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October 02, 2010

Top Desk

Relationship Marketing

by Keith Harding, International President, CEO, Sportron International Inc.

Our industry is often referred to in many ways. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that we are really in the relationship marketing business. People like to do business with people they like, trust and know who care about them. Why? It’s not only because they can rely on their products, but they can also rely, depend and trust on their service and honesty.

One of the disappointing areas in our industry is the far too high dropout statistics. All we seem to do is recycle distributors from one company to another. Distributors don’t leave because they don’t like our products or even feel like they don’t earn enough, but rather because they have not built a relationship with their upline or company. They feel unwanted, unappreciated and don’t feel like they belong to the family. We have all heard the old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We must always remember that we are in the people business. We are here to serve people, to help them meet their goals, dreams and aspirations. So often we make the mistake of trying to get our leaders and prospects to buy into our vision so that we can accomplish our goals, instead of us buying into their vision so we can help them accomplish their goals.

This year, in our company, one of the areas we are focusing on is relationship building. This relationship training is applicable to our staff as well as our field leaders. I’m sure most of you reading this article have read John C. Maxwell’s latest book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. We use it as a textbook. We teach the simple principles of connecting and relationship building. They are:

Value people. Care about people. Appreciate people. Serve people. Know the person. Show gratitude. Develop trust.

Maxwell said, “If you know you

r product more than you know your customer, you will have a lot of product to sell but no one to buy.”

When we started this focus six months ago, the objective was to increase enrollments and reduce dropout. This focus has already been a major success for our company. We have seen our enrollments increase by 25 percent per month and our dropouts decrease from 8 percent to 5 percent per month. Now, I have always known that we are in the people business, the serving business and the relationship business, but it had not been an area of focus. It was like we knew it with our head but did not practice it with our heart.

We all know that leadership is all about the ability to influence and inspire people. Steve Jobs said, “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” If we, as leaders, want to increase our influence and the ability to inspire our staff as well as our field leaders, then we need to focus more on connecting and relationship building so that we can identify and relate to our people’s aspirations.

When I look back over my 35 years in this industry, I’m embarrassed to say that I have made many stupid mistakes. Although I have always thought of myself as a people person and a caring person, the mistake that saddens me the most is I did not value all people the same, and in some cases used people to accomplish my goals. As mistakes, they of course were not made intentionally, but they were made. Today, I realize it’s not about me; it’s about them. It’s not what I want; it’s what they want. I see my purpose as adding value to people’s lives. This is the message we are teaching our people.

Maxwell points out, “No matter how much work you can do, no matter how engaging your personality may be, you will not advance far in business if you cannot work through others.” That means we must learn to turn the focus from ourselves to others. Author B.J. Gallagher said, “Eighty percent of people who fail on the job, fail due to a lack of interpersonal skills, not a lack of technical skills.” I believe that our ability to get along with others is the single most important factor in how well we build our businesses. In the future, more and more reliance will be placed on relationships. In some cases, these are termed “partnerships,” and that is truly what they are because each party relies on the other’s help to be successful. Each partner has a vested interest in cultivating and maintaining the relationship even if the other doesn’t seem to be sharing in the effort.

I like what Ian Gordon stated: “Relationships are the only real asset of the enterprise—not the machines that make the products, the products themselves or even the intellectual capital inherent in the people, patents or know-how, important though all these might be. Traditionally, an ‘asset’ has been seen as that which affects the short-term, revenue-generating potential of a company. A relationship, in contrast, provides the company with long-term, lower risk revenues and the opportunity to grow both revenue and profit in many ways.”

I believe our business and industry will be better off—more respected and trusted—if we all focus on relationship building and relationship marketing.

Keith Harding is International President and CEO of Sportron International Inc.