, yet they inexplicably get ignored. No one follows up, or worse, the lead receives an automated ‘we’ll get back to you’ message that goes into some black hole of a lead queue. All this likely happens because, as you probably guessed…there’s no plan in place (see above).

Remember that an inquiry on your website’s contact form (or an incoming phone call or email) represents an investment of time on the part of the inquirer. There’s a problem to be solved, and some notion that you may be the one to solve it, so be responsive:

  • Be timely– This individual has some pain, otherwise, they wouldn’t have reached out. That pain may be fleeting, so strike while the iron is hot. Respond within the same day if at all possible.
  • Be human– Respond with a phone call or in-person meeting, whichever is most appropriate. Continue to reach out until you make contact. Use email only as a follow-up and only if you’ve been unsuccessful in initiating a human-to-human conversation.

Keep your promises

In order for your marketing to keep generating leads—and in order for those leads to become new customers—it’s critical that your business lives up to whatever expectations your marketing has put out there. Consider this:

  • If your marketing assures that your product or service is superior to that of your competitors, make sure you can back that up.
  • If your website touts testimonials from satisfied customers, be prepared to provide references.
  • If your campaign indicates that you offer customized solutions, take the time to get to know your prospect’s needs and craft a tailor-made proposal – and whatever you do, do not offer up a standard package.

Nurture the relationship

No matter what type of business you’re in—B2C, B2B, selling products or services—It is highly unlikely that a first inquiry will result in an immediate sale. No matter how great your marketing campaign is, it can’t actually close the deal. Like with any new relationship, expect there to be subsequent interactions between you and your new lead:

  • Schedule follow-up– Put it on your calendar, in your CRM, or in your marketing automation software. But make sure it gets done. In this day and age, with so many scheduling tools at our disposal, it’s easy to be reminded when it’s time to move the relationship forward.
  • Deepen the relationship over time– Every interaction should build on the previous one. Keep track of what was learned and discussed during previous conversations – including personal and seemingly insignificant info – and use it to make each interaction more meaningful than the last.

We understand…we’re right there with you. Your marketing investment is one of the costliest revenue generation activities you will undertake. So be a smart marketer and prepare your entire team to maximize that investment. Today might just be the day that your marketing actually starts to work.

Are we there yet? Have we – as a culture, a society, a species – finally reached that point where the sheer magnitude of advertising and marketing messages that each of us encounters in a day outpaced our ability to actually process any one of them? And if that is the case, could there actually be a benefit – to our culture, our society, and our species—to NOT use our social marketing channels to broadcast our every thought, opinion or activity?

Everyone’s a broadcaster

Let’s look at our current advertising and marketing landscape. Since the emergence of digital media (Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the list goes on), virtually anyone can now broadcast their message to very large audiences, 24/7/365. Such ready access to such powerful microphones makes many people (teenagers, anyone on Facebook and yes, some businesses) feel compelled to say something—anything—even if it isn’t particularly valuable or interesting.

The rest of us are the audience

Since virtually everyone on the planet has become a broadcaster, it means the rest of us—the audience—are now subject to a barrage of incoming messages with very few ways of filtering them out before they reach our ears, eyes, and brains. Combine digital marketing and advertising with other mediums, like TV, radio, billboards, sports arenas, park benches and buses, and you will agree that the collective noise has become downright overwhelming. Depending on who you believe, the average person sees anywhere from 250 to a staggering 5,000 advertisements a day.

Q: So, what’s a consumer to do with all this marketing noise? 

A: Well, our brains handle this inflow (overflow) of information by simplytuning ALL of it out. 

Q: And what’s a marketer, who wants to make sure their message somehow makes it through to the intended recipient, to do?

A: There’s a tendency for marketers to just speak more loudly and more frequently with the hope of somehow magically rising above the din.

But when you look at it that way, how crazy and fruitless is that?

Practice mindful marketing

As marketers (yes, we get paid by clients to create and place messages on a variety of digital and traditional channels), we know that when it comes to content and its distribution, sometimes less is more. As expert marketers, it’s our responsibilityto practice mindful, intentional, purposeful marketing. That means our aim is to not contribute to the noise, but instead responsibly produce content on behalf of our clients that has value and worth.

To that end, we’ve created a set of standards for ensuring the content we create – whether for our own channels or for those of our clients—is something the intended audience will find useful. Here are our standards for deciding whether a piece of content is worthy of putting out there:

  • Does it have the 4 “I’s?” Is it InformativeInterestingInsightful and Intelligent? If what you have to say doesn’t inform your audience, pique their interest, make them think differently, or respect them as intelligent individuals, it’s best to forego it.
  • Is it Relevant to the audience?Will it strike a chord with the audience of readers, whomever that audience may be? Relevant content doesn’t try to reach everybody; rather, it is meant to resonate with a small group of people who will care about what the message is. If the message gets too broad it loses relevancy and in that case, it would be better to say nothing at all.
  • Does is provide Value?Will the recipient of the message feel it is a gift? Valuable content will add to the conversation, impact readers, and inspire action. Will this message add to people’s lives today, or is it just noise? If it’s the latter, it’s best to do the responsible thing and not post it.

