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  • Writer's pictureBrooke Thomas

Relationship Marketing with Michelle Warner

*This is the transcript of a conversation that I had with Michelle Warner on the podcast. You can also listen to it here.

I'm here with my guest, Michelle Warner. She's a business designer and strategist and THE person that I trust regarding an approach to marketing for service providing businesses- which is exactly what we're going to get into today. And you can find more of her work at

BT: So welcome, Michelle. I'm so glad to be here with you. 

MW: Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here as well. 

BT: So let's dive right in then, as you know, I work with really small service providing businesses and what I'm constantly hearing from them is that they're trying so hard to follow all of the current trendy rules for marketing: You should post on social media every day, as one example, and they're not growing their business. They're not getting more clients, even if they might be growing their followers in those spaces. And you make a very important distinction between traffic marketing and relationship marketing. So how do you define those two terms?

MW: Yeah, absolutely. And first, let me say I have so much empathy for those folks because as we get into the relationship versus traffic marketing and how I think of those things, I think it'll become pretty obvious why that is the norm that people get stuck in these cycles of not growing and not being sure and beating themselves up that they think they're doing something wrong and they're really not.

So let's talk about this. I think of marketing as a whole on a continuum and on one side of that continuum, you have what I call relationship marketing and on the other side of it, you have what I call traffic marketing. Now, relationship marketing, as I define it, is something that involves a relationship, right?

There is a deep response. There's a deep connection with your potential customer. The most extreme form of this is going to be a referral. Think about how referrals happen- somebody comes to you because their friend, their colleague, their whomever said, “Oh my gosh, you are the person to work with. I want to know more about your services.”

That sale probably closes really quickly. And there's a lot of trust in a relationship there, right? On the flip side is traffic marketing, and this is very much quantity over quality.  This is mass marketing. The extreme of this is Kohl's or old Navy just pummeling you with coupons all day long.

And that very much is the email social marketing game that there's nothing wrong with it. And this is the key for your folks. There's nothing wrong with that traffic if you are a business whose model aligns with that type of marketing. 

But where we run into trouble, and this is why I have so much empathy for folks in this situation, is that this is all that you see online, because it's easy to teach the traffic marketing side of things.

And so people starting their businesses, when they think of marketing, they think of traffic marketing and do not think about this whole other world that is available to them. And frankly, what is probably more appropriate for about 50 percent of the businesses out there is relationship marketing. 

And so when you can start doing that, then things can start moving for you if you understand which side of this marketing continuum your business is more aligned with.  

BT: Yes. And you got into a couple of things there that  I want to talk about a little bit more; First, that we're not  doing the thing where we're saying that traffic marketing is super evil, but that it's actually just appropriate to certain businesses. So what kinds of businesses do benefit from traffic marketing? 

MW: Yeah. Great question. Again, traffic marketing is a, when you are a model that benefits from quantity over quality, in terms of your lead. So you're looking for numbers. So what does that tend to line up with? Lower cost, mass market stuff.

And that is then totally appropriate for those types of businesses who are more mass market. We're talking e-commerce. I don't want to name a price because every market is different, but when you're in the more mass market, you move people through a funnel system, that's traffic marketing. 

BT: You also mentioned that it's easy to teach- and I'm so glad you've been starting to talk about this because- and I think a lot of people who are teaching traffic marketing are not doing this with ill intent- but it's just that we're in this ecosystem now, called the internet, where I see my inbox full right now, almost a week after Black Friday, with all the mass market emails. And there's social media. I'm not on social media, but most people are. And we just start to think that  this is the only thing that exists [traffic marketing],  and then a lot of people are echoing and teaching it. So let's talk about why it's easy, both to teach and then also to do in that kind of checkbox way. 

MW: Yeah. And this is why I was talking earlier. I have so much empathy because I always say our brain defaults to traffic marketing equals marketing, right? We don't even know this whole other world exists. So when I see folks doing a lot of traffic marketing, I say, well, you're not doing anything wrong because you didn't know there was another option.

And so why is it easy to teach and why is it easy to do well? Because it's all entirely in your control! And it's very easy to sit there and think that you are doing a good marketing job because if you're traffic marketing, and that entails sending out emails, posting on social media- you know, doing all of these things that you can sit at your desk and check off your list.

You can say, I've completed my marketing projects for the day. So number one, it's the only thing people are telling you to do. And number two, you can complete those things without having to interact with another human being. And so you can feel like you are doing a good job with your marketing. You can feel like you're completing your marketing because it's entirely in your control. 

Whereas when you get into relationships, there's going to be another human involved a lot of times. And so it's not so easy. You're not in control. It's a little more intimidating. You can't necessarily just sit there and post a bunch of content, check it off your list and then just ignore the fact that it's not working.

