My brother Jonathan (with whom I founded exploreB2B) often describes our platform as a “dating site for businesses.”
This is one reason why, in a recent interview conducted by my colleague Erin for her ‘Unraveling Social Business’ series, her interview with Michael Brenner came as such a pleasant surprise. In talking about an effective social business strategy, Brenner made a comment directly addressing the romantic analogy. He said:
“It may sound like I’m talking about dating, but that is another often-used analogy for social business. Too many companies are out shopping for a spouse and jumping right to the big question of ‘will you marry me?’ and our potential customers are saying, ‘slow down. I don’t even know you.’”
Obviously there must be something more to the analogy of dating and business communication than just a playful and catchy slogan.
What makes social business comparable to dating? What useful advice can we take from our dating experience? The 11 tips below discuss how business communication relates to dating – what you can learn from the romantic world of social business.
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1. It takes time to get to know each other and build trust.
This is the obvious takeaway from Michael Brenner’s above statement. The bigger the deal, the more intimately you want to understand your counterpart before you get in too deep. Sure there might be love at first sight, but the successful marriages based on a short-term meeting and elopement are rare.
2. It’s not all about scoring.
In dating we have learned (or haven’t we?): even if you just want to get in the sack, making this goal obvious will not get you any closer to achieving it. Courting and flirting are necessary to lead to any meaningful interaction – and if the build up is fun, both parties will want to connect (and come back for more).
The same goes for social business. Let real communication that is not focused on the “end deal” be part of the process. To establish a multifaceted professional relationship, allow the conversation to drift off topic – be creative, intellectual, lighthearted and genuine. There will be a time for closing the deal, when that time is right for both parties.
3. Don’t push too hard.
When I was young(er), there was a weird rule in dating: do not call earlier than three days after the first date. Even though hard time limits seem a bit out of order, there is some truth to it. If you haven’t decided whether or not you want to continue dating someone, feeling harassed into a decision will probably turn into a “no.” Giving time to ponder might get you curious for another meeting.
In social business courting, you do not want to let your leads feel forgotten, but part of successful marketing involves staying on your counterpart’s radar. In content marketing, this means allowing them to consume your high-quality information on their terms. Give enough frequent information and content to communicate, discuss, and be helpful – without constantly repeating, “So, what about that deal?”
4. First impressions can be deceiving.
It is not always the most flashy and shiny date you are going to marry and spend the rest of your life with. Some people know the game. While they often make for a fun “date” – they would be disastrous as a lifelong partner.
The same goes in business: it is not always the most flashy marketing campaign or additional discount that make for the best, sustainable deal. Take your time in choosing smart and reliable partners – and strive to elicit these qualities yourself.
5. Different needs, different partners.
In dating, sometimes you only have the time and/or desire for a casual fling. There are other times you are looking for a steady, long-term relationship. The more serious you are about a date, the more thought and consideration you will put into choosing your partner.
In business, some deals are of vital importance and long lasting; others are short-term commitments. Be certain you know which type of relationship you are looking for, before you invest time and energy into your commitment. Especially when making costly decisions, take the time and thoughtfulness to make sure you are getting (and giving) enough to support the type of relationship you wish to enter.
6. Self-promotion is a real bore.
Have you ever dated someone who was constantly praising his or herself? Was it a good date? (They never are.) Usually these turn out to be the most boring kind of dates. Even when you decide to grin and bear it, the self-inflation rarely turns out to be true or beneficial. Confidence is a key element of attraction, and over-promotion proves that it is lacking.
The same goes for social business. You need to be confident that your product or service is the best. Yet, shouting and repeatedly boasting, “I am the best,” will neither inspire trust nor get you any closer to a valuable deal. In social business, it is vital to communicate knowledge and expertise, rather than over-promoting your products or services. Be believable (and pleasant to listen to) by demonstrating rather than telling why you are the most eligible bachelor or bachelorette.
7. Sometimes, the best things grow with time.
Sometimes you meet someone you like, yet you do not date for various reasons: you are in a relationship, you are business partners, your best friend has a fancy for the person in question, you are leaving country next week… Whatever the reason, it might not be final. When the time is right, you might turn back, meet again and find that nurturing the relationship with time was worth the wait.
In business the same situation often arises: you like someone, you trust their expertise, you believe in their products, yet the time is not right for a deal. Circumstances change, new needs and business opportunities arise. When the time is right, someone who knows you and trusts your expertise will come to you if he has a deal to give in your field of interest.
8. Don’t try to make your partner someone they are not.
I am a woman, a mathematician and 6 feet tall. I have been on dates, where the guy obviously had a problem with who I am and constantly tried to make me feel like the timid small girl he really should have dated. This kind of misbalanced date does not work, and cannot be made to work by belittling your “opponent.”
A business relationship should be a balanced partnership. Everybody wants to gain; everybody has something valuable to give (and something to lose). It does not inspire trust, if you try to have the upper hand.
9. Know when it’s time to break it off.
There are many reasons a pair will be mismatched. How many terrible dates have you been on for every one good one? The reasons are plentiful for engaging with someone who isn’t right (your mother set you up, your couple friend has a friend, you agreed to go out with someone you met during last call at a bar). While there may be initial attraction, it is important to take action when you recognize that it is not the right match.
In social business there are also plenty of meetings that may take place. Unless you have unlimited time and a plentiful budget, know when to cut your losses.
Note: This is why understanding your clients needs and establishing initial trust are so important (to avoid having to cut your losses).
10. Be clear about your intentions.
You probably do not plan to marry every date you go out with. Still, you can have a lot of fun together. The most important issue is that both parties are open and honest about their intentions. To be dishonest in dating might help achieve short-term goals, yet it is a sure way of ending the relationship (with a bad aftertaste).
The same applies to social business dating. You might be able to fool someone into a bad deal, yet in the end, this will not pay off. A happy customer will want to engage for a long period of time – and provide you with positive recommendations when the deal is closed.
11. It’s not hard to smell a phony.
Have you ever gotten the feeling that the person sitting on the date in front of you is a phony? That what they are saying is not their own opinion, but merely an attempt to tell you what they think you want to hear?
Just like we value originality and individual motivation in those we date, we also strive to engage in business with people and companies who we believe will provide us with honesty, original ideas and solutions. Don’t be the person who fills their potential customers and clients with a mouthful of false promises. Strive to be both transparent and to provide something that no one else had produced.
Love and Marriage?
In today’s world of social business, behavior in dating and business courting can be strikingly similar. Some of the things you keep in mind when dating, should also be considered in business communication. (It is, after all, a long-term investment.) Even if you do not end up married, integrity is key for your reputation and for pursuing healthy relationships in the future.