Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Relationships are Key to Building Business

This past week I made the 25-mile trek to see my allergist, Dr. Wyatt, an experienced doctor and just generally a great guy.  He is out of network for me, which means that, in addition to driving an hour round-trip, I pay a semi-steep co-pay to see my doc.  So why do I do it?

It’s all about the relationship!  I’ve seen Dr. Wyatt for 30 years.  Every time I visit, he asks about my horses and my business, and my family (by name).  I look forward to my annual visit and I would miss Dr. Wyatt if I went somewhere else.

A couple years ago, I attended a continuing legal education course that included a marketing segment.  One piece of knowledge stuck with me from that speaker.  He said, “Imagine your hairstylist.”  OK, I pictured Ethan, who’s been cutting my hair since I first started law school.  He then asked, “Why do you choose to see your hairstylist?  Is it because you don’t think there’s anyone else who can cut your hair as well or better?”  Probably not.  “Is it because your hairstylist is the cheapest one out there?”  Definitely not.  Again, it’s all about the relationship!  

This isn’t any kind of earth-shattering discovery.  Of course people enjoy working with others whom they know, like, and trust.  But as entrepreneurs, we are often in a better position to form meaningful relationships with our customers than larger competitors.  We can do this better than them, and we should!

I encourage other entrepreneurs (and my own employees) to let their personalities into the business, and not to be afraid to get to know customers on a friendly level.  One of Dale Carnegie’s 10 golden principles is to become genuinely interested in other people.  Another is to make other people feel important – and to do it sincerely.  This is easy stuff when you allow yourself to be real!

Two of my longest-standing legal clients came with me, unsolicited, from my original large firm after it dissolved.  I remember attending multiple closings with the first client, but most memorably one at his own tavern, the business we were selling in the deal, after he first drove me around town proudly showing me his other properties.  I met the second client at his sizeable farm, surrounded by hundreds of acres of other properties he was purchasing in the deal, and went trail riding with his whole family. These were both fantastic days for me, and resulted in long-term client relationships.

As a retail business owner, one recent strategy I’ve implemented is inviting a handful of customers to text me their orders (check out Google Voice for a free alternate number option that will send texts to you and others, like a product or sales manager, simultaneously).  This is an experiment, but so far the results are amazing.  It’s personal, it demonstrates trust and connection, and it’s convenient.

These were not pre-existing friends.  They were customers first, who have let me into their lives, allowed me to visit their stables, and who come in to talk about everything from their horses’ show performances to emergency vet calls.  Those customers could hop online and order from big retailers anytime they’re in a pinch, but most often, they don’t.  When top customer Andersen needs a new saddle for her champion hunter, or when trainer Warren needs fancy sheets for 15 horses headed to a show, they now text me instead of going to a larger competitor.  Want to guess why?

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