Apples, Oranges, Relationships, Newsletters and Marketing, Oh My!

I got an email this weekend from Mark Buckshon who publishes the Construction Marketing Ideas blog and newsletter. He alerted me to the fact that a recent post on his site dealt with a post I had written. In his article, The E-letter and construction marketing: When to give, when not, Mark addresses the issue of email newsletters. He writes about a consultant and author who discontinued their email newsletter following poor results. The counterpoint to the argument comes in part from my post, How To Use An Email Newsletter To Build and Maintain Relationships With Clients and Prospects. Mixed in for good measure, are comments from Matt Handal (someone I have great respect for) implying that “relationships” don’t really matter in marketing.

Buckshon’s article creates, what I believe, is a false conflict. On one hand, relationship building exercises are futile and not effective. On the other hand, is my argument that relationships do matter, and blogging, social media, email newsletters, etc., can be very effective in fostering those relationships. Why is this a false conflict? Apples and oranges.

Relationships Are Dead. Long Live Relationships.

According to the Collins English Dictionary, published by HarperCollins, one of the definitions of a relationship is “the mutual dealings, connections, or feelings that exist between two parties, countries, people, etc.” In a philosophical sense, I would define relationship as any interaction between two entities.

In that sense, I can’t say that I agree with the following:

I’ve heard numerous people and presenters say that marketing success is “all about relationships.” It’s simply not true.

This statement was posted over at Mark Buckshon’s Construction Marketing Ideas and was attributed to the illustrious Matt Handal, a professional marketer and a well-regarded speaker and author. Handal’s point, is that relationships do not factor into the human decision-making process as much as consistency does. He states, “once we make a choice and take a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.” Furthermore, he asserts that relationships cannot be accurately defined and measured with sufficient rigor as to make reasoned decisions.

The irony, however, is clearly visible not only through the posts at Construction Marketing Ideas, but even more so at Matt’s blog, which is entitled, Help Everybody Everyday. Post after post on Handal’s blog emphasize the importance of building and sustaining relationships in a business context. So is Matt a hypocrite? Definitely not.

Matt Handal suggests that for relationships to matter in the context of marketing professional services, we need to break the term relationship down into “scientific and measurable components,” and I wholeheartedly agree. What I think Handal is speaking against is the idea that being “friends” on Facebook is going to result in preferential treatment when a bid or a response to an RFP is submitted. Professional marketers need to apply more sound reasoning when evaluating the nature of various business relationships and apply due diligence to resources expended in fostering those relationships.

Audience and Context Matter

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this apples and oranges comparison, in my opinion, has to do with the audience and context this is addressed to. In my case, I am writing for solo and small-business firms providing professional services, such as consultants, architects, accountants, attorneys, engineers, etc. Why does that matter?

The individuals and firms that I write for don’t typically have full-time marketing staff. In most cases, marketing and business development are the sole providence of the firm’s principals and key professional staff. So in this context, the “relationship” is between the client and the actual provider of professional services. There is no “middle man”. I therefore argue that relationships are everything in such businesses. Moreover, the relationship between a solo/small business and a client IS in fact measurable – the success of the small business is entirely dependent upon the relationship with the clients and prospects. Conversely, I have seen directly that not putting effort into building and maintaining relationships does lead to failure.

In Mark Buckshon’s post about relationships, Handal makes the point that “[y]ou can make a pitch or price so compelling, it negates any relationships.” Specifically he refers to the “RFP/public bidding process.” He is a full-time professional marketer. By the very nature of his position, he represents those that provide professional services to the client. I have had the fortune to be in a position to review proposals and public bids. I can honestly state, that at no point in the process did I ever review the marketing materials of anyone submitting a bid or proposal. Nor did the committee which was ultimately responsible for accepting one bid over another. So in that context, Matt Handal is right – “relationships” don’t matter.

What’s The Point?

In the end, when it comes to business, I’m very pragmatic. Do what works for you. If you are a professional marketer representing a large contracting or consulting firm participating in the RFP/public bidding process, don’t expect to get very far spending hours on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare, etc. If you are a small or solo firm, maintaining strong business relationships with prospects and clients means the difference between success and failure. And as I stated in the comment I posted on Construction Marketing Ideas, if a particular marketing strategy isn’t producing results, move on to something else. Marketing is both an art and a science. It requires creative solutions to accomplishing goals, tempered with evidence produced from testing variables.

3 thoughts on “Apples, Oranges, Relationships, Newsletters and Marketing, Oh My!

  1. Moving past semantics, I agree completely with you regarding the lack of concrete, how-to direction. I believe that relationships in business need to be analyzed and evaluated with the same rigor that one would apply to choosing a vendor. There are perfectly valid metrics that can and should be used for evaluating the quality of any business relationship. What really matters is results. To me, the only business relationships that matter are ones that are mutually beneficial. Not everyone would agree with me – lots of businesses thrive from taking advantage of others. But the bottom line is that there needs to be quantifiable results or the relationship is worthless. Are there a lot of folks in SMPS that don't understand the basic concepts of lead qualification?

  2. Brian, I never said that "relationships don't matter." You misinterpreted my statement a bit. When people say "it's all about relationships," that's like saying winning the superbowl is all about passing the ball. So, when I say marketing is not all about relationships, its like saying "you may also need some defense, some running plays, and a field goal or two to win the superbowl." Any discussion about "relationships," with me ends up being about semantics. When you define relationship as "any interaction between two entities," that's too broad for me. Because now we can say: "War is all about relationships." "Basketball is all about relationships." "A drug deal is all about relationships." The problem is that when teaching someone basketball, it is improper to say, "master relationships!" That's exactly what's happening in the world of A/E/C marketing today. There is a lack of concrete, how-to direction. I believe we have to stop speaking in these vague generalities.

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