Customers, influencers and competitors should all be part of your network. You read that right: even competitors.

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I love technology. I mean, in today’s world, who doesn’t? It makes our jobs easier, it connects us to more people than ever before and it continues to make new things possible.

Related: Relationships Are Currency

But there’s also a big downside to technology: It’s impersonal. Sure, we can send mass messages to thousands of contacts at once, but is that what people really want?

On her website, professional speaker Patricia Fripp says, “Technology does not run an enterprise. Relationships do.” And I agree.

If you want to build a successful business, you need to focus on building relationships with three key audiences: your customers, influencers and your competitors. Here’s why building relationships with these audiences will benefit your business.

Your customers will love you.

You may be saying to yourself, “That’s obvious. Of course I build relationships with my customers.” But it’s easier said than done. Out of all your relationships, your relationship with your customers may be the most important — and the most difficult.

That’s because customers know when you’re being inauthentic. They’ve been hounded for years by brands looking for a quick sale. But customers want more than just a one-time purchase. They want to build a long-lasting relationship with a brand.

So, how do you do it? Your strategy should be two-prong: Listen to and understand your customers, and then give them what they want.

Before I begin any marketing program or campaign — or something as simple as an article like this one — I research my audience. Whom am I marketing to? What do those people want? Asking these simple questions allows me to better understand my customers and their needs, and how my business can meet those needs.

It’s also important to make sure your customers feel special and appreciated. You can do this by personalizing your emails, sending special gifts to key clients and reaching out personally to unhappy customers. You want your customers to know you and your company better. Once they know you, they will trust you.

Related: The Key to Success? Relationships.

Influencers will align with you.

Every industry has its movers and shakers, the ones who are pushing the envelope and moving the needle. And aligning your brand with these influencers can result in major benefits.

Having a relationship directly with your customers is important, but it’s not the only way to get through to them. Sometimes a third party can be a valuable partner in building relationships with your customers. But first, you must build a relationship with that person.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve made a point of connecting with marketers and practitioners in my field. I’ve connected through email and Slack and built relationships with these people. But I didn’t initially go out and say, “Hey, please help me with this.” Instead, I started by asking what I could help them with.

Relationships with influencers need to be mutually beneficial. How can you help each other? Today, I’m friends with the influencers in my industry, and we’re constantly chatting via a Slack group, sharing content and information. And, guess what? Because we all write a lot of content, we end up referencing one other, naturally.

And those references? Your customers notice them. Influencers already have a respected reputation in the industry, so your customers trust their opinion. If influencers are out there recommending your brand, you can bet your customers are going to listen to them.

Competitors will become friends.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why would you ever want to be friends with your competition? But bear with me here. Instead of thinking of your competition as something that needs to be destroyed, think of your competitors as a valuable resource. You’re both going after the same audience, so by regularly exchanging information, you can learn more about what’s best for your business. For example, I learned from the CEO of Growbots that advertising is a poor channel for both of us because the cost per acquisition is way too high.

Plus, when you’re not bad-mouthing your competition, you show that your business has integrity. Companies that focus so much on putting their competitors down take the spotlight off the benefits that they offer. Customers don’t want to hear how awful your competitors are. They want to hear how good you are.

If you focus on what your customers want, they’ll trust you more. And, when they trust you more, you’ll be able to build the relationships that matter most.

Related: 5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships With Clients

What are some ways building relationships has benefitted your business? Let me know in the comments below:

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