In this new digital age, where content is king, it is now more critical than ever to connect with, and deliver value to, the people who matter to the success of your business.

Unfortunately, some people never got the memo.

You’ve probably met a few of them during your business travels. You soon realize they’re not there to connect with you, or build a strong business relationship. The only thing they want to do is sell you something.

The first time I met someone like this was at a chamber mixer. His name was Sam. Let’s just say that all he did was talk about himself, and before I had the chance to tell him about me and my practice, he turned and walked away. I was dumbfounded!

A couple of days later, he sends me an email, addressed to “Dear Friend,” offering me a 20 percent discount on whatever it is he sells. I hit “delete” so hard my neighbor’s computer broke.

If people like Sam treat people the way he did to me in our awkward, face-to-face encounter, imagine how he behaves online in the massive, impersonal world of digital communications. People like Sam have unlimited access to more than 200 free social media channels, and they push their selling messages to millions of people every day, especially the hyped up ones who blow up our email inboxes and force us to constantly hit “DELETE”, which leads to carpal tunnel syndrome and years of supressed rage.

You see…Sam – which rhymes with spam — is a taker. He never gives back. He talks at us, but he doesn’t listen. He brags, but doesn’t praise. All he wants to do is advance his own agenda. When you’re with him, you wonder if he even sees you as a human being, or just a means to an end.

Over the years, I’ve pondered Sam’s brutally selfish and rude, behavior. I mean, “Did this guy actually have any customers who weren’t relatives? Is he even still in business?”

He made me wonder, “Why is it that when business people promote themselves so many of them become ego-centric and blind to the needs of their target audiences? Are these the same people who won’t let you merge in during rush hour traffic?”

In their defense, some people believe that aggressive self promotion is how you’re supposed to grow a business. But this is old school thinking. Times have changed. And with change comes confusion and a new set of challenges.

For example, to succeed in today’s market, we still have to distinctively position ourselves and convey that we’re wonderful, amazing and worthy of their business. But we need to tread lightly and not undermine ourselves.

Another challenge is that nurturing relationships takes longer than we’d like, and makes us anxious because we have bills to pay, so we tend to slip into default mode  and shout our messages from the rooftops. The problem is when ALL we talk about is ourselves and the benefits we provide and the awards we’ve won.  Me. Me. Me.  24/7, 365.

It’s as if we’re thinking, “Hey! If I can just shout loudly enough, customers are going to jump right into my lap!” But the harsh reality is that today’s consumers are fed up by it, and the sound of their silence is deafening.

If we really want to attract attention to our wonderfulness, we need to start communicating in a whole new way. It may seem counter-intuitive but it is so much more effective for achieving your goals.

I don’t want to sound like the schoolyard bully, but no one really cares about YOU.  But who do you suppose they do care about? Themselves. It’s human. We all want to be noticed and cared about.

So how do we get people to care about us, and show we care in return?

Obviously the old styles of self promotion aren’t working any more. Advertising is growing less effective. We’ve grown immune to and most of us hit fast forward or tune it out. Cold calling is a big “no-no” these days. We’re irritated by it. The ‘hard sell’ on the first social media contact is completely inappropriate. Today’s consumers want to be wined and dined first. After they’ve learned to trust you, they’ll come closer.

 The more we rely on technology for communication, the more we crave  real, heart-felt, human connection. We seek out people to do business with, not the faceless corporations of old. We decide if a business is credible and trustworthy by the quality of its experts and how much we think they care about us, the community, and the world.

This is where the “E” word comes in – EMPATHY. Demonstrating empathy is critical to influencing the behavior of your audience. It’s about listening to them, having two-way conversations, understanding and curing their “pain,” and putting their interests above your instinctive need to self-promote.

Positive relationships are the oxygen of commerce in the digital age.

Don’t focus solely on yourself. Publicly recognize the achievements of others. Model for them how to lead a more satisfying life. Make them laugh, shed tears of joy. And share valuable information.

I have a vision. That by shifting thinking away from “me-me-me” to “you-you-you,” fewer business will fail and greater goodness will expand into the world.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

And that goes for every business, too. Let’s choose the light.

Hey, Sam — Are you listening?