Is Your Approach to Business Transactional or Relational?

Over my many years in business, I’ve come to realize that your approach to business can be Transactional or Relational. And fundamentally it can’t be both. As Bob Dylan would say “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

In a Transactional business, your focus is on garnering as much of the resources of your audience (money, but also time and attention) as possible. Actions that increase your take, or your share, of those resources are considered to be good actions. If by chance, the people in your audience benefit or are enriched by that exchange, all the better. (Actually in Transactional businesses, the assumption is that the more money you make, the more you are creating value or being of service, but I think we have ample evidence in the world that that is NOT necessarily true. In fact, if the way we do business does some level of harm, the more people we serve, the more harm we do.)

In a Relational business, your focus is on loving your audience and serving your audience. The assumption is that as a result of a loving and kind exchange with your audience, it is possible to make the money you need without causing harm.

So, in Transactional business, the ends justify the means. It is considered valid, noble even, to use psychological triggers, or to play on unconscious impulses, to increase your sales. The assumption is that people will benefit from buying from you, so ANYTHING you do to get them to buy from you is actually serving them.

In a Relational business, the aim is to engage with your audience in respectful, straight-forward, honest, exchanges. To challenge yourself to offer genuine value in return for the attention people grant you (and then the money they give you), not because it will activate the impulse to “reciprocity” but because you value what is given and want to do right by what is given.

In Transactional business development, the primary focus is on leverage, marketing, and sales. The emphasis, again, on increase revenue. The quality of what you offer, the rate at which you deliver on your promise, the impact of what you offer on the person who consumes it, is secondary. In training programs or coaching programs, it gets short shrift. Or it’s assumed you already have that covered so it’s not discussed at any length.

In Relational business development, the primary focus is on bringing forward, shaping, and honing the quality and potency of what you offer. On increasing the percent of people who get what you promise when they buy from you. On increasing the impact or value of what you offer. The emphasis is on having the greatest positive impact or influence on the people who come into your world.

Here’s the challenge. It’s not always obvious, particularly in the world of coaching and business development, if you’re being offered a Transactional or a Relational approach. Very few coaches or mentors come out and say “hey, I am all about helping you make more money, forget the rest.” They are more savvy than that. There is a kind of whitewashing that happens that can be confusing.

Often the training programs you look at will SOUND Relational. They’ll be talk about “service”, and “fulfilling your soul’s purpose” and “meaning” or “legacy” or “making a positive contribution”. If those programs are targeting more heart-centered or service-oriented clients, they’ll use language that sounds good to that audience. And it’s only once you are in the program, that you’ll realize that the part of the program you most resonated with is the part of the training that gets the least attention. That you’re being asked to take an approach that isn’t in line with your values.

So how can you tell?

The best way I’ve figured out is to look at how the guide/mentor/coach views potential clients and tells you to view potential clients.

Transactional businesses see the audience as things more than people. As targets and prospects. More than that, they tend to see the audience as weak, confused, unskilled, and mostly UNABLE TO TAKE ACTION ON THEIR OWN BEHALF. The assumption will be that without your help – your push – they won’t be able to make meaningful changes in their lives.

A Relational business will see the members of its audience as capable, creative, resourceful. As having lots of opportunities and options for getting support. As being able to make good decisions for themselves about what support to choose or invest in. The assumption is that when someone has a long-term relationship with you, they don’t need a ton of explaining or persuasion to know whether or not to buy from you. The outreach activities of a Relational business are all about establishing trust and connection.

A Transactional business will often use some combination of shame or fear to motivate someone to buy, or to buy more, or at a higher price than they might otherwise. That’s the Fear of Missing Out we see used so often. The problem, especially for anyone offering transformational services, is that while fear can be a motivator for someone to buy from you, a frightened person is not in the best place to grow and change. People in a state of fear generally have less range, less capacity, less availability to try new things or go to the edge of their comfort zone. Fear can motivate, but it’s probably the lowest quality source of fuel to support growth and expansion.

A Relational business will appeal to their audience’s better angels. Will remind them of their capability. Will remind them of their brilliance. And will invite them to step into something new.

So today, ask yourself: what kind of business am I in? Because that choice will color all the other choices you make about how to move out into the world.

And then start to look at all the places you’ve gone to learn business and marketing, and ask: what kind of approach was I being taught?

If you’ve struggled to implement the business and marketing you were taught, or beat yourself up for not doing the things you should to grow your business, there is a good chance you were trying to use a Transactional approach that was inconsistent with the kind of Relational business you want to have.

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