Closeness: The 21st Century Coin Of The Realm

Jim Blasingame

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?
Just like me, they long to be, close to you.

If you’re old enough to have had at least a couple of anniversaries of your 39th birthday, you recognize these lyrics from the Roger Nichols/Paul Williams song by the brother/sister act, The Carpenters, which topped the charts in 1970.

When I write the theme song for small business, the title will be, “Close To You.” My reasoning is because, like the birds and the stars and the objects of their affection, there are many stakeholders in our small businesses that we hope will long to be close to us. Let’s take a look at three of the most important ones.


Time was, when Otis Redding was sitting on the dock of the bay, a business was the product and service portal for customers. Longing to be close to us, customers – and their loyalty – were almost taken for granted. When I was a commissioned salesman, I was my customers’ Internet. They needed me. That was a nice stroll down memory lane.

Today, almost everything customers need can be acquired from a dozen competitors within 10 miles of you, many of which didn’t exist when the Eagles told us about a hotel called California. And of course, from a thousand places that reside only in the cloud – on the Internet. What isn’t a commodity today?

With the tables now turned, as the ultimate objects of our affection, every business still longs to be close to its customers. But getting the sentiment returned is the challenge, isn’t it?

However, this is one area where small and nimble can trump big and strong. With few exceptions, we can’t compete with the big guys on price, selection, or brand intimidation. But we can make customers want to be close to us by scratching an itch the big boxes can’t always reach: customization.

If you want customers to fall out of the sky to be close to you, as my friend, Peter Meyer, says in his book, Creating And Dominating New Markets, “Find out what keeps your customers up at night.” And don’t expect the answer to be a burning need for your product or service. Remember the commodity reality. Customer longing for your small business will only result when you identify a customized way to deliver your stuff so that it adds value to their operation or their life.

And if you’re worried about who’s going to pay for all this customization, hold your hand out while I get the ruler – you haven’t been paying attention. Once you’ve elevated your customer to the customization orbit, where your business is directly responsible for making their nights less sleepless, cost becomes secondary, maybe even tertiary.

Nimble small businesses have a better chance of delivering customization than the big guys. Our challenge is to recognize that customization creates customer longing, not our stuff, and then focus our business model in that direction.


Once upon a time, when Bobbie McGee sang the blues for Kris Kristofferson, a vendor was one of the companies from which you purchased inventory, raw materials, and operating supplies. Today, if a vendor isn’t longing to be your partner, you’ve got the wrong vendor.

Of course, we are at once both customers to vendors and vendors to customers. Consequently, we must learn how to find vendor-partners as well as be one. In these roles, it’s important to understand a concept that has become part of the modern romance between vendors and customers: seamless.

In a world of outsourcing as a management strategy, the goal is not merely to reduce in-house staff. If outsourcing is to work, products and services must be delivered so seamlessly to us by our vendors, and by us as vendors, that operating efficiencies not only aren’t hurt but improve.

Small businesses have much more opportunities in the marketplace today than when Three Dog Night told us Jeremiah was a bullfrog, but only if we can accomplish the hand-in-glove level of closeness required for seamless delivery. And we can’t deliver seamlessly to our customers unless we can partner with vendors longing to be close to us.


In the olden days, when Wilson Picket’s girlfriend Sally drove a Mustang, the employer/employee relationship was based largely on the Dominator Management Model, which is to say, not much closeness. In the 21st Century, the Partner Model is emerging to replace dominators the way your Pandora playlist replaced your iPad.

During the Dominator Model era, employees longed to be close to their employers because of perceived job security and benefits that approximated legal adoption. Now that that bubble has burst, employees have come to terms with the fact that they have to take more control over their career path, which will likely involve several companies, and perhaps more than one industry before they retire.

Once again the tables have been turned, and now, employers must be able to show employees that we long for them. The best way to demonstrate our longing is to close the gap between what the company needs and what our employees want. This is not a case of the tail wagging the dog. On the contrary, this is finding and hiring employees who can become stakeholders by finding their professional fulfillment in your company’s goals and performance.

The Dominator Model found success in the production of workers, which is illogical and impractical in the 21st Century. Practitioners of the Partner Model find success in the professional performance of employee stakeholders. The Partner Model is logical, productive, and completely compatible with the kind of closeness employee stakeholders seek today.

If you want employees to long for you, you have to make the first move, and suddenly appear as a partner longing to assist in their career fulfillment. No one can do this better than small businesses.


I know, I said three types of closeness, but consider this a bonus. Plus, this it’s different from the others in two important ways: 1) We don’t want to be close to this one, and 2) Not much has changed here for small businesses over the years.

Small business owners are still closer to failure than our big business cousins simply because our capital reserves and capital acquisition options are typically more limited. Any marketplace or competitive shift, or any mistake made by us, or even by one of our large customers, has the potential to take us down.

The best way to be inoculated from failure is to identify changes in the marketplace, avoid entrenched management styles that are illogical for the current environment, and get close to the best practices that work with modern stakeholders.

Write this on a rock ... If you want to be close to success, you first must have customers, vendors, and employees longing to be close to you. The good news is these are all things small business owners do better than anyone.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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