It's easy to say, “Oh, well, I'm doing my marketing.” when you are doing traffic marketing. It's a little harder to admit that it's maybe not working in the way that you wanted it to.  

BT: Yeah. I built a business two decades ago, which I've run for 20 plus years in something called Rolfing, which you may not have heard of, but it's a form of manual therapy.

MW: Yep. I'm familiar.  

BT: Now I, I have my branding agency and it was really hard for me to just realize that they were equated:  If you're providing a service, don't go for traffic marketing, build relationships. That's how I built my private practice. And I have totally fallen into exactly what you're describing: I have a podcast. I have a newsletter. It feels so good when I publish an episode or publish a newsletter. And when I go to do the work that actually is what pays my bills and makes my business sustainable, which is connecting with people it definitely feels a little uncomfortable, even if I've been doing it for a super long time.

So, how do we grapple with some of that discomfort? That the effective thing might not be the most comfy thing? 

MW: Yeah. Well, I think awareness and clarity is always step one, right? And so recognizing that your traffic marketing is or is not appropriate for your business is step one. And I see a lot of people who struggle with that for a little bit of time.

And so that's absolutely step one is taking a look and saying, is this type of marketing that I'm doing aligned with my business? If you discover, and again, I'm not bashing traffic marketing, I built a long career several years ago on traffic marketing, so I'm not bashing it. But if it's not aligned with your business model, and you acknowledge that, then you can start to look at, okay, what would it look like  to be more in control of what looks like a referral?

Because what happens to a lot of folks is they understand how referrals come in and they have felt that, but then the complaint is, “Oh, I can't control those. And so I need to market”. And so then they catapult all the way- I call it like they boomerang all the way over to the other side of that continuum and start traffic marketing. Thinking that this is the way to maybe be more in control of leads.

When, what is actually your first step of relationship marketing is saying, “How can I start creating leads that will look like referral leads once they come in?” And the answer to that is to start, at least in my mind, is to start looking at how you can cultivate relationships with the people who have sent you- or people who look like the people who have sent you- some of those organic leads.

I call this intentional networking. And it's not just connecting and running into anybody you happen to run into, but starting to take a look at who you might want in your network, who you might want to be connecting with and creating what I call ideal connection avatars, which are the same as ideal client avatars, just with a different purpose.

And starting to say who and what relationships do I want to intentionally cultivate for my business so that we can start building collaborations and joint appearances and referrals and all of those things. So that you can be a little bit more in charge of leads that come in that look like referrals, but they're not those pure organic referrals, but where you have no control over when they come in or not. 

BT: You teach a lot around really thinking through who are the really right connections, the really useful connections for you, the people who actually want and need and are looking for what you have. And I know for myself, before I realized I could just equate the relationships I used to build a private manual therapy practice with my branding business [Simple Prospering], I knew I had to build relationships, but I was thinking about it still in this traffic kind of way; Like standing on the beach and thinking of every grain of sand- how do I form a relationship with every grain of sand, every single person?  And what's been helpful for me in working with you and working with your course Networking that Pays is understanding again that it's not about needing to just make relationships happen everywhere, but rather where can I go where there's already a community of people that wants what I have? 

So how would you help other people to think through this so that it doesn't have that overwhelming feeling like, well, I guess I just need to form a bunch of relationships with everybody on planet Earth.

MW: Yeah. And that's always intimidating, right? Because I do advocate for networking, but let me say, I am an introvert and I do not like traditional networking. I have a huge problem with how it is generally done. So if you're a person listening to this and you're starting to get really uncomfortable that I'm about to tell you to network, hang in there, cause I have good news. We do it in an okay way.  

So when most people network, they do exactly what you did. They either think they have to try to meet everybody and everyone, or they go into a room and feel like they're not really sure- whether it's a virtual or a real life room- who's there and they're just trying to make something happen out of whoever happens to be in that room.

And we've all had that feeling where you get to the end of this very awkward conversation and you just want to get out of there, but all of a sudden we have to answer like, oh, how could you help? And you're just making it up because it's very clear that there's not gonna be any help available in either way.

So instead of going into those situations where you're just taking catch-up calls and coffee chats and going into all of these random rooms with people you don't know, what I advocate for is to stop first and to start saying, ok, who already owns the audience that you're trying to reach? And I call this trying to borrow an audience.

So you can say, if I am trying to reach people who want manual therapy, you can start by asking what other rooms are those folks in? Who are they already working with? Who are they talking to in non competitive ways? And how can you not try to build relationships with all those individuals who may be your clients, but instead to build a relationship with the person who quote-unquote “owns” that audience or is already speaking to them who they already trust.

How can you go do that and then get in front of the audience in some sort of collaborative win-win way for both of those folks? We see that in joint webinars. We see that in podcast appearances, right? We see that in all these places where you are inserting yourself into the place where the conversation is already happening, rather than in traffic marketing where you are trying to meet all those people on your own platform immediately.

