Build relationships before you sell – with valuable content

The advert above first appeared in Business Week in 1958 – yes that’s right over 50 years ago! The moral of the ad’s story was relevant then and it is even more relevant today: build relationships before you sell. The bad news is that we live in far more cynical times than the sellers of the 1950’s; the good news is that we have so many more tools available to help us to address the problem.

We’re trying to sell to a cynical world

The problem? Never before has anyone trying to sell something faced with such a high level of mistrust – just because they are selling. Every day throughout the world there are more and more stories about the general environment of lack of trust. This is the real world that anyone trying to win business lives in – you and me. I’m not sure they were ever really effective but you can be sure the ‘old’ world of using sales ‘techniques’ is well and truly over.

Some will blame buyers; some will think the problem is stupid customers who don’t ‘get’ the benefits of what is being offered to them, some will blame price. The successful will recognise there is a new world out there where only a smart, genuine, trust building and principled business approach gets results. It’s about bringing that 1958 mind-set up to date using modern tools. It’s time to stop thinking about ‘selling’ things and start thinking about building a trusted relationship with target prospects. When we do that a weird thing happens – we actually win more business!

Build a reputation BEFORE face to face meetings

Good marketing builds relationships. All our marketing effort should be focused on building relationships with the type of customers who will build our dream customer base of the future. First, identify who we want to do business with, then start to build a relationship with them using the valuable content approach.

Cold calling senior decision makers (or any buyer), is a high risk strategy. Decision makers are time poor; they only have time to talk to or meet people who will help them address the critical success factors in their business. The key is to build a relationship with them BEFORE the call.


  1. Show you are a player in their world. You’ll need social media strategies in place in to address you target audience and of course a brilliant web site that visitors want to return to time and time again. If appropriate in your sector you may have some ‘corporate’ marketing in place that advertises your brand (as McGraw Hill stated). Decision makers want to know you are a ‘player’ in their world and make quick judgments based on what they see and read.
  2. Build relevant content that will interest them. Being a ‘player’ isn’t enough though. You will need to engage with your audience by sharing great content with them. In everything you do make sure that you are thinking like a client and only sharing content that will interest them – which is generally not what happens in the typical sales brochure which tends to talk about the supplier rather than the customer.
  3. A valuable content marketing campaign, just for them. If you want to meet with a specific senior executive you can build a valuable content marketing campaign just for them. It might be based on two or three tailored letters sent over several weeks with a different interesting and useful article attached. They are highly effective in getting meetings with key people and in helping to build a trusted relationship. When the prospect we are about to meet feels there is already a relationship based on your marketing activities they are motivated to meet us. They want to spend time with us to explore opportunities to do business with each other.

Whatever marketing tool used the key is to build that relationship so that no potential customer starts a meeting with the attitude of the man in that advert!

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