Being Without Relationships is Being Without Business

My friend Chris Smith is a smart guy – and in his job, he gets to stir the pot occasionally by taking a position designed to incite controversy. Yesterday he did that when he wrote a post called, “It Is No Longer A Relationship Business – Here’s Why” .

In his post, Chris, from the viewpoint of the consumer , states “I view buying or selling a home as a transaction, not a process I want to get a new friend out of. Especially on Facebook by the way. When I leave the doctors office I certainly don’t expect to have him join me for a latte and follow me on Twitter.” I can’t argue with that – its his opinion and he’s entitled to it. But he’s missing the point.

Salespeople have , at the core of their job, the need to establish themselves as a trusted resource.  When a salesperson does not establish a rapport with a person, the difficulty of their job increases exponentially. And the way we do that is by establishing rapport with the consumer. We don’t do it because we want the consumer to come home with us, or grab a latte, but because it helps us to help them achieve their goals.

Chris goes on to say “Would you agree that there are a lot of consumers right now that would prefer to interact with you as little as possible, much less have a relationship with you? Embrace that. Market that.” I would go even further. If you want to help the consumer reach their goal of not interacting with you, quit your job – thereby completely minimizing the chances of any interaction or the establishment of new relationships.

Look, I get Chris’s point – people want to buy without being sold. And no one wants a relationship thrust upon them – by a salesperson, or any random stranger – but that is not the point of relationship building in terms of social marketing.

In his oversimplification, Chris completely ignores the fact that all consumers prefer to do business with with people that they have some level of trust with. If we accept that as a fact, then it follows that the first step to establishing trust is establishing a relationship. And in today’s world, we can accomplish that easily and effectively by connecting with people on-line as well as off-line.

Not every relationship is an intimate one, not every friend is a BFF (Best Friend Forever, if you really must know) but we like going to the restaurant where we’re “friends” with the owner or the wait staff, we prefer to deal with the doctor or attorney or accountant we have confidence in, and we even go back to the same hair stylist time and again because we trust them to do the job right.  In every case that confidence starts with some form of social interaction – usually one designed to foster a friendly relationship.

Whether you are off line or online, establishing such relationships is about having relevant connections to the other person. Its not necessarily the same for every consumer.  The beauty of social marketing is that you can establish relationships with people in a relevant manner creating a sphere of influence that can generate business for you through word of mouth as well as  direct purchases of your product or service. People that understand that succeed in the social space. People that don’t create large groups of friends or followers that don’t generate business because creating relationships for the sake of creating relationships is a foolish and ineffective strategy. If you assume that all relationships are the same, or that you will have the same relationship with everyone you meet, you have little understanding of social interaction. We  need to create relationships that have meaning and value for both parties – whether online or off as the key to building a business or a life  that has value.

As a salesperson, every time I met a new consumer I needed to become their “instant friend”. I didn’t need to be their closest friend, just enough of a friend to let them know I wouldn’t hurt them to benefit myself or a transaction. I did that by offering value to the consumer, finding social objects (places where our lives intersected and we had interests or experiences in common)and demonstrating that I had their best interests at heart. I did this every day with every new consumer I met, and built a business that way. Many of those relationships were transient, lasting only as long as the transaction itself, but many of them developed further.

Let me tell you the story of two CPAs – the first  was a client of my office, that I met when he was buying a home for his family. We became what I will call “business friends” . We didn’t go out to dinner together or take long walks along the beach, but we were well disposed to each other. He would ask me real estate questions and I would ask him accounting questions – because we each trusted the other to provide good relevant information. After a little while he convinced me that my new real estate company should incorporate, and then shortly after that he became “my” accountant. Still no soulful looks into each other’s eyes, and I really don’t remember if we ever had coffee together (probably not since I am a tea drinker) but we had a friendly business relationship = in fact, each year when he had his annual client picnic, I and many of my associates would go and play ultimate Frisbee with him and his staff and other clients. After just a few years, he sold his practice to enter politics. And that was when I met the second CPA.

I came to the office one day to find that I had a new accountant – and we started our relationship by exchanging information – because if this new guy didn’t make me trust him quickly – he wasn’t going to be able to retain my account. Lucky (for both of us) he was able to make me feel comfortable and establish feeling of kinship. Our relationship developed differently however. We actually grew to be very close friends. In less than a year we had bought a home together at the Jersey Shore for our two families, where, over the next 20 years we developed a close and binding relationship shared by our wives and to a degree by our children. In the 20 years we shared a 2 unit property, we never had a cross word or a misunderstanding. And the times we spent together are among the best times I (and my wife) ever had with anyone. On the financial side, his business grew through our relationship , as did mine, and we mutually profited from our involvement with each other in ways we could never have anticipated. So these two men, in the same profession, providing the same service to the same consumer had to very different relationships, both started with creating a rapport and establishing trust.

If anyone had asked, I would have said, as Chris did “I view filing taxes and financial as a transaction, not a process I want to get a new friend out of. Especially on Facebook by the way. When I leave the accountant’s office I certainly don’t expect to have him join me for a latte and follow me on Twitter.” – but I would have been far poorer both financially and personally.

And that Chris is why I feel you are more wrong than right in your post. Building a relationship is key to building your business – just as the key to having an easy and less stressful transaction is being assisted by a professional you can trust. When you ask “At 2 am when my wife and I can’t sleep because we are stressed out about the process, are there articles on your site that would make us feel like we aren’t alone?” That’s the relationship with a Realtor I am looking for.” I’m going to suggest that if you had a salesperson you trusted, you wouldn’t be up at 2 AM feeling stressed out.  If you wanted to read articles, they would have helped you by providing them or pointing you in the right direction before you were in a frenzy. If the goal is to have less stress in your complicated, expensive, transaction, then having a “friend in the business” can help you have less concern – and therefore less stress.

At least that’s what’s worked for me/ What’s worked for you?

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