Ask yourself what benefits your customers see in doing business with youSo it looks like the wedding is off.

Charles Manson’s wedding, that is.

It turns out his fiancée just wanted his corpse so she could display it and charge admission.

When I read that, I thought: finally, this makes sense.

It was the first time any of it had made sense to me. Last year, when the engagement was first announced, Star Burton claimed that she connected with Manson over a shared interest in environmentalism. I didn’t quite know what to make of that. But wanting to display his corpse? Sure, I get that. It’s a stupid idea, but more believable than bonding with an insane murderer over a love of the earth.

Apparently Mr. Manson must have found Ms. Burton’s plan a bit too distasteful, and called things off. A shame… it seems to me they are a perfect match for each other. But that’s their business. Still, there’s a lesson here for everyone, not just 80 year old jailed serial killers whose prospective brides want to display their dead bodies.

The lesson: Every relationship depends on understanding both parties’ true motivations. That’s just as true for business relationships as for personal ones.  The best relationships are the ones where it’s not only easy to answer the question, “what’s in it for me?” but also “what’s in it for them?”  (Tip: the answer should almost never be “displaying my corpse.”)

Of course, if you’re running a business, your motivation is clear: you want to create loyal customers who will buy your product or service.

But what about the other side of the equation? Why are your customers coming to you? What is their motivation? Are you better than your competition? More interesting? Cheaper? Funnier? Faster? Do you offer something unique? Do you show up at the top of a Google search? There’s plenty of ways to ask these questions, from SurveyMonkey to comment cards to phone calls to casual chats. Find a way that works for you and use it.

Being able to answer the question “what’s in it for my customers?” is critical to your success. It helps you act in a way that reinforces your relationships, and it (hopefully) keeps you from doing stupid things that will tick off your customers. If, in the course of making a major decision about your company or brand, you can’t come up with an honest positive answer to the question “what’s in it for my customers?”, then reconsider your decision.

It’s that simple.

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