I was just in CBuilding Relationshipsarol Roth’s hometown of Chicago for a quick business trip this week, sitting in the back of the hotel shuttle van, when I noticed the driver and an older passenger talking like old friends up front. After the passenger got off, I asked the driver about it. He replied that this person was a senior executive who had been staying at the hotel all week, far from home, and this was his last day in town. Over the course of the week, they got to know each other well enough to be talking about everything from their jobs to hospitalized family members – as friends and equals.

He’s good. And I smiled listening to all of this, because he gets something that many small businesses don’t: your success doesn’t revolve around how fantabulous you or your product are. It really revolves around how you make other people feel.

One thing I can honestly say about most of my clients is that they are my friends. And invariably, they are my friends whether or not they ever cross my palms with silver. It is not that we like each other because we do business together, but rather we do business together because we like each other.

On a much grander scale, look back at the captains of industry in the early 20th century. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone were good friends who were eventually part of a business mastermind group together. Ford worked for Edison at one point, and Firestone eventually made the tires for Ford’s successful Model T. All of them regularly bounced ideas off of each other and helped advise each other’s businesses. And they all got rich together.

Which led me to an interesting experiment last year. I was meeting with one of my largest clients, someone for whom I teach a week-long communications skills program every year at a major university. We were talking about selling skills for the program, and I asked her the following:

Me: So speaking of selling, how did you end up choosing me to develop this program for you?

Her: Well, because we’ve been good friends and colleagues for a long time, ever since you spoke in one of my classes years ago. And I knew you were really good at this.

Me: I thought so. So let me ask you another question. What if we had never met, and I had sent you an e-mail that read something like this: “Dear Ms. So-and-so – I am a successful communications skills author and speaker. I would like to meet with you and see if you would like to consider having me develop a program for you at some point.”

Her: (rolled eyes and the sound of muffled laughter)

She is absolutely correct, and this is exactly why I asked that loaded question. It is so much easier to do business with people you know, like, and trust. I feel it far dominates almost any other selling factor.

So start thinking more like that hotel shuttle van driver. Focus less on prospecting, and more on building relationships. Get to know and like people as people, with no regard for whether you are ever going to quote-unquote “make the sale.” And then watch what happens to your business. I’ll bet you’ll discover I’m right.