My friend Valeria recently ran a post here at the Fix that made me think, always a good thing. Called Why Let Friendship Get in the Way?, Valeria shares this: Over the years, I had a couple of instances in which hiring a third party to do a job who was also a friend bit me in the tail.
My initial response was to post a comment that wondered what we mean by friend. Because Valeria's post made me question what I believe to be the most critical strategy in developing business growth--relationship building.
In brief, most of my marketing energies go into building relationships, which I believe is the most important step in building trust. Furthermore, I propose that without trust, we will not be hired to perform work nor will we sell products and services to consumers. I also propose that most of those with whom company marketers build relationships, hence trust, never become friends. In fact, most of the customers will neither know those marketers (beyond the brand image) or ever put a face to the persons behind the marketing of the products or services, except for those employee touchpoints who personally deliver thode products and services.
But as marketers in the b2b world, and especially as consultants and/or entrepreneurs, relationship building often blends into personal relationships. So if we accept that our first job as marketers, consultants and entrepreneurs is to build relationships with our best customers and a level of trust that is strong, how do we avoid destroying the business protocols necessary to produce a great customer experience?
In my world, building relationships with decision makers who will hire my firm means we learn each other's first names; we get to know each other's habits, good and bad; we often discover our likes and dislikes; and sometimes we share personal stories over lunch, dinner or a few beers. I don't believe that makes us friends but it does create a level of personalization within what began as a business relationship. That can't be bad, can it?
Valeria makes me think it can be bad, if we disrespect that client by treating them as anyone other than a business person for whom we work. That means distancing ourselves from the personal and relating mostly to their business wants, needs and desires. Is that possible? I am certain it is. But how we do it is as important as knowing we need to do it.
Therefore, what are the strategies, tactics and attitudes necessary to build strong business relationships that don't cross the line into friendships, which Valeria convinced me can disrupt productivity and the quality of the work? Or if you disagree with this thesis, where am I going wrong?
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