Information is the Present; Connection is the Future

“What consumers are primarily interested in today are not features, but relationships.”
— Harry Beckwith, Selling the Invisible

How many times already today has someone tried to sell you something? The ads come in by email, snail mail, fax, radio, magazines, newspapers, TV, and your web browser; the salespeople write you, call you, and approach you in the store or showroom. Are you even listening any more? How often do you actually buy something because someone you didn’t know tried to sell it to you?

Your clients — consumers and businesses alike — are just like you. They are not only fed up with hype, most of the time they don’t even see it. Overwhelmed with communications, they tune out the vast majority of the marketing messages they are presented with just in order to get through their day. After attending a race plastered with Coca-Cola logos, a survey revealed that only a third of the attendees could remember who was the sponsor.

“A weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in 17th century England.”
— R.S. Wurman, Information Anxiety

Making information available to your clients is still important, so don’t throw out your brochures or take down your web site. But with so many communications arriving all the time, your clients want control over how and when they receive your information. More than ever before people want to do business with people they know, like, and trust.

With a service business, what you are really marketing is you, not the service. When you are the product, your customers need to know who you are. They want to feel a connection with you and know that they can trust you before they will consider doing business with you.

“Beleaguered by e-mail spam and intrusive pop-up ads on the Internet, consumers are using the “delete” button with increasing frequency and losing confidence in other traditional forms of advertising as well… Consumers rank word-of-mouth recommendations from others as the most trusted form of advertising.”

According to psychologists, a primary motivational factor for human behavior is affiliation, defined as “the desire to establish and maintain warm and friendly relations with others.” We are naturally drawn toward experiences where affiliation is possible, and avoid situations where it is not.

When we receive a recommendation from someone we are already affiliated with, we believe that following that recommendation will continue the positive experience. If we think developing an affiliation is possible with someone new because they have approached us in a warm and friendly way, we are encouraged to establish a new relationship, whether it is personal or business.

“With the amount of information presented increasing, mass marketing campaigns become less effective… One-to-one marketing will not just be a possibility, it will be a necessity.”
Easton Consultants, Information Overload

Establishing a one-to-one connection with your prospective customers can begin with projecting the warm and friendly image that encourages affiliation. Make yourself available for contact and conversation that isn’t necessarily leading directly to a sale. Encourage word of mouth by developing and keeping in touch with a network of current and former clients, colleagues, competitors, referral partners, and influential people.

Focus on providing information to clients in objective, rather than promotional ways. A recent study found that a commercial web site scored 27% higher in “usability” by visitors when written in an objective style (sharing information) instead of a promotional style (singing the company’s praises). You can carry this principle off line by writing helpful articles and giving talks in preference to sending brochures and making cold calls.

Participate in your client community as a peer by attending conferences, seminars, fundraisers, and other educational and social events. On the web, frequent discussion lists, forums, and other online communities. When you read articles and posts, take a moment to post your comments to the author where other visitors can see them.

Prospective buyers name newsletters, weblogs, and other forms of opt-in, reader-friendly communications as one of their most trusted sources of information about products and services. As well as publishing one yourself, it pays to be mentioned in someone else’s.

“Get to know the influentials…invite them in and engage them in a conversation…Most are local community leaders, or have real involvement in their communities, and as such are the nodes of wide personal networks. They are the people … to whom others look for advice or counsel.”
— Edward Keller & Jonathan Berry, The Influentials

When you engage in a community, people begin to know you from the words of others instead of from your words alone. You can even create your own community by starting an affinity group or business network, launching a discussion list, hosting an online forum or live conference, adding commenting features to your web site, posting reader responses in your newsletter, and much more.

The real key is to begin connecting in person with the population you want to reach, instead of relying on promotion and selling to bring them to you and make them want to buy.

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