Instead, you're going to another platform to start with and then inviting them into your world. 

BT: Yeah, and even though it's uncomfortable to connect with people who, like you said, “own” your audience, it's actually so much less intimidating than needing to build a giant audience from scratch. That is a ton of work! And going somewhere where people are already gathered who want what you have is such a relief for me personally. It's like, I don't have to build everything from scratch. 

MW: Thank you for saying that. because I get this objection all the time. So let's talk about it. It is not 2010, or 2014 when frankly it was relatively easy to build a traffic based audience, right? You could kind of play the hashtag or algorithm game, throw out some Facebook ads for pennies on the dollar and you could build your own audience.

That is not true anymore. It is a really, really big task to go out there and try to build your own following by yourself. And so all the time I get feedback from people who say, “Oh my gosh, this sounds so hard. This sounds like it's going to take time to connect with these people who would put me in front of their audiences.”

And my kind of tongue in cheek response, that I'm not sure everyone appreciates, but it's just the reality, is: “Exactly how easy is it to do traffic marketing?” You're coming to me telling me that you've been marketing for three years and have zero results. So I'm confused that you're worried that this might take six months to meet some folks. I get it, it's intimidating, and there's a lot of other things that go into actually having to have human contact, but let's not pretend that traffic marketing is easier. Let's just cut that right now because that is not true. 

BT: Yeah. And there's still that messaging that's around from the early days. I mean, I started teaching practice building, growing audiences in 2009, where it was a very different experience than it is now. And so there's still that idea around as if things haven't changed, like, “Oh, we'll just grow an audience.” 

MW: Exactly. Exactly. And it was easy back then. I would argue it still wasn't aligned, but the market was so immature at that point. People were just learning how to do all of this and so you could get away with a lot more. Now that the market has matured and there's so much saturation, you can't get away with what you used to get away with. And so you need to be a little bit more in alignment. 

BT: Yeah. And just to give an example for the folks who are listening, because I work with a lot of healing arts people, back in the day, I guess it was also 2009 because I moved my practice from Brooklyn to New Haven, my Rolfing practice that is, I was in a brand new city, I didn't know anybody and not everyone's heard of Rolfing and it's this terrible word that sounds like throwing up and not everyone wants to do it, you know.

So some of the ways that I formed relationships were that I taught mobility and self massage classes at gyms, at yoga studios… Places where I was connecting with the kinds of people who were happy to know I existed and happy then that I'm delivering something of value to their group- the people who own the gyms and the yoga studios and things like that, and the wellness centers. 

And then people find out I exist. So, yes, I had to introduce myself cold to the people who ran those businesses. Now, all these years later and I'm still in New Haven, a lot of those people are dear lifelong friends. It worked out in more ways than one.  And it grew my practice very quickly. 

So that's my example, but I know you talk about- you're going to borrow an audience and then how can you deliver something of value? So that's my example of how I delivered something of value, but what are some ways other people can think through that for themselves? 

MW: Well, I love your example, first of all, because that's exactly how this works. And you took the time - I just want to point this out for everyone - You took the time to intentionally think about who would be a value add, who would you be a value add for, right? And so of course, most of those introductions went well, even though they had to be a little bit cold because there was already a value in there.

You weren't just knocking on every door in town, hoping that somebody at the bookstore would think it would be interesting, right? 

BT: Right. I wasn't just handing out stacks of business cards, saying, “Hey, tell people to tell your people to hire me.” That isn't really appealing. 

MW: Exactly. Exactly. You went in and said, “How can I show up and demonstrate my thing to an audience in a way that would make sense?.” So that is a fantastic example. And we have a fun one. I live in a small town on Lake Michigan. And we have a fun one here that I always use and this will dovetail into what you asked me to speak about. This is a little bit more untraditional, but if you think about it, it's freaking genius.

We had a new yoga studio open up and she's a fantastic collaborator. And then we had one of those ax throwing bars open up where you go and throw an ax. And they collaborated and I thought it was genius. I can't remember in what order it went, but I think it was, it was on a Friday night and I think you went through the axes to get your aggression out, and then you went like a chill yoga session. Isn't that brilliant?

BT: Oh my God! I want to do that! I want that night out. 

MW: Yeah, exactly. Because frankly, people who go to ax throwing studios do go to yoga studios. I thought it was so clever to put those two things together. And that dovetails into what you asked of how do you think about this?

And you think about where is your audience gathering in related but non competitive places?  So let's use coaching for an example. Maybe that's something that folks are familiar with. You know, if you are a coach, a life coach, a whatever type of coach, a nutrition coach, and you're thinking about who might you collaborate with: You think about your clients and you think about who did they work with right before you? Or who are they going to work with right after you, where there can be some collaboration and some value adds there.

