Decades ago our country moved from an industrial economy to a service-based economy. More recently, that service-based economy has further evolved into an experience-based economy. Customers are wanting — and businesses are providing — an added experience and feel to compliment customer service. This added feel has given “company branding” a more comprehensive meaning. Branding is no longer just a logo; it is the thought that is seared in someone’s mind when they think of your company and services. At the heart of every experience is a relationship.
Everything that your company does must be designed to establish and maintain relationships. It is not enough to provide service that is timely, accurate and available. To capitalize on this opportunity, you should consider formalizing your relationship marketing plan. Relationship-building in your community will be imperative to creating that good brand.
There are many different types of relationship marketing. We’ll discuss networking groups, community organizations and sponsoring charitable events.
The first step is to join a “leads group,” or networking group. Though this may be outside your comfort zone, there are many different types of leads groups available for you to join. One example is BNI (Business Network International). BNI is the world’s largest business referral organization, with chapters around the world. It provides an environment in which you can develop powerful relationships with dozens of qualified business professionals. Joining networking groups can be tricky because different memberships can produce vastly different results. Interview some of a group’s current members before you join. Make sure that, as you give, you also get. Don’t be afraid to make a switch the minute you sense that being a part of the group will not be beneficial.
Additionally, consider forming your own “business alliance.” We’ve seen alliances of home service providers work very well. A home service provider alliance is a group of contractors and other businesses, taken from a wide range of trades, that provides services directly to homeowners. Recruit a reputable plumber, electrician, builder and so forth to be part of your group. Create service standards that make the group known as the best of the best. Be sure to actively use each other’s services. Create a logo and market the group. Make sure your best customers are using the group’s services, and likewise with other members.
Community organizations are another great activity that can add to the brand image of your company. The key is to pick an organization and get involved. Don’t join only to attend meetings. Join a committee and make a contribution. In this environment, serve yourself by serving others. Working with groups in committees will not only build strong relationships and increase your potential return, but may also help you develop the essential leadership skills needed in your company. Some potential community groups that need you include Kiwanis, Rotary, and your local Chamber of Commerce.
Sponsorships and charitable giving can often be an undercapitalized activity. The more your company gets involved in “do-good” activities, the more people you’ll meet and the more people will want to buy from you. Consider sponsoring a road race or a walk that benefits a charity. Consider getting your employees together to paint a community center. A lot of companies give to charity in the form of donated work and time, but do their customers know about it? If you organize a charity day, make sure that your good deed does not go unnoticed. Talk to people about it. Invite loyal customers to attend. Ask a local deli to donate lunch. Promote the experience and include as many different groups as necessary. Contact your local newspaper and TV news team to capitalize on the trend of “good news reporting.”
Finally, let’s talk about where to start. One of the best things you can do right now is to document the 100 people you know that can help you succeed. This is your “inner circle” of relationships. Be sure to include significant customers and employees. Next, systematically go through the list, taking advantage of every opportunity. Make a plan to stay in touch with your inner circle via e-mails, thank-you notes and phone calls. Use the relationships you develop for your own good as well as for others. Respect the relationships and know your boundaries.
Brian Nolan is managing partner of Nolan Consulting Group Inc. and Andrew Amrhein is an associate with the company. Located in Havertown, Pa., the company works with contractors nationwide, assisting them in achieving profitable growth through planning and implementing business systems that lead to more consistent and predictable results.