My next book, Return on Relationship, written with my friend and colleague Ted Rubin, offers a comprehensive look into the importance of building, nurturing and maintaining relationships with your clients as a means to drive loyalty, engagement and ultimately sales.
The very first chapter is titled, “If I Build It, Will They Come?”, referencing the movie Field of Dreams. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s about a farmer who becomes convinced by a mysterious voice that he is supposed to build a baseball diamond in his corn field. He does it and baseball players from yesteryear show up and play on the field, fulfilling a childhood dream. I use this often when I’m speaking to clients about online and social media marketing. Can you build a website, Facebook or Twitter presence? Sure. Will people come? The answer is…it depends. It depends on how dedicated you are to building and nurturing the relationships with your current and potential clients and brand advocates. You can read the book to find out what advice we give for doing just that (and I hope you do!), but here I decided to offer some insights you won’t find in the book I’ve learned about building relationships from the best teachers– my children. Here are some of my favorites:
- Turn on your listening ears. This is a saying that plays over and over again in our household. Are your listening ears on? One of the most important keys in building relationships, is to be a good listener. How can you deliver the products and services that your constituency wants and needs if you don’t listen? How can you get the most out of your team members and consultants if you’re not paying attention to what they tell you? Many missteps can easily be avoided by just turning on your listening ears.
- Play with everyone. When I’m out attending live events, I always notice that people spend time with the same folks over and over again. My son never tells another child, “I don’t want to play with you”; he plays with all of the kids all the time—that way, no matter what park we go to, he inevitably finds a friend that he can play with. If you only talk to a select few, you are missing out on potential relationships with some great people.
- Offer help. My son always offers to help others who have fallen down or seem to be having a difficult time. In business, I find it invaluable to offer assistance when I can. I have forged great relationships with my clients and my peers simply by asking, “How can I help you?” This small effort has translated into continued business and referrals.
- Be persistent. I saw my son trying to figure out how to run up the playground slide. It seems to be some rite of passage for kids. He started by just trying to climb up from the bottom, then moved a bit back and tried to run up, then farther and farther back until he was able to get enough momentum to carry himself up to the top of the slide. I’ll never forget the look of pride on his face when he figured it out. Building successful relationships works the same way. It doesn’t happen overnight; you have to constantly reach out and connect with people on their level. Make a plan and be persistent.
- If something stinks, change it. Anyone who has walked within a mile of a baby who needs a diaper change knows what this means. It’s the same with building business relationships: If it’s not working or if you’re not getting what you need, change the way you’re interacting, the information you’re giving or the method of communication until it does.
- Follow up. My son always asks me if I’ve called back so-and-so’s mommy who asked for a play date. If I forget, he reminds me—constantly. In building a successful relationship-based community, the follow-up is the most important part. Don’t just respond on social channels or just send an email—pick up the phone or send a personal note. People just love to receive a note in the mail, and it will go a long way to building and solidifying their relationship with you or your brand.
- Share and share alike. We are always telling our kids to share. Why? Not only because it’s polite, but also because if you give, you get. Give great information even if it’s from a competitor, or share insights about complementary products and services…and you will be more useful to your base and in turn create a responsive community that looks at you, your product or your service as a go-to place for great information.
- Have a short memory. So a kid knocked down my son on the playground one day. The next day I thought for sure my son would not want to play with him, but there they were on the swings, then my son was kicking around a ball with that same boy! Kids know instinctively that if they held grudges, no one would play with them at all. Every kid gets knocked down at one time or another. I’m not saying that if you’ve had a bad experience with someone you should continue the relationship; I’m saying that if you hold onto that memory, you may never get to work with anyone because you might not trust people simply because of one bad experience. When building a community, remember that the most vocal detractors can be potential advocates. If someone cares enough about your or your brand to complain, there is a potential to turn that relationship around.
- Don’t yuck my yum. In other words, if I am eating something you don’t think is appetizing, don’t say “yuck.” Why? People have different tastes; there will be people my children will meet from different backgrounds who eat different foods or have different cultures. It is a good practice to say “No thank you” rather than “Ewww!” or “Yuck!” For relationship building, this means holding your tongue and personal opinions at times when voicing them would be a disadvantage to you or your brand. Also, there is nothing wrong with healthy debate—for two people to agree to disagree—but don’t immediately shoot down someone’s viewpoint just because it’s not your own.
- Do it with a happy heart or don’t do it at all. This one came from my mother, and I’m teaching it to my kids. In other words, if you’re not going to be authentic and willing to put in the effort to do something well, don’t bother doing it at all. In business relationships, we say in the book that REAL trumps PERFECT every time. Have an authentic voice and a real willingness to build solid relationships, and you will succeed.
11. Teamwork makes the dream work. We are constantly watching our kids work together to achieve a goal. Wherever possible, look for ways to collaborate and work with others—even competitors—to help get maximum visibility for your messages. It’s a great way to build a responsive community simply by reaching out and asking for ways you can work together. In the case of this book, this is exactly how it came about. Ted heard me speak at the Women Entrepreneurs Rock the World conference, and we met and decided our philosophies were in line and we could accomplish more by working and writing the book together than each on our own.
So in building your business relationships, take a cue from observing your kids (or remember what your parents taught you): turn on your listening ears, offer help and be persistent. Keep it real, and you will soon see an amazing community of brand advocates helping sell your services for you. It won’t be easy or fast, but you will certainly reap what you sow on your field of dreams.