There are a lot of things that go into operating a successful business. But, when it's all said and done, the thing that really matters most is building relationships. Sure, your customers are concerned about price, quality, service, etc., but the most successful businesses are those that work to create some kind of strong rapport with both their customers and potential customers alike.
Wal-Mart provides a quick and easy example. Do you really need someone handing you a shopping cart as you walk into the store? I'm a big boy, I can get my own cart. But, almost every Wal-Mart employs friendly, elderly types to smile, say "Hello", and hand you a cart as you walk in. Believe it or not, that little gesture is relationship building!
Many businesses fight to keep their prices low, and they make cuts so they can have the lowest prices in town. But, the dirty truth of that is, people will often pay more for something if they have a connection with person or business selling. That connection--that relationship--leads not only to repeat business, but to word of mouth business as well. This is true whether you run a grocery store, a restaurant, a sporting goods store, or a movie theater.
Most people don't develop relationships with people at the places they frequent. We're too busy for that! We just want to get in, get out, and go about our business. But, this just proves the point even more.
It's those places where the cashiers are just a bit more friendly, there is someone available to help you find what you need, they are willing to explain the benefits of one product over another, etc. These are all relationship building exercises that are actually expected of your customers. If you think about the places you frequent most, there is probably some element of familiarity with the staff, and that is, in part, what brings you back time and time again.
Being online has it's advantages, but when it comes to being able to provide that welcoming smile, "Can I help you find something?" offer, or handshake of mutual agreement, online businesses are at a distinct disadvantage. However, this inability to build relationships face-to-face does not negate the importance of building relationships with your customers. You just have to go about it a bit differently.
Some of this is done with your content, some via email or phone, and some through your online conversion process. But, since your website is usually the first point of contact, and your "first impression" to potential new customers, it's vital that you do all you can to create a website that is designed to build those relationships.
If the design, content, and conversion process of your website isn't developed with the idea of building relationships, it will fail at doing the job it was intended to do. People don't want a cold, clinical website. They want to feel like they are doing business with real people that are willing to go the extra mile to help them find exactly what they need.
If visitors come to your site and feel like you care more about selling your product than you do about helping them, they'll leave. You must use your site to build that connection, from the very first page your visitors land on (not always your home page,) all the way down to the delivery confirmation email after a purchase is made. Or in some cases, all the way to the conclusion of the contract, completion of service, submission of final invoice, etc.
Building relationships through your website isn't really all that different than building relationships anywhere else. The message is the same, just the medium has changed. Most businesses focus on providing information that people want, but this is very different from what they need. You have to do both.
People want specifications, but they want to know what those specifications mean to them. People want features, but they need to know how those features benefit them. People want information about the product or service, but they need to know how the product or service will make their lives better.
If you give your visitors what they want, then you're building a business. If you give people what they need, then you're building relationships. The most successful businesses online are those that have built relationships with their customers and potential customers.
Building relationships for your online business is no different than building relationships anywhere else. It's all about meeting people's needs. Too often people build relationships to benefit themselves and themselves alone. While every relationship should be mutually beneficial, if you go about it from a selfish perspective, sooner or later you'll be found out, and the relationship will be over.
This turn and burn strategy may get you what you want, but at a great cost. In business, you'll be losing customers just as fast as you can gain them. However, if you find out what your customers need, and deliver that to them, for every one customer you lose, you could be gaining 10 more. That's a recipe for business success.
Unfortunately, businesses often focus on what the customer wants and ignore what they need. Giving people what they want only addresses the surface of their concerns. When you give your customers what they need, they know you're building a relationship that isn't just a selfish one for your own gains.
In my next post, I'll dig further into translating your visitor's wants into needs so you can build a long-lasting, mutually beneficial, and profitable relationship with your customers.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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