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Do You View Your Buyers as Objects?

Building Customized Relationships with Real People is the Key to Successful Marketing, Instead of Viewing Your Buyers as Objects

If you’re a small business or a non-profit, you’re likely facing three main challenges that affect both your short-term existence and long-term sustainability. Specifically, you need to figure out how to:

  • Generate consistent revenue
  • Deliver on your promises
  • Control operating costs

They’re all linked, and we’ll address all three in due course, but today’s thoughts are mostly about the first challenge, generating consistent revenue. Let’s be honest… if you can’t do it, you’ll go “belly up” eventually.

There are two parts to generating consistent revenue: (1) First-time and (2) Returning “buyers” (for our purposes, this term is broad, including small business customers and individual non-profit donors). Ideally, you’ll get buyers in the door, and then they’ll keep coming back because they like what they see. Both are crucial—you have to capture them to begin with, and you have to get them to return. It would be nice if this just happened automatically, to be sure, but unless you’re really, really lucky, you have to work at it. The question, obviously, is how.

Perhaps the biggest mistake small businesses and non-profits make is to think about buyers as transactional—simply put, organizations are focused on the purchase, and they don’t care who makes it. This perspective leads to marketing approaches that treat buyers as objects rather than humans with different attributes, preferences, behaviors, and decision drivers. As such, outreach is typically quite messy, characterized by casting a wide net with a single message, and emphasizing what is (or was) “trendy” with respect to outreach (e.g., the latest and greatest in social media).

These approaches may, in fact, return some results, but they usually cost more than they need to, and they leave a lot of money on the table. They are not cost-effective, and the outcomes they generate are sub-optimal. Fortunately, there’s another way to do it, and small businesses and non-profits can do so much better. The key is addressing buyers as individuals, and building long-term relationships by engaging them on their terms and showing them the outcomes they want to see. This means we need to get to know them, humanizing instead of objectifying.

Think about the best relationships in your life. Most likely, your were introduced, you learned about each other as individuals, you interacted, and you became friends. You built trust, and it turned into “best friendship,” and now they’re always calling, visiting, and hanging out with you. Well, the same principles apply to marketing. It’s about introducing, informing, and converting, followed by delivering and cultivating repeat purchases or contributions. Put another way, it’s about developing relationships—you could say, becoming best friends with your best prospects.

Certainly, this all sounds really good, but cultivating relationships take time, effort, and resources. First of all, you have to learn about your market, and identify the things that make your prospects tick. Then, you need to:

  • Target media and messaging, so your story reaches and resonates with the right people
  • Demonstrate that you’re the best at what you do, and show them what you’ll provide for their money
  • Ask for prospects to purchase or contribute, and make it easy for them to buy
  • Deliver on your promises, and show them you’ve done so (and will do it again and again)

This involves market research and prospect profiling to learn about your buyers. It requires targeted messaging that interests them and cultivates relationships. You may want to offer incentives that will attract them, and you’ll need commerce platforms that conform to their preferences, and are efficient and easy to use. Finally, you’re going to have to the capacity to deliver—if you can’t, your buyers aren’t coming back. Yes, all this costs money—developing fruitful relationships takes an investment. If you do things right, however, it’s worth every penny.

Objectifying buyers and blasting the market may work, if you’re lucky. Personifying and building lasting relationships by knowing them and creating one-on-one dialogues, on their terms, will give you far greater returns!


Tom Morley has 18 years of experience as an internal and external consultant helping clients in all sectors, across industries, in the US and abroad, to become sustainably cost-effective and achieve their visions.  Formerly with BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting, his areas of expertise include organization strategies, human capital management, and change acceptance and adoption.  His clients range from small, local concerns to international, multi-lateral institutions, and he has advised leaders and managers of more than 50 organizations to help them realize their goals over the course of his career.

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Ray Sidney-Smith, Web・Social・Mobile Strategist, is the President of W3 Consulting, Managing Director of W3C Web Services, and Editor-in-Chief of Small Business Blog Network. He is also the author of SoLoMo Success, a Hootsuite Global Brand Ambassador, an Evernote Certified Consultant, and a Google Small Business Advisor.