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Don't forget your vendors

I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to Mrs. Stephanie Caronna on a flight from Los Angeles to Oakland. We struck up a conversation and it turns out that she works in marketing for a major bank. Our talk soon turned to the problems of dealing with massive corporations when resolving problems such as erroneous fees or even when asking for the occasional favor.

Remember that marketing is all contact between your company and everyone outside your company. If someone can see, hear, taste, feel, and/or smell something and that something is coming from your business, then you are marketing. Period. I've talked at great length about marketing to customers and employees. Stephanie reminded me of the paramount importance of marketing to your vendors, suppliers, etc. Think about it: Chances are that you only hear from most of your customers when something goes wrong and/or they want something from you. As your vendor's customer, isn't it possible that you're guilty of the same behavior?

Let's use the banking example. Your bank wants your business no matter how big or small it is and may be surprisingly willing to work with you, especially if they get to know you as a human being instead of a nameless, faceless email to Customer Service. Stephanie told me that she visits her local branch all the time. She knows the tellers and managers by name and is even acquaintances and friends with some of them. When a problem crops up or when she needs something done, Stephanie goes directly to the people with whom she's forged relationships.

Marketing built on the basis of human-to-human relationships. Isn't that what I've been preaching all along? I don't care how advanced technology gets or how many new and inventive ways we invent to isolate ourselves (such as the headphones and dual monitors I'm focused on right now), the simple fact is that nothing will ever beat direct human contact. In fact, as I think about this, it's quite possible that the need for human contact will actually increase thanks to growing isolation. Chat rooms, instant messaging, webcams, and email simply cannot replace in-person contact between people for building the kind of mutual trust that gets things done.

Something Stephanie said seems to lend weight to this theory. The pace of bank branch construction slowed way down for a while but is actually picking up steam. Yeah, I blinked too when I heard that. Technology is certainly wonderful but certainly not all powerful.

Talk with your vendors! Get to know them as the human beings they are. Voice your concerns, requests, and issues. Hey, while you're at it, be sure to tell them what's going right and thank them for their help and for being available to you. In short, treat your vendors just as well as you treat your own customers and employees. You have nothing whatsoever to lose and potentially lots to gain.

Who knows when another of your vendor's customers will stroll in and casually mention that they need something you offer. Well who do you think your vendor will recommend if you've made yourself known? And why stop at chitchat? Christmas cards, birthday gifts, etc. are also great ideas. You give them to your customers (don't you?) and employees (don't you?), so why not your vendors? This can work both ways. Your vendor may be able to refer you to someone who can solve another of your needs and this person may even give you a discount or other favor because you know the vendor (never count on this but it is a distinct possibility).

Getting truly personalized service, the occasional special favor, and a great source of referrals. Yes, it truly can pay off on many levels from the human to the financial to be on excellent terms with your vendors. They need not be massive corporations at all; all of your vendors are equally deserving of your best treatment and personal attention. You rely on them for various aspects of your business and personal well-being so you really owe this one to yourself.

Thanks, Stephanie, for reminding me that "all contact" really does mean just that.

Come to the Secrets of Small Business Success seminar hosted by Cardinal Services on April 19, 2007 in Medford (location to be announced) where you'll learn easy ways to optimize your finances, human resources, and marketing. Lunch included. Register at for $39 before April 5, $59 afterward.

Anthony Hernandez is a Certified Guerrilla Marketing Association Business Coach with over 20 years of business and marketing experience. He lives in Ashland.