A recent survey conducted by Interland Inc., a top Internet service provider, identifies establishing “community relations” as the primary marketing strategy of small business owners. The failure to market is a major reason why roughly half of all small businesses fail within two years of start-up. Community relations will always be an integral part of marketing your business, but it’s time to realize that the community has changed. If you plan to be in business for the long run, you will have to employ new relationship-building tools.
Most people attend events hoping to connect with one or two executives from companies with which they’d love to do business. However, with 50 other people targeting the same two people, the most you may get in is a quick “hello.” That’s an investment of two hours for a 30-second sound bite that most likely was sandwiched between similar sound bites with other attendees. Does this sound all too familiar?
It would be great to attend an event, connect with someone who needs your product or service and sign them up on the spot, but that rarely happens. According to a survey by the Harvard Business School, 80 percent of all new sales require eight to 15 contacts just to gain the interest of a sales prospect and six to 18 months on average to close the deal. Changing community dynamics with respect to size and expectations are a key consideration. No longer are you competing with businesses on your block alone, but also with companies half way around the world. And, in today’s 24/7/365 economy, prospects expect information on demand.
So how do you bring your relationship-building efforts into the 21st century?
The Google Test
When I meet someone at an event, one of the first things I do when I return to my office is conduct a Google search, what I refer to as the Google test. If no one in my social network is familiar with the person, and a Google search comes up empty, I am less likely to invest more time cultivating a relationship. With more and more people using the Google test as a screening device, it’s very important that you and/or your firm show up on Internet searches. Make sure your Web site has an “About Us” page that includes your name and professional experience. Many Web sites lack specific information on a company’s management team. The second most popular page on our Web site is the page listing the names and experiences of our team. The more you show up in searches, the more credible you appear to those trying to decide whether to pursue a business relationship with you.
Blogging the Good News
Remember, it takes eight to 15 contacts with a prospect before he or she will engage you in a business opportunity. These contacts are not interactions with a meaningful exchange of information. Rather, they are attempts to break down barriers. It takes so many contacts because, on average, 90 percent of prospects are not ready to buy on the spot. The trick is to stay in contact as they progress to the buying stage. A great way to not only stay in contact but to be seen as a valued resource is to create a Web log, or “blog.” This is nothing more than an online journal. Many businesses are using blogs to offer ideas, suggestions and analysis of developments in their area of expertise. It’s an inexpensive way to cultivate relations with prospects and customers alike. Along with e-newsletters and Webinars, blogs form a very effective communications strategy. Blogs also will help you pass the Google test.
You may have received an e-mail from someone you know inviting you to join his or her social network sponsored by service provider LinkedIn. By joining, you are able to see if other network members have relationships with people with whom you’d like to connect. If a member does have a relationship, you can ask for an introduction, thus providing a much warmer opening and raising the probability of a successful outcome. Of course, all network members can request introductions of you as well. More members mean a bigger network and more opportunities to leverage trusted relationships. Applications from Spoke Software, Leverage Software and others include software that analyzes e-mail files to figure out the strength of relationships, allowing you to determine which member has the best relationship with the person you want to reach.
To compete in today’s environment, it’s important to master new tools and strategies for cultivating relationships. It’s not just whom you know, but who knows you and what they know about you that will shape your success.
Brent Leary is a partner at CRM Essentials. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.crm-essentials.com .