When you’re in a bind in the middle of the night and you need immediate help from someone you can rely on, whom do you call?

Your best friend.

Your best friend is always there for you. They’ve got your back. No matter what they might have going on at that moment—no matter how busy they are—if you need them, they’re there. No questions asked.

Why is this? Because you have a relationship. This isn’t a one-sided arrangement where they’re your slave. It’s a bond that’s been built over the course of years. When they were short on cash, you covered their meal. “No big deal; don’t worry about it,” you said. When their grandmother died, you were there to listen and be a shoulder to cry on. You helped them move. You gave them a pep talk after their last big breakup.

You invested in the relationship.

The point was never to exploit their friendship for the sole purpose of having someone you could call at any time, day or night, when you were in a bind. You gave of yourself and asked for nothing in return. This is what builds trust, loyalty, and commitment.

Best-friend relationships aren’t about exploitation or favors. The same goes with a good marriage—it’s about giving of yourself and expecting nothing in return. When you look at every healthy relationship, this is what you will find. You won’t find one person keeping tabs on what good deeds they did or what favors they’re owed back. It’s about giving.

If this is how healthy, personal relationships are built, why do brands and businesses treat their customers differently?

If every day, without fail, your best friend called you up and asked you for another favor, you wouldn’t think of them as your best friend for very long.

Invest in Relationships

What’s the best way to get a best friend? Be a best friend. You want to build loyalty and grow an audience that’s eager to support you and buy your products? You have to be loyal yourself. You have to be consistent. You have to provide value. You have to build relationships.

Treat your customers, followers, subscribers, and audience like the people they are. People have relationships. How do you build relationships? You invest. You give of yourself. Provide value with no strings attached. It’s super simple when you think of this in terms of personal relationships. If you want a best friend, you don’t post an ad that says, “Looking for friendly individual to do random favors on short notice.”

People notice generosity and selflessness. Everyone today is out to get something from you. When you give of yourself freely, people will trust you. You’re making it clear you have their best interest in mind. What you’ll find is that people will beg for ways to compensate you. Because they’ve received so much value from you and you’ve asked for nothing in return, they will be looking for any way to pay you back. This is the Rule of Reciprocity in action.

When you do finally put something up for sale or make a product available for purchase, the response will be overwhelming. You’ll get messages from people saying they didn’t even need your product, but they bought anyway because they’re so on board with what you’re doing.

We don’t have sponsors on the seanwes podcast even though the show has received millions of downloads. This seems like a huge missed opportunity at first. We could make so much money! But let’s look at what has happened as a result of not selling our audience to advertisers.

I’ve had many people tell me the show has changed their life. One guy bought my course on hand lettering even though he had no interest in drawing. At the time, that was one of my only products available. He said he bought the course just to pay me back for the value he’d already received.

When we hosted our first conference, we had so many people volunteer to help that I had to start turning them down. These were people going out of their way to spend three days helping us with whatever we needed.

When yet another person contacted me to say he wanted to help us with the conference, I politely told him, “That’s so incredibly kind of you. I really appreciate you offering to help, but we’ve had so many people volunteering already I’m afraid we have all the help we need!”

But he was determined and would not take no for an answer. He wrote back with a massive list of things he could help out with. His suggestions included sweeping, mopping, picking up trash, setting up, tearing down, picking up food, hanging banners, helping with parking, and so much more.

How could we possibly say “No”? One of his suggestions was personally picking up our speakers from the airport. That was something I’d never even thought of. Previously, our speakers would have arrived at the airport and found their own transportation to the hotel. I loved the idea so much I said yes. Our speakers couldn’t stop talking about how premium the experience was.

People buy gifts, sign up for seanwes memberships, and even go so far as to create and send me custom watercolor paintings in the mail all just to say “Thank you.”

Keep the Reciprocity Loop Open

Relationship marketing is not an overnight approach, and it’s not a way to get quick money. What this approach will give you is the kind of loyalty advertising can’t buy. What you may lack in volume you can make up for in depth. It’s better to have fewer people who repeatedly buy from you again and again for the rest of their lives than a greater amount of people who buy from you only once.

Most people think only about the immediate transaction: “How can I close this sale? How can I get people to buy now?” Getting people to stick around after the first transaction is usually an afterthought. As a result, most customers don’t stick around beyond the first sale and never buy again. If you start with customer loyalty from the beginning, you can set yourself up for long-term success. Design the first transaction to be an incredible experience so that it becomes the first of many.

Keep the reciprocity loop open at all times. Stop letting it become closed. Always stay ahead with giving.

  • You give value.
  • The customer buys.
  • You give more value.
  • The reciprocity loop is reopened, and the customer is primed for a second purchase.

How can you give more value after a customer purchases? One way is to give them something extra they weren’t expecting. Under-promise and over-deliver. What is something your customer needs to do after they pay you? How could you make that job a little bit easier for them? Go out of your way to create a “wow” experience. Even after the sale, continue providing value. You always want to stay ahead on giving. Go above and beyond the expectations and make your most loyal customers feel appreciated.

