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 But those tend to be outdated and at the 30,000-foot level.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?
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1. Only in ballet class.
2. One well, another badly, and a third I can sing in but don’t know what the words mean.
3. Yes! I send holiday cards annually to old friends many of whom I’ve known for more than 50 years (OK, I’m old). If they’re ever in my city, they usually stop in.
Now for a travel tip – Before going anywhere new, check out the listing for that place in AtlasObscura.com. You will find fascinating things to see and do AAA will never mention.
2. I’d like to hear a sample.
3. Great tip about AtlasObscura! I will check it out.
I was in a Brazilian band at the University of Florida. We sang in Portuguese. Click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDJL-xdOFHQ I’m the one in the yellow shirt.
A great clip, Jean! And my wife (the same as discussed above!) is also a U of F Gainesville grad.
1. Joys of being born (privileged) Indian – wrote an entire piece for the WSJ on it – https://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2011/02/16/india-journal-sluiters -lemma-on-indian-connectedness/
2. Three – born with two, learned a third when I went to college; despite my admiration for my Spanish teacher, my fourth never bloomed. Can cuss in several more.
3. Yep, but not consistent. Still got some work to do.
Sri, I love, love, love that WSJ article. So funny (and interesting). Looking forward to finally meeting in person here in Boston once that kind of thing is once again permitted.
I preferred the three questions in the newsletter (since, alas, I only speak English despite four years of high school French and the purchase of Spanish Rosetta Stone at least a decade ago).
Have you ever jumped from person to person? Explain.
Absolutely, in my work and volunteer settings. Talking to one person always opens up many more avenues of inquiry – more people or groups to talk with, a book to read, a process to look into, etc.
What’s your favorite country to visit (other than your own)?
I love Japan – so easy to get around, so beautiful, so historic, such pleasant people, such great food.
Are you good at keeping in touch with the people you already know?
Not at all, but I plan to improve very soon! I just had my professional photo taken and I’m going to update my LinkedIn profile and publish my web site by April 1 (no joke!).
I really enjoy your newsletter, Michael – I read it and I recommend it to others.
Ooops, so sorry about the question #2 change, Lise! I didn’t realize I had modified one and not the other. (I agree, the question in the newsletter was better.)
I love this so much, Michael. Linda is a gem, and too good for you. I will do almost anything not to talk to people, not to get directions, and to think that everyone is a tout trying to get me to go to a live sex show.
For several reasons, thank God for women.
And having thanked God, who I don’t actually believe in, thank you, whom I do.
You are funny, Graeme! And I agree about direction asking. Reminds me of the old joke about why the Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years: Moses refused to stop and ask for directions.