“Relationship marketing.” “Get business by word of mouth.” “People like to do business with people they know, like, and trust.” You’ve heard these phrases many times before. But what does it really mean to build relationships with people in order to sell them something?


Does it work to make personal connections with a hidden agenda? How do you go about creating relationships for marketing purposes without feeling sleazy? Here are seven tips for building marketing relationships you can feel good about.

1. Start with the best audience. When you choose the right target market for your business, relationship-building becomes an enjoyable process. Your ideal clients and referral sources are people you already enjoy spending time with. Your clients should be people whose goals and problems you care about; your referral partners should be those who share your concerns for the welfare of the client base you serve.

If you feel resistant when you think about approaching prospective clients or referral partners simply to get to know them better, gauge your interest level in those individuals. A lack of interest on your part may be a signal that you are reaching out to the wrong group of people. Relationship marketing will not be a success for you if you don’t have a sincere concern and feeling of affinity for your prospective clients and the people you network with.

2. Treat prospects like clients and referral sources like friends. The best business relationships go beyond superficiality. When interacting with prospective clients, treat them as if they were paying clients already. Listen carefully to their issues and respond thoughtfully. Share your ideas with them and ask for their opinions. Instead of pressing for a sale, open a dialogue so the two of you can become better acquainted.

Socializing with your prospects and referral sources can allow relationships to build on more levels than just discussing how and when to do business. Lunch or coffee meetings may be the most obvious choices for social encounters, but consider others as well: a walk in the park, a game of tennis, a picnic with your families, or attending a concert, lecture, or art show together.

3. Offer resources and solutions with no strings attached. Giving prospective clients a taste of what you can provide builds their trust and demonstrates your competence. It also gives them opportunities to interact with you more frequently.

When prospects tell you about a need, suggest solutions even if the answer doesn’t involve hiring you. Offer free, useful information on your website, social media channels, and at speaking engagements in the form of blog posts, articles, videos, resource lists, or assessments. The more you are perceived as a resource, the more clients will welcome repeated contacts with you, and your relationship with them will grow.

4. Tell the truth. Hidden agendas and ulterior motives will sabotage your relationship-building efforts. The people you try to connect with will sense your insincerity and your attempts will backfire. Also, you’re likely to feel uncomfortable when you misrepresent your intentions. If you aren’t comfortable with what you are doing, you won’t market yourself well.

Don’t try to conceal your purpose when building relationships in the hope of landing new clients or referrals. Come right out and tell people your intent. For example, “I’d like to have you as a client some day. Perhaps for now I can provide some resources or suggestions regarding your current situation at no charge. Then as we get to know each other better, we can see whether it would make sense for us to work together at some point.”

5. Discover multiple ways to connect. One-on-one in-person meetings aren’t the only way to deepen relationships. It’s often easier to get to know people in group settings and online. Many lasting bonds form because people meet regularly as part of a networking group, volunteer together on a community project, or exchange comments and opinions on social media.

Seek out two or three places where people in your target market spend time and make yourself at home there. Take on an active role in groups you belong to where you will meet other members, join a task force or committee, or seek out like-minded individuals online.

6. Continue to stay in touch over time. You can’t build a relationship once and assume it will stay alive. People need to hear from you and about you regularly.

Think beyond phone calls and coffee dates to keep in touch with your relationship pool. Publishing a blog or ezine can help you to stay connected with a large number of people who already know you. Active participation on social media can do the same. Brief personal notes by email or postal mail will go a long way, especially when they include useful information like a link to an article or an event invitation. When the article or event is your own, adding a note personalizes the communication.

7. Rely on your personal strengths. We all prefer to connect with others in different ways. If chatting on the phone isn’t natural behavior for you, you may want to use email, social media, in-person meetings, or group gatherings as more comfortable ways of relationship-building. If you find business lunches awkward, consider meeting people in more casual settings like a city park or the beach. Hanging out online isn’t for everyone; don’t think you need to focus on social media if it feels buurdensome rather than enjoyable.

Building relationships is a natural human activity. If you’re finding that building relationships for business purposes feels unnatural, you might be copying someone else’s style instead of finding your own. Cultivating relationships should give you a positive feeling rather than a negative one. And the better you feel about doing it, the more relationship-building you will do.

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