According to Diane Helbig, the secret to successful marketing is integrity. She believes:

“Successful business relationships are based on integrity and honesty…When people feel like someone has fooled them, they are less likely to want to do business with them.”

As small business owners, we are looking for long-term relationships, not one-time interactions where customers buy from us only once and then we wonder why they don’t come back. Instead of sticking your foot in the door with deception, Helbig, president of Sieze This Day Coaching, suggests that we “develop sound relationships with people.”

In fact, a low-integrity sales strategy has a high price tag. You lose money when your reputation drives away repeat business and referrals. You gain when satisfied customers come back . . . and send their friends. It’s a community thing. Who doesn’t want to have the answer for a friend in need? It’s human nature to help. And when the solution customers talk about is your product (because of your quality work and integrity), it can mean (long-term) money in your pocket through (long-term) relationships.

Why are some people so helpful?

Given the right set of circumstances, most of us will help friends and strangers alike. It happens to me (and you) all the time. A nice lady tells me the tiles are half off at the back of Home Depot. Or someone leaves an extra coupon next to a product on the store shelf so that the next customer (me) can find it and get a discount too. Similarly, in our online lives, our social networks are full of people who help us solve our problems. And when their tips are really good, we tweet it, thank them and tell our friends in real (offline) life.

Maybe we can’t help it. Yvonne DiVita, founder of the Lip-Sticking Society, which focuses on marketing for women online, says, “We’re hardwired to be social.”

I believe that it’s our nature to connect and to communicate what does and does not work in our lives. According to DiVita, social networking is recreating the neighborhood as well as resetting our marketing message. “It seems to me,” she says, “that all these new tools are giving us more reason to return to a past that considered personal stories and personal touches more valuable than marketing-speak of any kind.” In other words, your integrity (or lack of integrity) will tell the story of your business and impact your referral income. People want to know the real story.

But what good is relationship marketing, if you can’t make the sale?

According to Ivana Taylor, founder of DIYMarketers, as people in business, we “assume that our prospects started thinking about” our services and solutions the moment they met us or encountered our product. In reality, she says, they start thinking about the need for a solution “after something interrupted their comfortable routine.” That something is a trigger event.

Said another way, business is about solutions. Problems or trigger events create opportunities for solutions. And the problems in the lives of our (potential) clients happen before they meet us (the trigger is like a pre-sale).

Taylor suggests strategies to get sales by being at the right place at the right time. One is to “target the ‘ponds’ where your ideal customer is most likely to go when they experience this trigger event.” You can find those “ponds” in social networks. Be there. Solve the information problem and make the sale.

But these “ponds” also exist among friends and family. And this where your integrity marketing sells and resells your service. Become top of mind to your current clients, and they will spread the word at the “pond.”

Integrity and timing are everything in small business.

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