Give Away Your Best 10 Percent

When wondering whether or not you should hold back on your free material as opposed to your paid material, keep this in mind: give away your best 10 percent for free.

It may seem strange to give away something you could sell, but giving a sample of your best material will boost confidence in your potential buyers. It shows them what they can expect and demonstrates your level of attention to detail and quality. This gives people an idea of the kind of experience they can expect when they buy something from you.

While providing some kind of free value is an important part of relationship marketing, don’t make the mistake of giving away your best 90 percent for free or you won’t be able to stay in business. Give away your best 10 percent. If you give away so much that you can no longer sustain yourself, you’re not helping anyone. You’ll go out of business, and everyone in your audience receives no more value. It’s a lose-lose situation when you give away too much for free and fail to sell anything.

When people see how great your free content is, they’ll assume that your paid content is even better, but if you give away too much, it will simply spoil people’s appetites. They will no longer be hungry for what you have in store!

Don’t Fret the Freeloaders

Of course, no matter what you do, some people simply will never buy. That’s the one caveat to relationship marketing: freeloaders. When you provide a lot of value up front, this attracts people. Some of these people will eventually buy from you, but not everyone. Freeloaders are people who have made a decision to mooch indefinitely. They’re just here for whatever they can get for free and have no intention of ever repaying the value you have given them. Understand there will always be freeloaders, and it’s no indication you’re doing anything wrong.

In fact, it may be an indication you’re doing something right.

Every business practicing relationship marketing has freeloaders—people who will never be your customer. Freeloading is a mindset. There is a difference between a freeloader and a pre-purchase customer. A freeloader has made up their mind to never compensate for the value received. This is different from someone who has simply not bought anything from you yet. They may be saving up their money, or maybe they don’t see anything for them in your current offerings. Freeloaders aren’t waiting for the right product or the money. They’ve just made a decision to get whatever they can from you for free.

You know someone’s a freeloader when they get upset that you started charging for something. Freeloaders will get angry when you sell. There’s nothing more upsetting than having your free lunch taken away. The freeloader has no respect for where the lunch came from, who bought the ingredients, or who paid the wages of the person making the lunch. The freeloader is entitled. They’ve done nothing, yet they believe they’re entitled to something!

Some of the things freeloaders have said to me would be comical if they weren’t downright sad. Until you experience freeloaders yourself, they will sound like a joke. There’s no way they could be real. How could anyone possibly get so angry at another person putting a price tag on something?

I thought if I set out to genuinely help people, everything would be fine. You don’t get haters or freeloaders unless you’re a terrible person, right? Sadly, there will always be people in the world who are looking for opportunities to unleash their anger on someone else. You will experience them no matter what as they inevitably come with scale.

People will write long, hate-filled messages to you telling you that you’re the scum of the earth. They will tell you they hope you get cancer and die. They will call you things like a snake-oil salesman. They will say you used to care about helping people and now you don’t.

I would know firsthand.

Your first reaction will be to get angry. These people don’t know you or what you’re about, yet they proceed to judge you and make baseless accusations! How are you supposed to survive if you don’t sell? How can you afford to give away everything for free and still put food on the table for your family?

Don’t get upset. Freeloaders are not the problem. The real problem is your emotional response to freeloaders. These people were never your customer. They made a decision never to compensate you.

Assume by default that everyone is a pre-purchase customer and treat them as such. They become freeloaders only when they make a decision to mooch indefinitely and never compensate for value. Until that decision is made, they’re a pre-purchase customer. Continue to invest in them and focus on providing value.

Remember, the wrong people will get upset when you start to sell. It’s not a matter of if but when people will complain. Expect it, prepare yourself for it, and ignore it. You cannot give away free things indefinitely and remain in business. You must profit and you must sell. It’s your duty to sell.

With every business, there are people who will never be customers. It’s just that with relationship marketing, you’re made much more aware of the people who aren’t buying. Since you’re providing some value for free and this attracts people, the wrong people might speak out when you start selling something. Typically, you don’t hear from non-customers, but freeloaders often can be vocal. Gently remind yourself that these people were never your customers and were never going to be your customers.

Those who complain when you put a price tag on something are not the people you’re trying to reach. Focus all of your energy on your paying customers. Add value to them, improve their experience, and go above and beyond. Continue to take care of them even after their purchase, and invest in them.

Key Takeaways

  • Relationship marketing is not an overnight approach, and it’s not a way to get quick money. But this approach will give you the kind of loyalty advertising can’t buy.
  • It’s better to have fewer people who repeatedly buy from you again and again for the rest of their lives than a greater amount of people who buy from you only once.
  • Keep the reciprocity loop open at all times. Stop letting it become closed. Always stay ahead with giving.
  • Continue providing value even after you make a sale. You always want to stay ahead on giving.
  • Go above and beyond the expectations and make your most loyal customers feel appreciated.
  • Freeloaders are not going to give you money; don’t waste your time or energy worrying about them.
  • Those who complain when you put a price tag on something are not the people you’re trying to reach.
  • Try to add a personal touch to your products or services wherever possible. Give your customers a positive story to share with their friends.