This article is part of the 7 Deadly Sins of Relationship-Based Marketing series. In the series, we’ll chronicle different online behaviors and practices that can ruin your business relationships. Some are subtle, and some not so much. If the success of your business relies on maintaining healthy relationships with current clients, prospects, or a network of referrers, it could be time you start repenting.

Deciding what mix of tactics to use in your marketing blend can be like walking a tight rope: If you lean too far to one side, you’re not reaching enough people and your message is weak. If you lean too far to the other side, you come across as a bonafide stalker.

We talk frequently about how crucial maintaining healthy relationships is to a business’ success. Especially for those who sell with a handshake rather than a click (I’m talking to you B2B folks!). Okay, so let’s assume that that’s common knowledge to all who oversee their company’s sales and marketing efforts. But what does “maintaining healthy relationships” really mean?

What exactly is a relationship and how do we measure its health? Let’s break out the meaning of relationships, and while we’re doing so, we’ll set some standards.

Read on, friends.

What is a relationship?

A relationship, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is: “the way in which two or more people, groups, countries, etc., talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other.” Let’s focus on the action part of that definition, “deal with each other.” If you’re sending out hundreds or thousands of communications to people, and they’re not responding—or worse, not given the opportunity to respond—what you have is not a functional relationship.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but what you’re doing is more akin to stalking than engaging in meaningful conversation. It might be time to try a different approach.

Brand-building does not equal relationship-building

You might be thinking, “But how else are we to build our brand if we don’t broadcast our message far and wide, and to as many people as possible?”

You’re not alone in your query, but managing your brand as a whole and staying in touch with the people who can potentially aid your success are very different practices. Too many business owners are tricked into thinking each task is the same, or that you can accomplish one with the same tools you’d use to accomplish the other.

Sure, we as consumers have relationships with brands in that we develop opinions about them based on how they express their ideologies, the consistency with which they communicate their viewpoints and the niche they carve for themselves in their industry. Establishing an online presence is good, and we definitely encourage companies to do that (in the right way). But one-sided communications can’t replace your phone calls, personal emails and the unique touches that remind folks you’re a real person with a vested interest in them.

Are you actually engaging?

Think for a second about all the different marketing initiatives your business is engaged in currently. Your strategy is probably built around a mix of social media, an email marketing campaign, even some inbound SEO—a well-rounded comprehensive package, or so you’ve been led to believe. Some of these platforms might be right for your business, and others may only be enabling you to tick off the people you’re trying to impress. You can’t rely on digital tools exclusively to do your networking for you.

It will backfire.

I won’t name names, but there are people I know personally who offer services that I might one day buy. And I only hear from some of these people when I receive their monthly newsletter or a mass printed holiday mail card wishing me a “Happy Thanksgiving.” Do I consider myself the lucky recipient of such a thoughtful gesture? No. Instead, it reminds me that I haven’t had a real conversation with these people for months. That abysmal lack of personal communication demonstrates that they only think of me as a lead in their sales funnel.

And—it feels like they’re stalking me. Failing to recognize or acknowledge my own lack of response, they persist, with no regard or consideration for whether I’m interested in what they have to say.

How to save face

Don’t just advertise. Find something else to share with your connections. Ask them, (individually) about what’s new in their world, find out what their opinions are about your industry (or theirs), treat them like people. Because they are real people with real memories, and you better believe they’ll remember how you chose not to dump them into a black hole of automated marketing with several hundred others.

They’ll remember that you remembered them.

And the next time they’re looking to buy new windows, hire a caterer, a lawyer, contract someone to build their new office building, whatever it is you do—they’ll be more likely to consider asking you to do it.

If you need some guidance on how to walk that tight rope, give us a call.

No question, our communication mediums have come a long way—and so have we. That’s because whenever those mediums change, they take us along for the ride. We’re forever linked. Let’s take a look at media of the past and present, and how they figure into a recent and multi-faceted development for us in the digital age: technological relationships.

Linked with media

The notion that emerging technologies fundamentally influence us is nothing new. Back in 360 BC, Plato warned that mankind would be ruined by that most pernicious of newfangled communication vehicles: writing.

“The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves,” Plato depicts Socrates saying in “Phaedrus.” (It’s ironic that most of his work has been immortalized over the centuries largely thanks to…that’s right…writing.)

