Valentine's Day is here, so it's the perfect time to use one of my favorite marketing analogies: Marketing is like dating.

Why? Because you have to attract leads by playing up your positives; you have to differentiate yourself from the competition; and you have to spend time building meaningful relationships—ultimately choosing one person for what you hope will be lifelong wedded bliss.

How business owners attract leads and differentiate themselves will differ from one company to the next. But in building relationships, there are a few common blunders that many entrepreneurs and marketers tend to make—no matter what industry they're in. 

If you can avoid these five common mistakes, you can easily build long-term relationships with all of your prospects and customers.

1. Waiting Too Long to Call After a Date

Let's face it: Failing to follow up is a common problem for entrepreneurs. Because they're busy chasing other opportunities, too many business owners give up on their prospects way too early. They think that if the sale doesn't happen on the first contact, it will never happen. In reality, most consumers (81%) don't buy until at least the fifth contact.

So rather than be the guy or gal who didn't call...

  • Systemize and automate your follow-up process. This ensures that leads you worked hard (and probably spent marketing dollars) to get... don't get lost. By automating aspects of your marketing with email auto-responders and long-term, multichannel marketing campaigns, you ensure that lead nurturing is happening.
  • Be a trusted expert, not just another vendor. Be their go-to source for quality content—from reports to video tutorials to an informational email series that they can learn from consistently—so that when they're ready to buy, they buy from you.

2. Moving Too Fast

This is simple: Allow the relationship to grow before you ask for the sale. Would you ask for someone's hand in marriage after knowing them for five minutes? There are still things to learn about your contacts, and they want to know more about you. Make sure you are the right match before asking them to commit to a purchase.

Before proposing, try these:

  • Educate your prospects about the benefits you provide
  • Use social proof, such as case studies and testimonials, to demonstrate how you've made many others happy
  • Let them experience the benefits of your product or service through a free trial so they realize they can't go another day without it
  • Set up an automatic email or direct mail series that will gradually lead your prospects through the sales cycle

3. Not Knowing the Deal Breakers

As you start your "dating" experience, you might have a list with tens of thousands of prospects on it. But just as in love, so it is in business: Timing is everything. Not everybody wants a relationship with you. And all will move forward according to their own timeframe, not yours. However, that doesn't mean you have to wait around until they take notice. You're better than that.

As you move prospects through the sales funnel, you'll want to put them through some tests that will allow them to essentially raise their hands to let you know what they're interested in. Doing so will help you be more efficient when following up: You can find out who's really into you, who kind of likes you, and who is still deciding what they think of you.

Here are some "tests" to try:

  • Test different messages. Use a few messages across different channels to test your marketing. How do they respond to an email? What about a voicemail?
  • Monitor behavior and actions. Do the prospects click on a link to watch a demo? Are they downloading your free report? If the answer is yes, you might move them into the hot-leads part of the funnel.
  • Listen. Don't always talk at them. Don't flood your prospects with messages. If they aren't opening your emails or clicking on links, cut them some slack. Don't unleash your hot-lead follow-up campaign on them.

4. Settling for "Mr. Right Now" Instead of Waiting for "Mr. Right"

Dry spells are common in sales—and in dating. When that happens, every potential customer can look like "Mr. Right," no matter how poor of a fit for your business.

But a relationship must be mutually beneficial. Settling for the wrong customer can be a waste of time and money. Aside from missing opportunities to keep your best customers happy, you'll probably run around in circles trying to satisfy a high-maintenance customer who may not end up being committed anyway.

Rather than closing any old deal that comes along, develop a profile for your ideal customers. Get to know them. Do some research on where they hang out. Find out what they like, and send out messages that appeal to them. Stop wasting time reaching out to the wrong kinds of prospects; instead...

  • Create quality content that your target market needs, attracting prospects into your sales funnel.
  • Generate leads from sources you trust to deliver qualified prospects.
  • Find and use keywords that will attract your target prospects.

5. Not Asking for Referrals

In the dating world, you are most likely to find successful connections when a friend sets you up. You'll have a much better chance of hitting it off with someone who comes from a trusted source who knows you and your interests.
The same goes for prospecting in the business world. You are much more likely to find a successful relationship if a customer, partner, or affiliate sets you up.

When prospects come in via a referral, they typically know others who have already worked with you. They know your products and services are valuable, and they have a certain level of trust, based on the experiences of someone they know.

A referral is your best chance for a true conversion, so start the work to create a referral program now. Don't worry about how formal it is at the beginning. Start with something, then expand it; it may well go on to become one of your top sources for leads. You can start by...

  • Setting up an affiliate and partner program to get the word out
  • Asking your customers for referrals via the telephone during your normal operations and customer interactions
  • Creating a contest that launches a more formal referral program where you give away something of value, such as gift certificates to restaurants or a voucher that reduces their fees with you every time they refer someone who turns into a customer

Dating can be fun. So can marketing. Especially when you have a valuable product or service that people really need and can benefit from. You've got something worthwhile to offer the world, and it's time you get into the game. Apply the rules of dating to your marketing, and you'll see your nurturing process consistently turn interest into sales.

Happy Valentine's Day!

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Five Relationship Blunders to Avoid in Your Sales and Marketing

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Kathy Sacks is VP of communications for Infusionsoft, a leader in marketing automation software for small business. She blogs at