My wife, Linda, has many impressive qualities, not the least of which is an inexplicable affection for skinny, middle-aged bald men.
But her superpower is her ability to connect the dots – between people and the vital information they possess.
Nowhere is this on greater display than when we travel.
We like to venture off the beaten path, a strategy that invariably leads to unusual experiences. But it also means that you spend a lot of time steeped in confusion.
Consider our recent trip to Costa Rica, a place where we know nobody and speak the language at the approximate level of a precocious three-year-old.
One hot afternoon, we were looking for a good place to eat lunch. If it were just me, I would have rolled the dice and eaten at the first spot that seemed decent.
Instead, she walked into a place that offered surfing lessons, assuming (rightly, it turned out) that since they cater to tourists, they would – unlike most Costa Ricans – speak English. Five minutes later, we had a lunch recommendation in hand.
Then the owner of the surf shop called a cab driver she knew, negotiated the fare for us in Spanish, and sent us on our way.
After a fantastic lunch, Linda approached a couple next to us that she had overheard speaking English and asked a few more questions about the local area.
Next thing I knew, they offered to drive us back to town. Along the way, they mentioned that friends of theirs owned a terrific lodge nearby where we ended up staying for a couple of days when we returned to the area the following week.
And that’s just one example.
Throughout our time in Costa Rica, Linda jumped from person to person like some kind of viral … okay, bad analogy. The point is, she kept uncovering useful information, little known recommendations, and friends of friends who kept the ball rolling.
I know I’m supposed to be the relationship marketer in the family, but it occurred to me that what Linda does naturally is exactly the approach I recommend for tiny professional service firms and solos.
It’s about quality, not quantity.
We read the guidebooks and online info like everyone else. But those tend to be outdated and at the 30,000-foot level. The people with the best information are the locals.
The surf shop woman lives right there – it’s no surprise she knows the best places to eat and the cab drivers who can be trusted.
Your marketing “locals” are the three or four hundred people on Earth you already know (also known as the people you don’t bother staying in touch with because you’re too busy worrying about your SEO rankings).
These people know, like and trust you. The numbers may be small, but their willingness and ability to spread the word about you is off the charts.
Mistakes don’t matter.
Many times, of course, these casual conversations go nowhere.
Sometimes people give you bad information. Sometimes you can’t find anyone who can help. Sometimes the person you approach in a store turns out to be a mannequin (my bad, he looked so real).
But the upside is high and the cost of error is low.
Relationship-based marketing works the same way. Most of the people you send an email to, meet over a cup of coffee, or connect with at a networking event, don’t lead to business right away (if ever).
But some do. And those are invariably high quality because they are referral-based and they circumvent the cold-call, dog-and-pony-show dance of trying to sell to a stranger.
It requires a long term view and a leap of faith.
Linda didn’t walk into the surf shop with the goal of finding a cool jungle lodge to stay at the following week. That piece of information was two steps and several hours down the road.
But she’s been applying this approach long enough and consistently enough to know that as long as she keeps asking questions and moving from person to person, the gems will reveal themselves.
The same applies to your marketing: You can’t see the end point from where you’re standing and there’s a very good chance that nothing you do today will bring you business tomorrow.
But… if you can keep the relationship ball rolling, it all just keeps coming back your way.
Here’s the bottom line.
Relationship marketing is random, but it’s not luck. Luck is finding money on the street – great when it happens but completely out of your control.
Relationship marketing is about staying in front of the people you know, over and over again in a way that positions you as a likeable expert.
Do that consistently and not only will you uncover a ton of great places to eat lunch, you’ll bump into plenty of new clients along the way.
- Have you ever jumped from person to person? Explain.
- How many languages do you speak?
- Are you good at keeping in touch with the people you already know?