The Nature of Relationship Marketing

November. 2005. 11:45 a.m. Maggiano’s Little Italy. St. Louis.

I’m standing in the bar area with a puzzled look on my face. My client set up a meeting between me and one of his salespeople, but something in the back of my mind is telling me I’m at the wrong restaurant. Armed with my flip phone (it was 14 years ago, after all), I needed to look up the manager’s number to call and confirm the location.

Luckily, the concierge had a phone book, and the guy sitting at a hightop let me borrow the corner of his table so I could unload my arms.

Phone call successful. I’m in the right place. All is well.

“Thank you for letting me borrow your table,” I say, as I start to close my portfolio. Joe (I later learned) reaches across the table, slaps his hand on my portfolio so I can’t close it, points to the Yellow-Tie logo on the letterhead hiding behind the flap and asks: “Are you with Yellow-Tie?”

“Yes.” “I started it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m the founder of Yellow-Tie.”

“Are you Gill Wagner?”

“Yes I am. Are you interested in Yellow-Tie?”

“No. I manage a 65-member sales team and I hear you’re the best sales trainer in town.”

That is what success looks like in relationship marketing. Seemingly out of nowhere, a prospect armed with nothing more than knowledge of your company and an impression of your reputation reaches seemingly out of the blue and engages.

This particular relationship-marketing effort began 11 months earlier when I launched Yellow-Tie, a nonprofit association for salespeople (and the key component of my marketing plan for my sales training company).

After meeting with Joe and discussing his team, I learned the three value-based touches that produced this opportunity were:

  1. One of Joe’s salespeople attended a free, Yellow-Tie networking event. During that event I had given her a piece of sales advice that helped her close a huge client.
  2. She and I had a subsequent one-hour conversation over coffee where I offered her some additional guidance.
  3. I gave her a referral that turned into another sale.

Three value-based touches given without expectation of any direct return.

The result was that she told her boss the guy who ran Yellow-Tie was the best sales trainer in town.

That’s how relationship marketing works.

The Final Outcome

Instead of goals, I have objectives. Goals have deadlines, objectives do not.

Instead of strategies, I have guiding principles. Strategies can be impacted by external forces, guiding principles are controlled within.

Instead of seeking life balance, I embrace blend. Balance requires effort, blend occurs naturally.

Instead of plotting a destination, I revel in the journey. Destinations are fleeting, the journey is constant.

By focusing on objectives …

… guided by principles …

… absent the constraint of balance …

… fueled by the enjoyment of the journey itself …

… regardless of the timing and the mile markers that tell my story,  I am guaranteed the final outcome …

… Gill died a happy man.

It’s How People Behave When You’re Gone That Counts

Dad was a remodeling contractor. Small company. Two to five employees tops. I spent my youth getting out his tools, holding his hammer and sweeping up as he did projects around the house.

When I hit 12 I started working with him on weekends and summers. I had a knack for it and by 14 was occasionally running the crew when he was off bidding on another project or home sick.

Dad’s rule of critiquing others was to do it in private. Don’t embarrass the guy by calling out his mistake within earshot of his peers.

Unless, that is, the critique was pure bullshit.

No matter how good you are or how much care you take, every now and then you screw something up and the customer gets pissed. So Dad’s second rule of critiquing others was this: “If I jump your ass in front of a customer just take it, because it’s nothing but a show for his benefit.”

A screw-up would happen. The customer would get angry. Dad would turn to me with something like, “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU …” then promise the customer, “Don’t worry. We’ll fix it” and leave.

Within minutes, the customer would come to me and apologize for getting me in trouble. I’d mumble a thank you and go about correcting Dad’s mistake on the job. Quite frequently, within 30 minutes the customer would show up with a plate of cookies or glass of lemonade. In all cases, I witnessed the customer’s guilt first hand.

Dad, of course, would return to a changed customer — one who was gracious and caring and helpful, because he or she didn’t want to get the kid in trouble again — and delight in the success of his ruse. He’d even brag about it over beers with his bar buddies after a hard day’s work.

What Dad never realized was that these customers never returned and never gave him referrals. And he never realized it cost him the respect of his son.

My father was a great guy. But he had his blind spots like anyone. Those blind spots taught me a valuable lesson about self awareness and the need to see yourself through the eyes of others, both when you’re in the room and when you’re gone. I’m sure I have more blind spots to eradicate, but throughout my life I’ve already polished away many due to the lessons of my childhood watching Dad.


So the wife and I are at dinner with friends catching up. As you’ve no doubt experienced, the conversation went the direction of one of those Family Circus cartoons where the kid was supposed to walk across the street but covered the entire neighborhood instead.

One of the landing points was about small towns, and how WalMart builds a store and puts all the mom-and-pop stores out of business.

“Good. I don’t feel the least bit sorry for those store owners. They didn’t feel sorry for us for all those years they charged way more than fair market value because they were the only store in town.”

Being from St. Louis my whole life it never occurred to me that the small-town grocery owner always had the biggest house, new cars, furs, diamonds., and always seemed to strut about it with an arrogance born out of a lack of empathy for others.

Perspective is an interesting creature.

I said “I’ll be Back” and now I am.

Gill E. Wagner

So for the past few years, while consulting with a variety of companies on sales-related issues, doing my chief catalyst officer thing, running my Airbnb property and building the occasional set of custom cabinets, I’ve been seeking what I’ve called “My retirement career.”

Something I would love doing. Something with heart. Something I could do anywhere I had access to the internet and a phone. Something I could do while sitting on my patio with my dogs, in my crazy pants at the kitchen table, or in a coffee house now and then.

But it also had to be complex. I mean, I do bore REALLY easy.

And it had to have 83.7 different components. Because if I’m not doing a bunch of different things I’d work only 12 minutes a day (it’s an ADHD kind of thing).

Since I had no idea what that thing was going to be, I deleted the website with the plan to recreate it from scratch once I stumbled ass backwards into that thing.

I’ve stumbled. I’m loving it. I’m back.