That’s right—We just said (3 times) that sometimes you SHOULDN’T put content out there.

Improving upon the silence

Mahatma Gandhi, a man of few but profound words, once summed this up quite eloquently. He said, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”

We advise our clients to follow that same principle. Think before you write, post, or tweet, and make sure that whatever you’re putting out there will add to the conversation, not to the noise. And yes, we’ve even advised our clients on occasion that the most impact they could have at a particular moment is to say nothing at all.

If nothing else, following Gandhi’s example would at least boost the overall quality of our messages. After all, if he were still with us, you can be darned sure he wouldn’t tweet something like: “Great brunch @MeditationCafe. Mmm, yogurt and mangoes. Yummy! #delicious.”

If your business is like mine, where a handshake is required to close a deal, you know that building and nurturing 1-to-1 relationships is the biggest key to success—without those relationships, you (and I) simply don’t have a business.

One of the most important tools we have in our company is a list of our Top 100 Relationships. Everyone on our team knows who those 100 people are (not just their company names, but the name of each individual), and recognizes the value and opportunities our relationship with each of them affords us. Maintaining personal, genuine, 1-to-1 relationships with the people on this list reinforces the success of our business in a variety of ways.

Finding your top 100

If you sit down and systematically identify the people who’ve proven to be valuable in the past—and who may be valuable in the future—you might be surprised at how quickly these folks will turn up.

Here’s a handy little checklist we use to identify our Top 100—anyone who falls into one of the following categories belongs on the list.

  1. Individuals who are currently paying you money. Your list of current clients is a great place to start. These people are presently benefiting from your business and are paying you cold hard cash for your products or services.
  2. Individuals who have paid you in the past. Never mind why they aren’t buying something from you now—at some point in the past they found value in their relationship with you. They may become a client again (when the time is right), or even refer other clients to your company.
  3. Potential clients who haven’t closed yet. These people have expressed an interest in a possible relationship with you because some aspect about your business is attractive to them. They may prove to be a perfect fit, or maybe they aren’t quite right—regardless, keep them on the list!
  4. Potential clients who have gone silent. The deal never closed, and these people have stopped communicating. However, these folks once had an interest in a possible relationship with your business. There could be any number of reasons for their silence, but keep them on your radar—you never know when they might be ready to re-engage.
  5. Everyone who has ever referred business to you. These people believe in your business enough to put their own reputation on the line. They know your company intimately enough to refer business that comes to fruition—clients who are the right fit. Maintain a healthy relationship with these people and they will continue to send business your way.
  6. People who’ve referred business that didn’t materialize. They still staked their reputation on you. Even if past referrals didn’t work out, future referrals just might. Keep them close!
  7. Well-connected professionals you know. They know the people you don’t know and want to know (see number 8). They can be the difference between just wishing you had a reason to become aquatinted with a particular person, and actually shaking that person’s hand.
  8. Well-connected professionals you would like to know. These people are well known in your industry or professional community and can help grow your network exponentially. You likely know of these people, but haven’t yet been properly introduced.
  9. Well-connected people in your personal life. There are people who you might not know just through your personal social circle who could turn into valuable professional connections later down the road. Think of folks who might be in your hobby groups, frequent the same restaurants, or those friends of friends that you’ve never been fully introduced to.
  10. Anyone who wants to see your business be successful. Finally, and perhaps the least obvious, are the people who benefit peripherally from your business wins. You can list your mother if you want, but I’m thinking more along the lines of your CPA or business attorney. Cast a wide net as you make this list—there are lots of people whose success is tied in some way to yours.

You have your top 100… now what?

Once you have assembled this list of names, take steps to purposefully nurture and maintain these relationships. Learn who these individuals are: not just their names but their personalities, their likes and dislikes, what keeps them up at night. Think about how you came to know these people—identify the avenues that led you to one another and take the necessary steps to keep those avenues clear.  Then demonstrate that you know and care about them with systematic, disciplined, scheduled outreach.

Having this master list at the ready will help you stay organized and keep everyone on your team informed about the status of your relationships.

You may be thinking, “I don’t know anywhere near 100 people.” But if you think carefully (using the suggestions I’ve shared with you here), you’ll discover that you have more relationships than you realize, so building a Top 100 isn’t as lofty an undertaking as it seems.

And if you find yourself struggling with any of these steps, give us a call.

It’s no secret that the more successful your business, the more relationships you have. And after a certain point, it becomes very difficult to maintain these relationships. There aren’t enough hours in the day for you to stay in personal contact with hundreds or thousands of people. Fortunately, you can leverage advances in technology to help handle certain aspects of business relationship management, especially B2B sales relationships. What’s more—you can hire someone to do it for you.

Read on and you’ll see that outsourcing your business relationships is not quite as inhuman as you might think.

