Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers.

By Gary Vaynerchuk

At its core, social media requires that business leaders start thinking like small-town shop owners. They're going to have to take the long view and stop using short-term benchmarks to gauge their progress. They're going to have to allow the personality, heart, and soul of the people who run all levels of the business to show. And they're going to have to do their damndest to shape the word of mouth that circulates about them by treating each customer as though he or she were the most important customer in the world. In short, they're going to have to relearn and employ the ethics and skills our great-grandparents' generation took for granted, and that many of them put into building their own businesses.

We're living in what I like to call the Thank You Economy, because only the companies that can figure out how to mind their manners in a very old-fashioned way--and do it authentically--are going to have a prayer of competing.

Note that I said you have to do it authentically. I am wired like a CEO and care a great deal about the bottom line, but I care about my customers even more than that. That's always been my competitive advantage. I approach business the same way I approach every talk I present--I bring this attitude whether I have an audience of ten or ten thousand. Everybody counts, and gets the best I have to give. A lot of the time, we call people who do a consistently great job "a professional," or "a real pro." I try to be a pro at all times, and I demand that everyone I hire or work with try to be one, too. All my employees have to have as much of that caring in their DNA as I do. How else do you think I outsell Costco locally and Wine.com nationally?

It started with hustle, sure. I always say that the real success of Wine Library wasn't due to the videos I posted, but to the hours I spent talking to people online afterward, making connections and building relationships. Yet I could have hustled my ass off and talked to a million people a day about wine, but if I or any of the people who represent Wine Library had come off as phonies or schmoozers, Wine Library would not be what it is today. You cannot under- estimate the sharpness of people's BS radar--they can spot a soulless, bureaucratic tactic a million miles away. BS is a big reason why so many companies that have dipped a toe in social media waters have failed miserably there.

At Wine Library, we don't just pull out the charm when a big spender walks in, or when someone is unhappy, and we don't reply to inquiries with carefully worded legalese. We try not to calculate that one customer is worth more than another, and therefore worth more time and more effort, even as we recognize that a big customer can bring a lot to the table. How can you ever know who is potentially a big customer, anyway?

Maybe you've got a customer who spends only a few hundred dollars with you a year. What you can't see is that the customer is spending a few thousand elsewhere, maybe with your competitor. You have no way of knowing that the customer's best friend is the biggest buyer in the category. Now, what if you were able to build a relationship, make a connection, tilt the person's emotions toward you, and capture 30, 60, or even 100 percent of what he or she spends? Your small customer would become a lot bigger.

That's why you have to take every customer seriously. This is a basic business principle that has been talked and written about a great deal, and some companies take it seriously. But the playing field is so different now from, say, 1990, that companies can no longer treat it as a nice idea to which they should aspire. Valuing every single customer is mandatory in the Thank You Economy.

If there's a problem, we at Wine Library never tell ourselves that once we handle this issue, we'll never have to deal with the person again. We talk to every single person as though we're going to wind up sitting next to that person at his or her mother's house that night for dinner. We make it clear that we want to help in whatever way we can, and that everyone's business matters to us. And we mean it.

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we lose because someone else established the relationship first. For the most part, everyone has more than one place to find what it is you're selling.

I've had people tell me that though they like what I do and live in my town, they buy from the other guy's liquor store because he's been good to them. I say, "I'm cheaper and I have a way better selection and I'll be good to you, too! Heck, I'll be better!" but I can't win, because a relationship has already been formed.

I can compete on price, I can compete on convenience, and if they'd give me the chance I'd compete on caring, too. But they're not going to give me that chance unless the other guy slips up. And even then they'd probably give him a second chance, because forgiveness is the hallmark of a good relationship. If I kept pounding I might be able to win a percentage of my competitor's business, but the little guy in town will keep his consumer's market share with real caring and service.

Anyone working for a big company might be skeptical that a large business, or even a strictly online business, can form the same kind of friendly, loyal relationship with customers as a local retailer. I'm saying it's already been done because I lived it. I built my online company the same way I built the brick-and-mortar store. But it works only if everybody at the company gets on board, which is why unless you are building a new company from the ground up and can install caring as your business's cornerstone, you have to be willing to embark on a complete cultural overhaul so that, like a local mom-and-pop shop, every employee is comfortable engaging in customer service, and does it authentically. Your engagement has to be heartfelt, or it won't work.
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