This post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog June 13, 2005. It was revised and republished here on November 15, 2009.
Even with all of the convenient communications tools enabled by the internet and wireless technologies, business is still fundamentally based on relationships. Social media expands the ability to create and develop business relationships, making them even more important. According to a study commissioned by The Sales Board, the #1 reason that companies (and, for big-ticket items, individuals) choose to buy from one company over another is their relationship with the sales representative. Think about all of the vendor relationships you have. Then think about your favorite vendors – what sets them apart from the others? While it may be a factor such as price or product quality, in many if not most cases, it’s the relationships you have with people at that company.
The first step in establishing a new relationship is, of course, simply being pleasant and courteous. I’ve never seen a situation where displaying rude, hostile behavior results in any long-term advantage. As Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island once put it, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.” Or, for those who prefer their wisdom a bit less homespun, there’s a memorable quote in Mike Stanton’s book “The Prince of Providence : The Rise and Fall of Buddy Cianci, America’s Most Notorious Mayor,” (great book by the way; a tad long as Stanton occasionally delves into unnecessary detail, but overall a fascinating true story well told), ascribed to being an old saying in Rhode Island politics: “Be careful whose toes you step on today; they may be connected to the a** you have to kiss tomorrow.” So, given that my insight above is hardly new or unique, one might expect it to be universal, but it isn’t – quite.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people over the past few years, and by far the majority of them have been wonderful, reaffirming my basic faith in human nature. But it’s amazing that some people, even in positions of influence, just don’t get this basic concept. (I won’t name any names here; the good people know who they are, and the not-so-good don’t care.) There was the agency presentation I sat in on at a client site; the agency personnel were arrogant and condescending to the point of offensiveness. That was appalling, but not shocking. What was shocking was that they won the business(!) over an (at least) equally qualified agency with a better attitude (though the relationship didn’t last long). There was also the CEO I met with – I’ll call her Christine – who repeatedly spoke disparagingly and dismissively of her coworkers; not only subordinates, but even the company founders! Worst of all was the agency head I had arranged a meeting with; after about 45 minutes of what I thought had been a fairly pleasant and productive conversation, I asked him, “So, what can I do for you?” He sneered back, “I don’t know – what can you do for me?” Ouch.
More recently, I’ve had unexpectedly unpleasant run-ins with a couple of well-known bloggers in the social media space. These were individuals who I’d quoted and written of approvingly in my blog. When I asked if they might like to retweet or otherwise help promote these posts (I mean, if someone wrote nice things about you on their blog, wouldn’t you want to help promote the piece?), one replied snidely “Good luck building your blog traffic by rehashing other people’s content” while another bizarrely accused me of thinking my blog was “more important than the suffering in Darfur.” What??
It’s certainly unclear how some of these people attained their positions of power, and clearly uncertain how long they’ll retain them.
But, as I said, by far the majority of the new people I’ve met, online and offline, have been wonderful. There was the agency account rep who provided me with a number of new contacts, and stayed in touch even when I had no business to send his way. There was the vendor account rep who has likewise stayed in touch, providing me with contacts, ideas, and encouragement (not to mention the occasional smoked salmon). There was the managing partner of an executive consulting firm who bought me a cup of coffee and shared his wisdom. There was the CEO who put me in touch with a number of key individuals, including a VC principal who in turn helped open doors for me. And many more.
Although I’ll no doubt continue to meet new people and establish new relationships, I already know some of the people I’ll be doing business with in the future. The business contacts who have established a relationship with me are the ones whose calls I will always return, whose emails I will always open, and for whom I will do whatever I can when they ask. To expand your business, yes, by all means take advantage of the Web marketing tools at your disposal; but nourish and expand your person-to-person business relationships as well. Simply being nice can pay huge dividends.