More recent thinkers, too, have remarked on media’s inextricable link to our lifestyles. Media educator and philosopher Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium, or process, of our time—electronic technology—is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life.” The kicker? That’s from “The Medium Is the Message,” written back in 1967, decades before social media had even become a thing.

But why take those guys’ word for it? Just look around and you can see the latest changes for yourself—we walk into people and things while staring rapt into our digital devices, for example. Or look at the way we talk. Slang and new figures of speech like “a thing” are constantly created and quickly disseminated with the help of the new digital communications at our disposal.

The ascendancy of digital media

So, our media changes how we behave. But is that media itself changing? Certainly. According to the Pew Research Center, regular use the Internet now is now almost completely ubiquitous. In addition, as of 2017, 69% percent of all online adults used a social network of some kind (compared with only 5 percent in 2005).

The advent of text messaging has had a huge impact on the way we communicate. Ninety-five percent of American adults own a cell phone nowadays, and 80 percent of respondents in a RingCentral study said they used texting for business. In that same study, 15 percent said that over half of their text messages were sent and received specifically for business purposes—so texting isn’t just a fad for teenagers, either.

By almost any measure, the adoption of digital communications has risen dramatically over the last 10 years, and that is changing the way people have relationships with each other, not only on a personal level but also, as seen above, in business.

New characteristics of digital communications

To understand these changes better, it’s useful to examine how digital interactions have changed how we communicate.

The invention of electronics (like telephones) and digital communications allowed for long-distance communications to occur in real time. Before that, if we wanted a long-distance relationship it would require letter writing (which isn’t in real time) or face-to-face meetings (which are challenging to maintain at long distances).

The invention, creation and wide adoption of digital communications have changed all that and opened up the floodgates so that it’s easier to communicate with more people than ever before. As a result:

  • We’re now able to talk instantaneously with strangers. With tools like You Tube, Snapchat, Skype, and Twitter, you can have back-and-forth conversations and even form relationships with somebody whom you’ve never met in person, even somebody on another continent.
  • We know more people. Whether they’re friends, followers or fans, the advent of digital communications has led to a dramatic increase of acquaintanceships. 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been nearly impossible to establish or maintain the volume of relationships that we do today with the help of social media.
  • There’s more competition as we try to be heard. We’re all trying to find ways to capture other people’s attention amidst the heightened chatter of the digital landscape. We search for ways to personalize our communications and make them more noteworthy, whether it’s through images, different fonts, GIFs, videos, or some other innovation.
  • We need to manage our technological relationships. With so many competing voices—often originating from folks you’ve never met or spoken with before—how do you differentiate which people are engage-worthy? This partially explains the prevalence of another social media staple: the profile.

Of course, “blind” acquaintanceships with strangers were possible prior to digital communications, but they were trickier. On a personal level, you could be pen pals with somebody, but for the most part, contacting somebody you had never met before was reserved for business or political purposes and done only by phone or mail.

Digital asynchronous communications

Real-time or synchronous exchanges have been fostered through digital relationships, but so have asynchronous ones, once the provenance of good old-fashioned letters. Asynchronous digital platforms—email, social media, etc.—where each conversation can essentially be reduced to a series of individual volleys, have proven themselves highly efficient in business relationships and, like letters, offer particular advantages:

  • Parties can participate at their own pace. This is especially useful for accommodating variable schedules.
  • Parties are allowed time to think of a response. You don’t have to respond to somebody off the cuff—you can take a moment to do research, run an idea past somebody else, or just must mull it over before you respond.

The quality of technological relationships: Is something lost?

For both real-time, face-to-face interactions and ping-ponged, asynchronous ones, another impact of technological communication has been the rising necessity of shielding one’s identity in some way. The popularity of ad-blockers is just one potent example.

Shielding can obviously benefit one’s security and the management of relationships, but it does have its own consequences. A reduction of intimacy, for one thing. We send a text instead of making a phone call, even though with a text you lose those subtle communication goodies like voice inflection and the like. Plus, it’s just colder.

In business, as another example, ads and newsletters have largely replaced more personal door-to-door sales. Nowadays, you can send out an email newsletter—and in some cases, it will still have a desirable impact—but there’s no face-to-face interaction, no handshakes, and it’s difficult for the sender to know with what sentiment the message is received.