The stages of a relationship

Every single person we interact with in business is involved in a relationship with us to some degree. Psychologist George Levinger suggests that every relationship has five stages:

  1. Acquaintance: The “hello, how are you?” phase. It’s where a relationship begins, sometimes because we’re introduced by a mutual friend or in-common associate, or sometimes by physical proximity (for example, a new office opens across the street). Or maybe it’s simply a cold call or a message received from a website.
  2. Buildup: This is the stage in which two parties start building trust and concern for one another. This stage requires compatibility, common backgrounds, and/or common goals. In a personal relationship, this is the “falling in love” phase. In B2B sales, it’s where you start thinking, “There’s something here—we have a lot to offer each other.” Nothing good happens, in either personal or business relationships, until you get to this stage.
  3. Continuation: This is the goal. In a personal relationship, this is where you get married and commit to staying married. In business, it’s where mutual trust ensures that both you and your customer, vendor, or employee are benefiting from the relationship, and if so, the relationship is sustained for a long period of time.
  4. Deterioration: In personal and business relationships, we hope to avoid this stage—but it happens sometimes, due to dissatisfaction, boredom, or resentment. We communicate less, and trust erodes.
  5. Ending: Just what the name implies—the relationship comes to an end. In a personal relationship, this is a breakup or a divorce. In business, it’s a little different: for example, a customer may have to cancel your service for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean you will never have contact with them again. A relationship can still exist, with the possibility that you can nurture it back to life over time.

How outsourced relationship building works

While the stages of a relationship are easily defined, it can be difficult to determine which actions should be taken in which stages in order to advance the relationship. The typical executive at a large company, for example, doesn’t have enough time or attention to devote to the relationship that’s required during the acquaintance and buildup stages.

This is where professional, outsourced relationship building comes in.

It’s possible to initiate and maintain relationships in a genuine way, thanks to advances in technology. The “shielded identity” afforded by being able to communicate from behind your computer screen allows others to transmit your thoughts and ideas on your behalf.  What’s more, “asynchronous interaction” makes it possible to have a conversation that doesn’t take place in real time. You interact to build those important business relationships, but you’re not the one pushing the buttons to make it happen. Whether it’s via e-mail, LinkedIn, or some other digital channel, it’s still you communicating, but somebody else is doing the legwork.

Relationship building comes in handy in the continuation stage, too: It’s easy to send little “hello, how-are-you-doing messages” every so often, reminding people that you care and you’re interested in them.

Relationship-based purchasing

People want to buy from people they know. The trend in relationship-based purchasing is on the rise, especially among affluent consumers. The bigger the ticket on the item, the higher the demand is for intimacy between buyer and seller. And besides, you never know where business relationships are going to lead. Nurturing the relationship after the sale has been made could lead to other business for you, or to important mentor/mentee relationships. After you’ve invested time and money in developing a relationship, it doesn’t have to deteriorate and end.

In the choppy waters of business relationships, outsourcing can be a lifesaver. If you think you could use some help in the critical areas of your business relationship management, give us a call.

There’s an old African proverb that says, “The lion does not turn around when a small dog barks.” That proverb points to a common obstacle in 1-to-1 marketing outreach: Differences—real or perceived—in social status between the person or entity doing the outreach and the recipient of the outreach.  There are many different types of relationships in business and social status can complicate your attempts to grow all of them.

Factors in social status

The success of your 1-to-1 marketing outreach is likely to be affected by how the recipient of your outreach perceives your social status compared to their own.  In general, it’s more challenging for a sales representative to initiate a relationship with the president of a company than vice versa.  But even if you’re close in rank to the recipient of your marketing outreach, that person still might consider himself or herself to have a higher social status, by virtue of a title, for example.

“The CFO does not turn around when an Assistant Vice President barks.”

There’s also the relative status of your company versus theirs to take into consideration. A sales rep at a large company may be perceived as having greater social status than a similar sales rep at a smaller, no-name company.

Demographic factors also sometimes play a part in perceived status differences.  An older person with a long tenure in a company might perceive themselves as having greater status than a younger person with less experience, even if the two of them occupy similar positions on the org charts.  And as much as we might wish it weren’t the case, gender can sometimes affect perceptions of status too.

The very dynamic between the pursuer and the one who is pursued creates a social status gap.  Think of it this way: Who usually has the higher social status—the supermodel, or the average Joe who’d like to date her? A company everyone wants to do business with, one that can pick and choose its business partners, occupies higher ground than those who are coming to them hat in hand, hoping to be chosen.

Bridging the social status gap

With all this to consider, what are the chances that your 1-to-1 marketing outreach will be successful?  Still pretty good—if you refer back to the basic rules that apply to building all other human relationships.

  • Make it personal – Icebreakers and rapport-building techniques can be used to uncover commonalities you share with the person you’re trying to reach out to. Even if the status gap seems like a chasm, find out what you share: Did you attend the same college?  Do you belong to the same church or community service organization?

Use the information available to you—whether it’s a social media profile, a news article, or tidbits you learn from a mutual acquaintance—to find something about that person that transcends the status gap and use it to connect with them.

  • Got a friend? – If there are no readily available commonalities, try leveraging your other relationships. Do you know some of the same people? If you do, a third-party introduction can go a long way toward building your credibility and erasing status differences.

Gaps in social status can definitely pose a challenge for your 1-to-1 marketing outreach, but with the right techniques, they can be overcome.  If you’re looking for creative ways to bridge the gap and build successful relationships using 1-to-1 marketing, give us a call.