Imagine a dark room. It’s pitch black – too dark to see – but if you could see you would discover conveyor belts transporting products through a stereotypical, science fiction-style assembly line. Metal machines whir as they add and tighten parts with tired efficiency, passing thousands of identical examples of their handiwork on to the next stage of production. Driverless trucks are unloaded automatically, providing more parts to manufacture as supply runs low. A computer sits in the corner managing inventory, production and sales, though it’s nearly unrecognizable; the tower is dark, its spinning fan doing little to fend off gathering dust. It has no monitor because there are no people.

Businesses are not mindless, identical automation factories. They are not self-moving and do not self-regulate. It’s a fact that many “business-to-business” science marketers forget: We’re not marketing to a production room; we’re marketing to people.

For your brand, team, products and services to make an impact, you need to focus in on the individual within the audience. It’s a human fundamental: people are more willing to buy from those they know and trust. Building relationships with key representatives can tip the scales in your favor, differentiating your company and making it the default vendor for the businesses you’ve connected with. So how do you go about it?

A Case Study

Research from the Database Marketing Institute suggests that relationships are valuable even when individuals are representing businesses. The Institute set up control and test groups of 500 businesses. Over the course of 6 months, a customer service representative and engineer called the businesses in the test group to discuss products, quotes and customer needs. They offered only conversation and friendship, avoiding special discount offers and the like.

Customer retention increased slightly in the test group, but much more notably, businesses in the test group placed larger orders and did so more frequently than they had before. The intervention offered a 6.2 to 1 return on investment.

Despite these results, nearly a quarter of businesses don’t conduct any relationship marketing.

The Lesson

What the above experiment shows beautifully is that communication and relationship building are very different from sales. Whether you do it with content, over the phone, or with face-to-face interaction at conferences, it’s important to present yourself as a genuine resource for your potential customers. Instead of walking into every situation primed to convert and sell, be prepared to play the long game with your audience. Personalize your interactions and let your target individuals walk the sales funnel at their own unique pace.

The takeaways are clear. At least for now, people are still in charge of businesses. You are not marketing to a pitch-black room, but to a person behind a desk that’s home to a family portrait. Forget about business-to-business marketing. Focus on person-to-person to become a meaningful brand and stand out from the crowd.

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