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Turning Customers Into Friends

No business is an island--solid connections are key to success. Make friends as well as customers with these time-tested tactics.

Ask any successful entrepreneur what's at the root of his or her success, and over and over you'll hear, "It's all about relationships." You've likely heard this before, but it's worth a reminder. In business, relationships are based on value. And when you keep the value you're providing in mind, you can be sure you're building business as well as friendships. Try these tips for building and maintaining relationships:

  • Put yourself in your customers' shoes. Would you hire yourself based on the value you bring to the table? If someone came to you with the same idea, product or service that you're selling, would you buy it? Is there something you would change, add or take away? Answering these questions will help you focus on your own value and what you can do to improve.
  • Leave each person better off than when you found him or her. Learn about the other person's goals and what he or she is trying to accomplish, and figure out how you can help him or her get there. That could mean helping the person get access to a hard-to-reach contact, sharing an idea that might help grow his or her business, or simply offering an uplifting idea or thought.
  • Be thoughtful in small ways. When someone helps you or does you a favor, don't forget how powerful a handwritten, personalized thank-you note can be, especially because it's so rare to get personal mail these days. This simple touch will leave a lasting impression.
  • Look for connections. Take notes and keep records of information on your customers, vendors and contacts--anything from their favorite baseball teams to their kids, hobbies, interests and so on. Find something you have in common with them: A relationship is easier to build when you're building on common ground.
  • Develop a magnetic personality. One of my favorite books is I Dare You!by William H. Danforth, founder of Ralston Purina Co. Written in the 1930s, it is in many ways an old-fashioned read. Yet the ideas are still relevant today. For instance, Danforth writes about the true benefits of a positive outlook and the impact it has on how you build your own relationships. Our attitudes influence our actions just as much as our actions influence our attitudes and personalities. When you concentrate on positive actions, people are naturally attracted to you and want to build relationships with you.
  • Risk being different and making changes. If you stay in one place with everything changing around you, you'll eventually get left behind. When you try something different to attract new relationships, you might turn off some old contacts. But if building relationships is your goal, you'll be able to take that risk and make it pay off in the end. As Danforth says, "Leaders with the ability to make friends can dare twice as much as the lone wolf."

These are just a few simple tips that can garner huge results. You don't have to be best friends with a customer to have a relationship. Solid relationships built on integrity and value will keep your business going and growing.

Barry Farber is the author of 11 books on sales, management and peak performance. His latest release, "Diamond in the Rough" CD program, is based on his book, radio and television show. Visit him at www.BarryFarber.com, or email him at barry@barryfarber.com.

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This article was originally published in the April 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Means to a Friend.

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