Business leaders are focused on growth. Hopefully, that includes professional and personal growth. But how do we go about growing? Are we chasing transactions or relationships? I’m committed to growing relationships. As such, my focus is not just on creating “customers” but building “followers.”
The key to building followers, I believe, is building loyalty to our relationships, not just satisfaction. B2C has focused on creating communities and connections as a way to build loyalty. I have always wanted to build those same connections in the B2B space. I think it would make B2B providers truly different.
B2B? B2C? Try a little H2H
I’ve been interested in creating deeper and more emotionally connected B2B relationships for quite some time. I think the B2B space is desperately in need of more human-centered connections, but it doesn’t come naturally; historically it’s not how business gets done. As a business strategy, I’ve had to push it up hill along the way. When I share this opinion with other executives at conferences or industry speaking opportunities, I come across numerous skeptics. Yet, for all its challenges, I have found the journey inspiring.
The truth is, B2B has long been thought of as very different from B2C. We are selling products or services to businesses, so it’s considered to be different. We think we aren’t directly impacting or eliciting emotion from consumers. Therefore, the default approach to marketing and selling is, “while that works in the B2C space, it won’t work in B2B.” I respectfully, but wholeheartedly, disagree. At the end of the day, what is B2B but humans interacting with and marketing to other HUMANS (H2H)?
Human-centered business is essential
In my space in particular, we are asking humans to make large purchasing decisions that will lead to long-term, multi-year contracts and transformational change within their organization. Those decisions do not get made without trust, credibility and a community of knowledgeable, relatable people ready to support them throughout the duration. Understanding each other on a deeper, more personal level could actually be the difference maker.
5 relationship tips to help build loyal followers
I’ve been working toward a relationship-focused approach for quite awhile. I’m continuing to learn throughout the journey, but I thought I would share some of my experiences thus far.
- Courage required – As a leader you need the courage to say you want followers, not just customers (have the courage to look past the eye rolls and keep moving).
- Understand the key ingredients – You must decide what goes into creating true followers. I have found the most critical ingredients for long-term followers are trust and transparency, on both sides.
- Do not strive for perfection – Relationships of all kinds have ups and downs. Do not pretend you are perfect. Instead, perfect how you handle your imperfections, and be open about both your wins and your difficulties.
- Technology is an enabler – Use technology to build connections, not just to advertise products. One of the greatest assets we have leveraged to build loyal followers is our online communities of practitioners with this blog and our recently released podcast series. We are using these vehicles only to connect and share (not sell) on a variety of human centered topics – there’s no other agenda.
- Have patience – It’s hard to measure the immediate impact of followers. You need to believe in what you are doing and learn to look at different metrics. My biggest metric is the nature and depth of conversations I have with my clients on a regular basis. We are not just talking about product and services. We are having deeper and more meaningful conversations about life, and business is a part of that.
What has life taught you about creating deeper relationships in business?
As I travel this journey I am learning a lot. Some great books brave enough to share progressive thinking have really inspired me. This is Marketing by Seth Godin is focused on creating communities and connections. The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek is about the long view, and doing right by all parties. I encourage anyone looking for inspiration to check these books out and see if they nudge you in the direction of working to create followers, not just customers. Do they push you to finding a deeper purpose?
As a learner, I’m constantly looking to others to see how they think, strategize, create and execute. If you are focused on moving beyond transactions to relationships, trying to create followers vs customers, please share with me. What are you doing, what have you learned and what challenges and opportunities have come your way as a result?