Business and Relationships

What you can learn about social business in the Farmer’s Market

Saturday mornings is farmer market’s day Guarulhos, Brazil, where I grew up.  My mom is a customer of this particular meat stand for more than 35 years now.

Last week I was in Brazil and woke up early on Saturday to accompany her grocery shopping for the week.

When we arrived at the meat stand, the butcher greeted mom and looked at me. After a few seconds of puzzlement, he smiled. “The boy who went to college and then moved to California!” (in the community where I grew up, going to college is memorable).

He immediately left what he was doing, cleared the edge of the stand and pulled a few boxes to improvise a coffee table. He then got a thermos from his pack under the counter and served three cups of coffee. Made us sit there and asked me how I had been.

That is a portion of the world frozen in time. My mom doesn’t use a bankcard. The food sellers know what she buys every week and some still remember that I used to follow her as a child along those aisles 35 years ago.

Brazil is changing fast and Carrefour and Walmart are building giant supermarkets all over the country as fast as they can, selling meats in much flashier (and probably more sanitary) facilities.

Business is no longer like it was in the good old times.

Or is it? As most of the world is still shifting from relationship-based business to a marketing-driven business models, in Social Media circles and Enterprise 2.0 conferences the talk is about a new era of “Social Business”, where companies invest on building personal relationships and creating positive customers experiences and trust that “marketing” will take care of itself if we our job well.

Happy customers tell others about their experiences and bring their friends. That is how business has always been done.

I certainly don’t expect the butcher at a Carrefour store to remember me after 35 years and invite me for coffee. But companies who spend more energy promoting themselves than understanding and addressing customer’s needs will not survive in an era where consumers recover the ability to influence each other via Social Media in a similar way as they did in small communities.

And, if you grew up in a small community, I suggest you go back to some old store of the past and see how business is still done there. You might learn more about business than at an Enterprise 2.0 conference.

2 thoughts on “Business and Relationships

  1. Thought provoking as always, Marcio.

    The question this raises for me is this: the butcher *reallly* knows your family. The social interaction is sincere and first-hand. With social media tools businesses are attempting to create a sense that they *know* us. Customized content, more relevant and informed customer service — they create a sense that the company knows us, but is it real, and is it enough?


    1. Alan:

      (resonance… I have been asking myself the same question)

      Social Media really transforms the interaction among customers and I think that is clear.

      Can Social Media (alone or coupled with changes in organization culture/structure) let companies be truly personal? Scalability (and all the efficiencies that size brings) will continue to be a basic requirement.

      My current answer is “no”.

      So, is there a way? I think the answer will have to do with breaking the organizational boundaries so that the community of customers become truly part of the “company”. Companies as we think today cannot scale engagement, but communities can.

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