One example that I have now worked with three or four times, which surprised me the first time, but continues to work, divorce coaches of all things. Divorce coaches teaming up with therapists. And if you think about that one, that's really natural because the therapist is dealing obviously with the mental and emotional portion of the journey, and the divorce coach tends to be dealing with the logistics: Are you safe? How is money being handled? How are you setting yourself up to go through the process? And so the divorce coaches I have worked with have had a ton of success reaching out to therapists because the therapists are concerned about those logistical things for their clients and seeing their clients struggle with it, but are not equipped to help them with it, that's not their job.

And so there's a very easy value add there. A divorce coach can come in, maybe do a presentation for all of the therapist's clients, offer some resources for free, whatnot, get introduced to them. That is a value add to the therapist. Because again, their patients are struggling with this. And then a certain number of those patients or clients go over and work with the divorce coach.

So that's another example of how this can happen. You're thinking about who else is that client interacting with in the ecosystem while they're interacting with you or right before or right after it would make sense to interact with you. 

BT: Yeah, I think this relieves some of the discomfort of reaching out to new people because it doesn't have that cold call feeling and also you're not begging for people to do you a favor because you've thought creatively. And imperfectly, right? We are not gonna come up with the perfect, value add all the time, but we’ve just thought creatively about how can I be of value to their people? And then they get to- it's like the perfect win-win win- they get to offer more value to their clients, you get to connect with their clients, and the clients get more support.

Nobody's losing in the equation. There's no arm twisting. 

MW: Exactly, exactly. Then we go back to the difficulty question of how hard and intimidating and awkward is this? Well, it gets a lot less intimidating, hard and awkward when you have a really great reason to be approaching people. I think networking is thought of as awful and feels awful because you rarely have a good reason for interacting with the people you're interacting with. But when you've thought it out beforehand- and sure, you're not going to get a 100 percent success rate- but there's going to be a reason that you're reaching out. For me as an introvert, when I have a great reason to reach out it is so much easier than just sending a random message. And it's probably going to be received well, even if for whatever reason, it doesn't fit in their current plans. They’ll just think, “Oh, here's a kind person who's had a well thought out response.” And if it works fantastic, if it doesn't, that's still a good interaction, right?

BT: Yeah, exactly. It's really helpful. And I've been, with Simple Prospering, I teach webinars on practice building and branding at schools and orgs for healing arts, massage schools, acupuncture schools, et cetera.  And so when I reach out to these places, sometimes I do get ghosted and that's fine. You know, they're busy. Maybe they didn't see the email, who knows, but it removes some of my discomfort or my desire to kind of slink away and not try again because it's like, no, I've put together something that's really generous and really useful and it either works or it doesn't. So it removes some of the ways that I can be over sensitive about, hoping that I didn't overstep. If you're forming a real relationship and you have something of value, it either clicks at some point or it doesn't. 

MW: Exactly. And that's the reason I work within these ideal connection avatars. Because the same way you have ideal client avatars or brand or client personas, whatever we want to call them, that is meant to give you a sample of who might work with you.

And that takes away the stress of if you happen to know one person who would be perfect to work with you. If it's not the right timing for them or whatnot, it's okay, you can let it go. There's thousands more people who fit that persona or that avatar. And it's the same way with this ideal connection avatar.

You're not going to bat a thousand with this. People have things going on with their lives. Again, they might think it's a wonderful proposal, but they're booked. Who knows?  When you have that avatar and that persona, you can just move on to the next individual or organization who fits those characteristics and you will get hits within that which are enough to sustain your business.

If you keep going and you're following that avatar and you're not getting stuck on, “Oh my gosh, I have to teach for this one school and if I don't do that, everything's over with right now.”  There's more than one school in this world. And so you just move on. 

BT: Yeah. And using myself as an example again, but for another thing that I think comes up for people and certainly does for me is  oftentimes like we get this idea, okay, I have to, I have to borrow an audience so that I can connect with the right people and I have my value add and we can kind of swing too big at first. We only see or conceive of the big options. In my world, it would be like the American Massage Therapy Association, which has like 500,000 members or something. I would love to teach for them. It's a big swing though. And they're not the only school or org in the healing arts that exists in the world.

One of the things I've been doing is talking with colleagues, you know, people whose websites I've built or who know me in some way, shape, or form,  And they can get together a group of their fellow graduates or any cohort that they're going through a training with or doing a certification with.

 So that's my example, but how can people start this by thinking smaller? What are baby steps ways instead of just going for the big swing or only being able to even see the giant opportunity? 

MW: Well, first of all, you get a gold star in your approach because you are clearly nailing it. We do get a lot of people who are like, Oh, Brene Brown, Oprah. You know, these are the first people that come to mind.  Let's back it off a little bit! Because first let's go back to that definition of relationship marketing. I talked about traffic marketing being a quantity over quality game. You know that you need a ton of leads because your conversion is going to be really low. It's that mass marketing. Relationship marketing, when you're doing it correctly, your conversion is going to be very high. And so it is actually a quality over quantity game. 

