A Marketing Shortcut: Making the Most of Relationships

With technology front and center of everything these days, many businesses seek out email, apps and social media when looking to boost their reach. While all of these can be powerful marketing tools, they can require significant time and resources to have a real impact. Not to mention that some industries and customers may not be best reached through these platforms. There may be an easier way to spread the word about your products and services. One way to step up your marketing game without breaking the budget is making use of real-world relationships—existing and new—to take your business to the next level. Here are three simple ways you can use relationships to enhance your marketing efforts while instilling confidence.

Make employees your ambassadors

You can’t do it all, so it’s important to surround yourself with a strong team on which you can depend. Each of your employees likely deals with a variety of customers and vendors each day, and as such, they serve as ambassadors for your business. Give them what they need to show your company in the best light and to build strong relationships with customers and prospects. Take the time to educate your employees on how your business stands out in the market and make sure they understand all your product and service offerings, even if they are not directly involved with some of them. Encourage your team to ask questions about your business and the market so that they can remain confident and informed when dealing with customers—or even while casually networking!

Build on past successes

Few things speak better about a company than examples of past successes and praise from happy customers. Make your successes continue to work for you by telling prospects about your best work. Whether you’re a baker showing examples of your most impressive wedding cakes, or an IT consultant who helped a client set up a new system in record time, prospects will want to see your accomplishments and learn more about how you achieve results. For my business, showing our success working with a variety of government agencies goes a long way in our pursuit for new government contracts, as procurement officials want to see that we are familiar with the processes and have had strong performance in the federal space.  Many small business government contractors showcase their past performance and success by creating a Capability Statement.  This one or two page document is usually tailored towards a federal agency’s contract requirements.  You could find samples of Capability Statements on several agency websites, such as, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Small Business.

Depending on your business, a portfolio of pictures may do the trick. For other businesses, success stories are a great way to showcase impressive work. Whatever you create, keep the message simple and clear. Remember, you don’t have to answer every question a prospect might have—plus, you want to give them reasons to ask more about your work.

To get started, reach out to customers with whom you had your greatest successes and ask if they’re willing to allow you to share their story with others. It’s important to do so because even happy customers are not always at liberty to be mentioned in promotional material (for example, government agencies and large corporations may have to adhere to certain guidelines). Plus, contacting them to ask permission provides the opportunity to remind them of your good work and perhaps inspire future work together.

Take the time to forge new business relationships

While social media and online marketing are undeniably powerful for building a brand and reaching customers, the importance of making face-to-face connections is hard to match for those building a business. The simple fact is that people inherently prefer doing business with people they know. And when they meet someone they like, they’re often happy to help spread the word to friends and colleagues, and are often willing to make introductions. So when you have the option, take the time to meet with people in person, because it often has more potential for forming a lasting relationship than a simple call or email exchange.

Be proactive about building new relationships by seeking out individuals and groups who could help you grow your business. Research relevant organizations such as Chambers of Commerce, trade associations, professional organizations and government agencies. For example, as a small business government contractor, I’ve learned how important it is to my business to connect with small business liaisons at government agencies via one-on-one meetings and industry events like those listed on federal agency websites. (You can also utilize the Federal Business Opportunities website, FBO.gov, to search for upcoming small business events within certain agencies). Another program aimed at helping women-owned small businesses grow with government contracts is the ChallengeHER program hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). Also consider contacting your local representatives at the SBA, and even local elected representatives, who are often eager to help local businesses grow. These groups may also help you to find a mentor who can help you navigate the ebbs and flows that come with running a business.

Commit to build a stronger business

Not every great marketing tactic has to be high-tech or expensive to be effective. By following these tips, you’ll be working towards building stronger relationships and a stronger business. And as you develop the mindset that relationships are one path to effective marketing, you’ll no doubt find your own ways to branch out and make new connections.

Lourdes Martin-Rosa is the president of Government Business Solutions (GBS) and the American Express OPEN Advisor on Government Contracting. 

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