Bringing back intimacy

In an ideal world, there would be a way to recover some of the intimacy that is being lost with the prevalence of technological relationships.

The trick is to find a way of fostering intimacy—thus providing us with more authentic relationships, and the advantages associated with them—without having to sacrifice the benefits of digital communications.

We’ve got some ideas of how to do that. If you’ve been wondering how you can add more intimacy to your technological relationships, feel free to ask.

We are often asked whether it’s truly possible to establish and build genuine 1-to-1 relationships in digital channels.  After all, for decades our telephones, inboxes, and snail-mailboxes have been overwhelmed by an onslaught of meaningless junk, and all that noise has made us downright numb to any meaningful messages that might be buried in there.

Well, to those spam-weary cynics out there, we say, HECK YEAH!  Anyone and everyone that you could ever possibly want to have a relationship with are on some form of digital channel these days, so digital is the place to be.  But forming a truly authentic human relationship digitally is only possible if you do it the way you would develop a relationship in person.  So here are some things to remember…

It’s about how you say it

  • Consider the tone of the message – Maybe it’s a generational thing, or maybe it’s from years of essay-writing in school, but we have a tendency to believe there’s still a right way (and a wrong way) to express oneself in writing. And that, in a business-to-business setting, it must sound formal and professional. But today’s digital channels, like email, texting, and social media, have forever changed the rules of business writing.  These new channels allow for, and some even encourage a more informal and conversational tone… much like we communicate in person.  A professional, business-like message—even in professional channels like LinkedIn—can be seen as stuffy and off-putting in this digital age.  So be sure that the tone of your message is slightly less formal while still remaining free of misspellings or grammatical faux pas.
  • Customize it to the recipient – Whether in person at a networking event, or online in email, to form and maintain a genuine relationship you have to be, well… genuine. Cookie-cutter messages are spammy and disrespectful.  So make sure your message is written in such a way that respects the time, expertise and interests of the person you are sending it to.
  • Make it personal – Make sure your message is addressed to the person you want to get to know, and whatever you do, spell the name correctly. If you can ascertain what name he or she goes by (does James Young actually go by Jim?), use the more familiar name in addressing your new acquaintance.  And whenever possible, craft your message in a way that shows you took some time to learn something about the person by mentioning something they care about or that’s unique to them.

Show a little love

Whether in digital channels or in person, the most important aspect of initiating any kind of relationship with another person is finding things that you each have in common.  The strongest bonds between two people are formed not from one person liking the other person, but rather from each enjoying what the other person enjoys.  “I like you” is okay, but “I like what you like” is even better.  And “I see the world the same way you do” is best.

When developing your messaging, you will build the deepest rapport by referencing something that you both have in common.  The very channels you’re communicating in are a great resource for learning about someone’s interests, background and mutual acquaintances.  There are four categories of potential commonalities:

  1. Characteristics – These are about what and who you are. Title/responsibilities, industry certifications, age/gender, ethnicity, group memberships, physical traits and family situation are examples of potential shared characteristics.
  2. Experiences – These are related to where you’ve been and what you’ve done in the past or what you are going through right now. Travel destinations, working in a certain industry or at a specific company or job, living in a particular place or going through some sort of life event are examples of potential shared experiences.
  3. Interests – Here, it’s about what you like. The list of potential shared interests is long: hobbies, sports teams, movies, music, food, vacation destinations, authors, business gurus, sunny weather… the list goes on and on.  Interests provide the widest variety of potential commonalities of all the categories on this list.
  4. Opinions – These are about what you think and how you see the world. Political views, religious affiliation, commentary on current events and business industry views fall into this category.  Opinions are the most volatile of all commonality areas: they can forge incredibly strong bonds between people but they can also alienate people who don’t share your viewpoints.  So care must be taken to ensure that your opinion is one that the person with whom you want to build a relationship agrees with.