You don't need a ton of leads. And so, especially if you are a small service based provider, let's get real about what your lead needs are. If you are going to convert between maybe 50 and 70%, you don't need a ton of leads. And so in that world, we don't actually want to shoot for the sky. You want to look for these small groups. Some of the most valuable things I do in a 10 year old business that is multi-multi-six figures are teach in front of groups of 5 to 10 folks who I know are my perfect audience. Eight of the 10 are going to sign up to work with me, right? So I'm not too good for that. Nobody should be too good for that. It is definitely a quality game and you want to be looking at your peers or people who are just a step ahead of you, right?

That is usually where people will see the value and get excited. And so I love this idea of people getting their cohort together for you and maybe you're in front of 10, 15 folks. That's a fantastic place to start. , because the trust is going to be high in that room and they're going to be excited to see you and you're going to get the conversion you need.

And then over time you can slowly step that up, but this is not a game where we're looking for even 50 people. Like if you're starting and you're getting in front of 5 or 10 people, that's a win. And you can find that with your peers and with people who, you know, if this is the first collaboration you're doing, it can be the first collaboration they're doing. And then you all can grow up together. There are a couple of collaborators I had who we started together in like 2015 and we had little baby audiences and we still collaborate to this day now to, you know, hundreds and thousands of people. So it's fun to kind of grow up together sometimes too.  

BT: When you've formed a meaningful relationship, and I say meaningful and not just useful because they're actually meaningful, these people become parts of our lives. When it clicks and there's a friendship there too then there's all kinds of win-win there ongoing where you can keep supporting each other.

MW: Yep. And I will tell you the smallest place to start: Sometimes this might make sense for the healing arts -actually, I could completely see it makes sense for the healing arts- is something I call a trusted advisor. And this is where you reach out to someone and maybe they don't have an audience that you can borrow. But they still have clients. And if you are working in a collaborative fashion,  maybe you can come in and do a quick consult if there is something that, your collaborator can't help their patient with or their client with. Maybe you have a different perspective and you can come in for free and spend 15, 30 minutes just either brainstorming with your collaborator about how they might help differently or even get in there with the client and offer a different perspective. I do this with some of my collaborators on the business side. I say, Hey, if you have a client where you are kind of stuck and you need my perspective for 30 minutes, please call me- I'm happy to jump in. And the odds are that that person then when they finish working with my collaborator, they're going to come work with me to get the fuller picture. Or maybe they'll work with us at the same time. So that's even a very baby step to start. Just offer yourself as a resource to folks and say, Hey, if this is going on with one of your clients and you're not sure what to do about it, but your work is going to be better if you solve it, feel free to call me in. I'm happy to help you out. 

BT: Yeah, it's so smart. And I think there's an assumption oftentimes before people reach out that there will be this kind of turf war mentality and that people wouldn't be looking to collaborate in that way. But I really find that that's not true. Certainly there are the turf war people, right?

Who are like, no, I'm the only one that knows how to help people. And how dare you insinuate that you could also help people in a different and complimentary way.  And those are not people worth, you know, whatever- we don't need to form relationships with them. 

MW: Exactly. Because again, we have avatars of these people. And so part of your avatar should be that they are collaborative in nature. So if you run across someone who's not collaborative in nature, sorry, moving on to the next name on the list. 

BT: Yeah. Like in my manual therapy practice. I have just so many collaborative relationships with acupuncturists, craniosacral therapists, and then it will fall into these kinds of niche things, like with the craniosacral therapist, do we both work with concussion patients together? Do we talk through that together?  There's so many ways that that just gets richer and richer for those who aren't in a turf war mentality. And I really think the majority of people are not. 

MW: I agree. That's been my experience as well. And as you meet more of those people and you build more of these relationships with folks who are not in a turf war, you will be able to notice them very quickly and you just move on. You don't waste your time with those folks.

BT:  I had Thanksgiving with somebody who's a professor at Yale. I live in New Haven, so everyone's a professor at Yale. And she had come from UC Berkeley and she was talking about her approach to finding her way in a new university situation and she said: Oh yeah, it's great now I found all my people because I just spent my first three years here just being like, Oh, you're nice to me. Great. I'll talk to you. Oh, you're not nice to me. Okay. I don't need to talk to you. I was like, that's the perfect summary for how to grow anything. 

MW: Yeah it's pretty straightforward. When you start paying attention, it's very obvious who is on board for this and who's not. And again, that's why I just stress this avatar so much because it's amazing to me how many people get stuck on one or two names and they are just bashing themselves against a brick wall trying to make it work with one organization or one individual- move on! If you have that profile, there are so many people and organizations who are going to fit that profile. That is almost the most important mindset. If this personal organization is not reciprocating, don't force it. There are so many other options out there for you.

