What Is and Isn’t Relational Marketing

A client of mine (who is not a big fan of “either/or” but who prefers to look at “both/and”) recently challenged me on the idea that as a business owner, you have either a relational or a transactional approach. She said she thought she was sometimes “too relational” and in doing so wasn’t serving clients when their self-sabotage or resistance came up.

I imagine that her example of being “too relational” might have included softening her language, backing off the hard truth she saw needed to be shared, making the client “right” or “ok” instead of challenging them, or choosing to say what would make the client feel good even if she knew something else would serve them better.

But that isn’t relational. That’s something else.

That could be valuing being liked over being of service. Or prioritizing peace and ease over disruption or discomfort. Being safe over taking risks.

Being relational in your marketing or business development is NOT about being nice! It’s not about being gentle, or easing people’s minds.

Being relational in your marketing and your business development is about seeing your clients and potential clients first and foremost as equals, not subordinates. Not that they necessarily have your exact experience, or your developed expertise, or your honed insight. But believing that their capacity to discern what is right for them is equal to, or likely greater than, yours.

It’s about believing that you and your work are A possible answer or solution to their challenges (or a way of fulfilling their desires) but not the only one.

It’s about having the courage to take up space and attention to advocate for what you make possible through your work, and trusting that THAT, more than pushing buttons or activating scarcity, will allow them to know what the right next step is.

Being relational means considering the integrity of the exchange between you and clients or potential clients even if it honoring that integrity lessens the likelihood of your making a sale.

Being relational is about investing time and energy as much in being trustworthy, raising the value of what you offer, creating and offering useful things, and following through on your promises, as in increasing conversion and sales.

Here’s what’s key: we don’t build strong relationships by being nice, pulling our punches, not saying things for fear they will upset people.

Part of the skill of building strong relationships is the ability to speak what you have to share while respecting the dignity of the person you re speaking to. To care about the trajectory of the humans in your world whether or not they’ve bought from you. To be concerned about the impact of your words and actions on all in your sphere, and not just your intent.

Being relational in your approach means holding this larger container, this more complex space, a space that holds your wants and desires (including a desire to makie sales, expand the income you want) and the wants and desires of the people you hope to serve, whether or not you are the one chosen to serve them. It’s a less clear-cut space than the transactional one, but a much richer one.

Being relational doesn’t mean preserving the relationship at all costs. It means preserving the integrity of the people you serve at all costs. Even if it means losing a sale.

(By the same token, caring about your revenue and sales, wanting to increase your revenue and sales, or taking actions specifically designed to increase your revenue and sales does NOT mean you have a primarily transactional approach. As a business owner, you are the advocate for your work. You are its voice, and without you using your voice often and with its full power, your business doesn’t have much chance of thriving. But let’s talk about non-transactional advocacy for your work more in another email.)

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