“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” – Jeff Bezos

Do you have an Internet business… or do you hope to have one some day soon?

In my experience, the most important factor determining your success as an Internet marketer… or in virtually any other business… is relationships. Specifically, the relationships you have with the people on your customer list – known in traditional direct marketing as your “house file.”

There are four ways entrepreneurs can relate to their lists. The first three doom you to mediocrity and modest returns. The fourth can empower you to create an online business that delivers extraordinary value to your customers – and makes you rich in the process.

Level 1

At this, the lowest level of the seller/buyer relationship, you think of all the people on your list – those who have bought from you before as well as those who haven’t – as “prospects.”

Technically, that’s correct. Anyone who has shown some interest in what you offer – either by buying from you or “opting in” to receive your e-mails – can be defined as a “prospect.” But that is a poor way to think about the people on your list.

Why? Because a “prospect” is someone whose name and contact information you own, and from whom you hope to extract money by selling them a product or service. That’s a mercenary and self-centered view. It puts you and your profits – not your prospects and their problems – first.

Level 2

The next step up from viewing people on your list as prospects is to think of them as customers – either actual customers (who have purchased) or potential customers (who may make a purchase).

“Customers” is slightly better than “prospects.” Customers are people who spend money with you, so you naturally value them more. On the other hand, you are still viewing them as “purchasing entities” – individuals from whom you can get money now and hope to get more money in the future.

The typical marketer constantly thinks of more ways to sell more products and services to more customers. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, it’s also an opportunistic way of looking at the people on your list that makes you care more about your own profits than about them.

Level 3

At this level, you consider the people on your list to be your clients.

While “customers” buy products, “clients” are people to whom you strive to deliver extraordinary service and value. As a result, you respect them more – and treat them better. They reciprocate with loyalty and an increased desire to acquire more of your products, services, help, and advice.

Level 4

The best relationship you can have with the people on your e-mail marketing list is to think of them as friends.

You deliver value and service to clients, but you do so for the money. Friends help friends not for the reward, but because they are friends.

When you think of the people on your list as your friends, your mindset becomes positive, helpful, and generous. You think, “What do my friends need? What can I do to make their lives better, make them happier?” And when you think that way, what follows is the creation of all sorts of useful, valuable, and innovative products and services they want and need.

Also, when you treat them as friends, they begin to think of YOU as a friend. Sales become more frequent, purchases become larger, and closing becomes easier.

Why? Because people like to buy from people they like – and when they become your friend, they like you.

How can you evolve your relationship with the people on your e-list from prospect to customer to client to friend? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Care about them.

The best marketers are genuinely passionate about helping their readers improve their lives – and that passion comes across in every e-mail communication they send.

  • Talk to them.

Write like you talk. Use a conversational, natural style. Your e-mails should sound like you are talking to a friend and telling him something important.

  • Be a straight shooter.

Always tell your readers the unvarnished truth. Don’t sugarcoat or hold back. Only by being totally honest and open do you gain their trust and loyalty.

  • Let your personality shine through.

Be the real you – warts and all. If you’re cranky, it’s okay to sound cranky in your e-mails to the people on your list. If you’re a tightwad, tell them you’re cheap.

  • Give extraordinary value.

I sell information products online. But in many of my e-mails to the people on my list, I give away great content… right there in the e-mail. There is nothing for them to buy. The information is free.

Do these methods work?

My first year online, when I took very little action and viewed my subscribers as purchasing units from whom I desperately wanted to extract money, I made – even though I offered quality content for sale – $19,683.

Now, I view my subscribers as friends. I care about them. I let them into my mind and share what’s in my heart. I give them all I can. And my online sales are on track to reach $250,000 this year.

All because my relationship with my e-list moved – as yours should – from the lowest to the highest level, from the most mercenary to the noblest.

“We’re all benefactors,” says Mark Cuban in an interview with Selling Power magazine. “To succeed, you not only need to be able to get along with people… those people also have to feel like they’re getting something out of the relationship.”

[Ed. Note: Learn how to build your own Internet business at ETR’s upcoming 5 Days in July Internet Conference. You’ll walk in with nothing – no product, no marketing skills, no technical know-how – and you’ll walk out with your own online business.]

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.