Give something of value

Once you’ve made an initial connection, the most effective way to deepen a relationship is to give a little something of yourself.  Offer something of value to your new acquaintance without expecting—or asking for—anything in return.  Here’s how to do it:

  • Value – Remember that whatever you’re offering has to be perceived by the recipient as truly valuable. It doesn’t have to be worth a lot, but it does have to be something that makes your acquaintance feel enriched for having read your message.  It might be an article or an idea, that shows you were thinking of them.
  • Relevant – Whatever you’re offering should be unique to the recipient and relate to their interests or talents (see the ‘Show a little love’ section above). Perhaps letting the person know about an upcoming conference they might be interested in or a social event that’s aligned with their passions.
  • No strings attached – The offer should be given freely and without asking the recipient to give something back to you. As hard as it may be, do not conclude your message with a request to call you, or a recommendation to go check out your website.  This can be the hardest part of rapport-building in digital channels, but it is the most effective because it engenders trust.  When you let the relationship form naturally, you’ll be amazed by how deep (and genuine) it will actually get.

Contrary to popular belief, social media, email and texting channels can be phenomenal vehicles for forming and deepening real human-to-human relationships… but only when used as you would in-person channels like networking events, golf outings and conferences.

The good news is that you already know how to do it.  It turns out you’ve been doing it your whole life!

It’s no secret that the more successful your business, the more relationships you have. And after a certain point, it becomes very difficult to maintain these relationships. There aren’t enough hours in the day for you to stay in personal contact with hundreds or thousands of people. Fortunately, you can leverage advances in technology to help handle certain aspects of business relationship management, especially B2B sales relationships. What’s more—you can hire someone to do it for you.

Read on and you’ll see that outsourcing your business relationships is not quite as inhuman as you might think.

The stages of a relationship

Every single person we interact with in business is involved in a relationship with us to some degree. Psychologist George Levinger suggests that every relationship has five stages:

  1. Acquaintance: The “hello, how are you?” phase. It’s where a relationship begins, sometimes because we’re introduced by a mutual friend or in-common associate, or sometimes by physical proximity (for example, a new office opens across the street). Or maybe it’s simply a cold call or a message received from a website.
  2. Buildup: This is the stage in which two parties start building trust and concern for one another. This stage requires compatibility, common backgrounds, and/or common goals. In a personal relationship, this is the “falling in love” phase. In B2B sales, it’s where you start thinking, “There’s something here—we have a lot to offer each other.” Nothing good happens, in either personal or business relationships, until you get to this stage.
  3. Continuation: This is the goal. In a personal relationship, this is where you get married and commit to staying married. In business, it’s where mutual trust ensures that both you and your customer, vendor, or employee are benefiting from the relationship, and if so, the relationship is sustained for a long period of time.
  4. Deterioration: In personal and business relationships, we hope to avoid this stage—but it happens sometimes, due to dissatisfaction, boredom, or resentment. We communicate less, and trust erodes.
  5. Ending: Just what the name implies—the relationship comes to an end. In a personal relationship, this is a breakup or a divorce. In business, it’s a little different: for example, a customer may have to cancel your service for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean you will never have contact with them again. A relationship can still exist, with the possibility that you can nurture it back to life over time.

How outsourced relationship building works

While the stages of a relationship are easily defined, it can be difficult to determine which actions should be taken in which stages in order to advance the relationship. The typical executive at a large company, for example, doesn’t have enough time or attention to devote to the relationship that’s required during the acquaintance and buildup stages.

This is where professional, outsourced relationship building comes in.

It’s possible to initiate and maintain relationships in a genuine way, thanks to advances in technology. The “shielded identity” afforded by being able to communicate from behind your computer screen allows others to transmit your thoughts and ideas on your behalf.  What’s more, “asynchronous interaction” makes it possible to have a conversation that doesn’t take place in real time. You interact to build those important business relationships, but you’re not the one pushing the buttons to make it happen. Whether it’s via e-mail, LinkedIn, or some other digital channel, it’s still you communicating, but somebody else is doing the legwork.

Relationship building comes in handy in the continuation stage, too: It’s easy to send little “hello, how-are-you-doing messages” every so often, reminding people that you care and you’re interested in them.

Relationship-based purchasing

People want to buy from people they know. The trend in relationship-based purchasing is on the rise, especially among affluent consumers. The bigger the ticket on the item, the higher the demand is for intimacy between buyer and seller. And besides, you never know where business relationships are going to lead. Nurturing the relationship after the sale has been made could lead to other business for you, or to important mentor/mentee relationships. After you’ve invested time and money in developing a relationship, it doesn’t have to deteriorate and end.