BT: Yeah, really. Once you start  playing with this and thinking creatively, you're going to start seeing options everywhere. 

So one of the other things that comes up, certainly for me and for most of the people I work with, is that consistency can really be a struggle in this. When we're the ones delivering a service we're doing the work, and then we can be in these periods of, working, working, working, working with clients. Delivering projects, whatever the work might be… And then the work dries up and we have to go back to nurturing our contacts, growing relationships. We're on this seesaw.  

One of the strengths of your work, and one of the reasons why I recommend to my clients all the time your class Networking that Pays is that you teach it in a very systematic, but incremental, tiny bites kind of way. So how do you use systems or routines, or how might people get started with that to stay consistent with relationship marketing without feeling like it's biting off this huge thing every day? 

MW: Yeah, absolutely. I will share my system in a second, but it's built on two fundamentals that we want to keep in mind. And we've talked about one of them: One of them is being intentional with who you're reaching out to. Because if you are reaching out to the right people, there's a lot more stickiness to those relationships. Meaning, there's more depth to them and you don't have to be talking to them every week for them to remember who you are.

And so that's one important thing. If you are building the right relationships, those become sticky over time and they can go a quarter, or they can go six months without talking and without losing any momentum in that relationship. So that's number one is if you're connecting with the right people, you can get away with a lot more because the relationship makes sense, and so people remember it a lot more than if you're trying to force something. 

And then the other one is when you reach out- and I'll talk about how to reach out in a second- but when you reach out, you want to do so specifically. And a lot of people hear “specifically”, and they think that's going to take a lot of time when I describe it, but it really doesn't have to take more time than reaching out in a generic way with something like, “Oh, how's the weather?”

or, “Oh, thanks for posting this. I needed to hear that today.” Those are very generic encounters that nobody is going to remember and aren't going to build a relationship. If that is the way you are reaching out to people, in a very generic way, this is going to take too much time and it is going to be exhausting because you're trying to basically build a relationship through traffic means- through generic means- and instead you want to think about how can you reach out specifically.

When I say specifically, again, it's not sending paragraphs-long things. It's just using something that is special to your relationship, or acknowledging to the person that you see them. 

So how do we do that? I advocate in networking that pays that you are going to reach out to somebody every day of the week, and it's going to take you five minutes a day to do so. It's going to take you five minutes a day because you have different themes that you can play with. And the themes are: thank yous, connections,  asks, and catch ups.  Within those themes, there's an ability to be specific

So let's talk about the thank you. You can imagine that you could send a really generic thank you that just says, “Hey, thanks. It was great catching up yesterday.” That's not going to do anything for you. The person's going to forget that call immediately, especially if it was a first call in the midst of a busy day. But if you send a thank you and say, “Hey, thank you. I really loved catching up. You said this to me. I thought about it, overnight it was in the back of my mind, and I woke up this morning with this idea. Thanks so much. I cannot wait to implement it. I'll keep you posted.” Okay. Now that person is going to remember you if that was a first encounter. Because you have told them that the conversation actually meant something to you. It wasn't just another random Zoom call over the course of the day or another catch up call during the day, it meant something to you. And you're actually going to implement something from that. 

Even if it's friendly,because this doesn't have to be an authority type situation, even if it's peer-to-peer, people have good ideas!  So you just say something that reminded you of them, or that you came away from the conversation with. That's going to anchor that conversation and be a relationship builder as opposed to something generic. Something generic is not going to move that relationship forward. 

If every time you're talking to people, you're anchoring it in something specific, and we talk about a bunch of ways to do this in the course, that is just going to build the relationship, frankly, instead of just having this stagnant generic thing. 

BT: Yeah. I've been running podcasts also since the times of dinosaurs roaming the podcasting space, one of them called Liberated Body was quite well known in the manual and movement therapy worlds. If you have a successful podcast, it means you get pitched a lot. And so you learn a lot about unspecific outreach! People would hear the word “body” in the title and they're like, “Hey! Feature my diet program.”, And we were never, ever, ever talking about weight loss. Or, “Hey, sell my supplements!” It's really easy for people to just spam. And I think even unintentionally. 

But when people would write to me and say- and I don't need it to be about my ego inflation- but just that they actually care about the work. Something like, “I'm so glad you interviewed so-and-so. When they said this, that really changed the way I think about my practice.”

MW: Oh, here's the deal, the bar is low folks. Yes, it really is. I  always think about when I was a hiring manager,. When I had my startup and I'd be hiring people, I would get a chunk of 350 resumes that I could whittle down to 5 within two minutes, because the 5 were the only ones that even acknowledged what the job was. The bar is so low that this doesn't have to be rocket science on your part. It is just seeing two seconds of humanity in someone. 

BT: Just actually care about the people you're reaching out to and their work and let them know specifically: Why? Why do you care? 

MW: Yeah I call it sticking out like a sore thumb, but in a positive way because with everybody else, you are flooded with generic messages all day long. Even I am when I advocate this outreach style, it amazes me. I will do a training and I will advocate this style and then I will get a flood of generic responses.  I'll get two or three specific responses. And I'll even say in the training, if you send me a generic thank you, I will not reply to you. And I get a flood of generic thank yous and a bunch of people just trying to connect with me on LinkedIn without saying anything specific. I'm like, did you even listen? But then you have the two or three who say something real. And I'm not kidding. I remember those people for a year, even though over the course of the year, I get hundreds, if not thousands of those messages. You remember them because I'm not out here for my health, I actually want to help people. It's so meaningful to hear  the genuine, specific things  when people are getting in touch with you.

Again, it doesn't have to be paragraphs long. This is one of my favorite catch ups- People say, how can I catch up with someone who I haven't talked to in a while and I've let that go? I'd say, remember one thing that they said to you two years ago, and how that has stuck with you and just reach out to them and say, “This is going to be so random, and you probably don't even remember this, but two years ago, we had a conversation about X, and it still has resonated with me, and this is how it's still in my life.” Done. And it's not more than one to two sentences. So you don't have to send these people essays. 

BT: No, right. And nobody has time to read essays either.  If it's somebody that you don't know, and you're reaching out cold, you can also tell them why are you reaching out to them specifically. Have a reason why. I'm thinking back to my gym networking, and there's one gym that I still go to, it's a women's powerlifting gym run by a woman who was an occupational therapist before she started the gym. So their programming is amazing. And I'm a body nerd, right? And it's powerlifting for women, but it's not about making your body smaller or anything, So I I'm in love with this gym, (Tuff Girl in Hamden Connecticut, if you want to check it out. Christa Doran who runs it, is amazing). 

When I reached out to teach mobility classes there, well I have genuine admiration for what they're doing for very specific reasons. And I did not write 40 paragraphs, but I did say, “I am so glad to find a gym with programming that's this smart, that has zero orientation towards bodies looking hotter.” And they're like, oh, this person's actually paying attention to what we're all about. So even if you reach out cold, you have reasons why you're reaching out there specifically. 

MW: I love that. And again, gold star. That is my favorite way to reach out cold. I talk about how do you get introduced to people and the two easiest ways are if you have a shared connection, somebody can introduce you, or if you have a platform like a podcast that you can invite them to be on. But if you don't have one of those two assets, then I advocate sending out a cold thank you that is specific in nature. And you just gave a perfect example of how you do it because they will pay attention to that.

Again, we're not going to bat a thousand, but a lot of people wil respondl. And that's going to give you your best chance. If you're reaching out cold, send that type of thank you slash admiration letter: Telling people why you care. You can tell them about yourself later. 

BT: Yeah, exactly. You said something important too about yourself, that you're not just doing this for your health, you actually want to help. And that's true for, I think, every service providing business, at least the kinds of ones that we interact with, right? So everybody wants to know that their work matters and is making a difference and that someone's paying attention.  

MW: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And so again, stick out like that sore thumb but in a positive way. Because I can promise you nobody else is taking the time to write one or two quality sentences that actually see their humanity and show people that you see what they are doing and why they're doing it.

You get the benefit of everybody else's laziness, frankly. I mean, it's amazing. I can scroll through my LinkedIn messages and I can zero in on the one without even reading it yet that I know took a second to figure out, because all the other ones are so generic and clump together that the quality ones really do stick out amongst the the rest. You can even look in your inbox and typically see that as well: All the spammy messages. You notice the ones that aren't immediately before you even read them, and so they get caught and they get read.  

BT: I will conclude today by touching on another training that you have, I think you call it Building Your Relationship Funnel. And for those of us who have had a foot in both worlds- traffic marketing and relationship marketing- “funnel” is a word that gets used a lot in traffic marketing. I'm curious if you can talk a little bit about that training and what you mean by a relationship funnel. 

MW: Yeah, so I think “funnel" has been co-opted by the traffic world to mean these big complicated things. But if you look at any sales mechanism that any business has done since the beginning of time, it's a funnel, right? It is a process of meeting somebody, and then taking them through a marketing and sales process. That's just the definition of a funnel. 

And I'm also terrible at naming things. So I have a process called Build your Relationship Funnel and how these relate is that I think of marketing in three steps: awareness, engagement, and sales.

People need to know who you are. That's awareness and engagement. People need to kind of solidify the trust, understand what you told them, what they learned about you and understand that they want to work with you. And then you have to sell them something, that’s sales. 

We've talked a lot about networking in this conversation and networking in my course, Networking that Pays is a skillset that makes that awareness stage a lot more effective in a relationship funnel. Because in a relationship funnel, you want to meet people while they're in another audience. You don't want to meet them by trying to get them onto your platform right away.

Like you would in traffic, right? You don't want to meet them by meeting them via the Instagram algorithm. You want to meet them by going and doing a workshop or all the other 14 examples we've given today. And so that's awareness in a relationship funnel is, how do I go borrow an audience to, to meet them in an appropriate way?

And Networking that Pays as a skillset that makes that first stage a lot easier to pull off. A lot of times if people aren't sure how to think through that. But then we get to the end of awareness and people aren't sure how to get them to a sale. 

Sometimes people will leap right to a sale, but a lot of times we have a little bit more of a process to take them through, meaning how do we get them into that engagement and sales stage?

And so Build Your Relationship Funnel is a bootcamp that came out of my Networking that Pays students asking me that exact question. Saying, Michelle, this is awesome. Thank you. I'm finally talking to my right leads, but how do I now close them? And so I walk them through what a relationship funnel looks like to bring people through awareness engagement sales, because awareness, engagement, and sales exist in traffic as well, they just work in opposite ways. 

The way that you bring somebody through a traffic funnel through those stages is going to be the opposite of how you bring somebody through a relationship funnel. In Build Your Relationship Funnel, it's a bootcamp I teach a couple of times a year that helps you set your strategy for: What are you going to do in awareness? What are you going to do in engagement? What are you going to do in sales to move people through that full funnel? 

As opposed to Networking that Pays which is a skill set that makes the awareness stage much easier to pull off. So that's how those pieces work together. 

BT: Yeah. Thank you. That's really helpful to understand how they go together. And you've brought up another one of my favorite soapbox statements that anyone who follows my podcast knows, which is that yes, as service providers, we often love what we do. We want to be helpful to people, but a business isn't a business without revenue or sales. It's not a business and that's okay. You can have as many nourishing hobbies as you want, but if it's your business, you actually do need to figure out how to make sales, to make money. 

MW: Yes. Yes, absolutely. I'm a very big advocate of people making money and not because I'm a pure capitalist, but if you're out here running a business, the point is to make money. And so let's honor your time and your commitment by doing that as efficiently and as true to you as possible. 

BT: Yeah, you don't have to be a shark, you don't have to make  millions, but you do need to make revenue. You do need to make sales. 

MW: Well we haven't talked about this. This is one of the biggest pieces of feedback I get when people realize this world- they come in telling me how gross sales are and how awful this feels and what they end up realizing is if you are running your business and you're marketing out of alignment, meaning if you have a service based business that is aligned with relationship sales, but you're trying to run it through a traffic funnel, or you have experienced that because you've been the client in somebody who has done that to you, the sale is going to feel really gross because, like I said, the mechanics of how you run those stages are the opposite. 

Sp if you have gone through a sales process for what should be a relationship product, and it's gone through a traffic process, that has probably felt really gross to you.

Or if you are a person who is running a business that is aligned with relationship marketing, and you're trying to put it through a traffic funnel, you probably feel a little uncomfortable with what you're doing. And it's not because the sales are evil. It is because you're misaligned. You are trying to use the wrong model for what you're selling.

And when we can get you into the right model, then It feels aligned. It feels appropriate. Liisten, the Old Navy emails might get a little annoying sometimes, but I know their purpose. I don't get offended that Old Navy is sending me emails. I can just unsubscribe. That's totally appropriate. Just send me all your emails, I get it. 

Versus if somebody was trying to sell me some $10,000 thing and I was getting pummeled with those emails, it’s a huge turnoff, right? I would be offended. 

In the same way, if Old Navy was trying to call me all day long and trying to build a relationship with me, that would be really freaky.

We laugh about those because they're so obvious, but that's exactly what's happening. If you are trying to market in a way that's unaligned, or if you have been the victim of that, and that has led you to believe that sales are gross, I would invite you to first ask, “Oh, am I maybe using the wrong side of this marketing continuum?” And if you got yourself aligned to the right side of it.  Could that feel different?  

BT: So helpful. It's so helpful the way you identify the difference between traffic and relationship marketing and just how you bring people back into remembering that there were businesses before the internet.

MW: Yeah, exactly! How do you think we did this before? 

BT: Thank you so much. I really appreciate your work. When I say you are the person I trust around these marketing and also sales approaches I mean that sincerely. And hopefully everyone listening also noticed your genius with this and are ready to take up some relationship marketing for themselves.

MW: Oh my gosh. Well, thank you for a fun conversation. I love to talk about this all day long, so I appreciate it very much.

Big gratitude to Michelle Warner for joining me today on the podcast, and you can find more of Michelle's work at

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