In the choppy waters of business relationships, outsourcing can be a lifesaver. If you think you could use some help in the critical areas of your business relationship management, give us a call.

In uber-quotable “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone famously said, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”  Oh, Michael, you poor misguided soul. Granted, it’d probably be best to avoid replicating the Corleone family’s business model anyway, but on that one point—at least in today’s environment—he got things exactly wrong.  Nowadays, he’d have been more accurate saying, “Make friends first, business second.”  (But don’t take our word for it: In this collection of wise thoughts from business wunderkind Michael Scott, that’s his very first piece of advice.)

Yes, in business, you’re best off approaching things on a strictly personal basis.  Below are some points that will help you make the most of the relationships in your business or marketing network.

Strategic considerations for nurturing relationships in business

1. Broadcast messaging is not networking.  A key part of nurturing relationships involves networking, and broadcast messaging—say, posting to your Facebook page or LinkedIn newsfeed— is a whole different animal.  Networking involves interactive engagement and requires not only that you reach out to contacts on a 1-to1 basis, but that you actually have back-and-forth communication with them.

2. Listen.  Nowadays, “listening” entails a lot more than it once did.  Sure, actively pay attention to what your business contacts are saying to you, but also find out what they’ve already said.  Have they posted blog articles?  Read them.  Do they have a LinkedIn profile? (OK, that was rhetorical.)  Look it up.

There are all sorts of things you can learn about your contacts:

  • Where they went to school.
  • What groups they are involved in.
  • Charitable organizations and causes they support.
  • What they’re serious about.
  • What they think is funny.

By paying close attention to what they’re saying, not only will you potentially discover common interests, but you’ll also generate more ideas for ways to engage them in conversation.  The other benefit to active listening is you’re not doing all the talking (or typing)—which can become suspiciously similar to broadcasting (see No. 1).

3. Give before you get.  While nurturing relationships with your business contacts has its own personal rewards, obviously you’re also hoping to benefit from them on a business level.  Think of all the times you’ve helped your friends with something or vice versa.  It’s the same thing.

But you’ll have far more success developing genuine relationships if you first give your contacts something before asking them for any kind of favor.  It could be offering to make introductions—maybe connecting them with somebody who can help their business.  It could be using some leverage you have in a certain area to help them out, whether it’s getting them a meeting space or arranging a presentation in front of a good prospect.

Be that facilitator and connector.  And do it proactively, long before seeking some benefit for yourself.

4. When you do ask for something, be specific. Don’t say something like, “Do you know anyone you could introduce me to?” Instead, do your research.  Use your contact’s LinkedIn profile to find a person who meets your criteria, and ask specifically for that introduction.

Or, in the above example, if you don’t have a specific name, at least give your contact a practical understanding the kinds of people it would benefit you to know.  Phrase it as an expertise request:  Instead of saying, “Who can you refer me to?” say, “Who do you know who could help me with this specific problem or task?”

5. Nurture your relationships with unexpected outreach. If you and a contact are just casual acquaintances, you may not be chatting on a daily or even monthly basis, but you still need to keep track of how long it’s been since you’ve last interacted and not let the relationship go idle.  Reach out at least every couple of months with some sort of communication, and try to keep it on a social level rather than business-focused.

It can be as simple as saying, “Hey, I haven’t heard from you for a while. How’s it going?”  If you’ve been actively listening to them, though, there should be no shortage of things you can discuss—sports, family life, major events in their city—the list is endless.

6. Be aware when it’s time to pull back.  Not all relationships are created equal.  Some contacts may not want any relationship whatsoever; others may prefer something purely on the acquaintanceship level, especially if you don’t have a chance to interact outside of business.  All of those are fine, and they can all be positive and productive. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Be perceptive as to what type of relationship your contacts prefer. People will often provide clues in their interactions with you.
  • Short responses (or no responses) may mean that you should pull back. Then again, sometimes that’s just how people communicate, especially via social media, and especially in business interactions.
  • People tend to like to be communicated with the way they communicate with others. If someone has a terse communication style, it could be a clue as to how you should interact with them in the future.

If your gut is telling you that you’re overdoing it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should let the relationship go. Instead, simply pull back and don’t engage with that person for a couple of months.  Then try a little light social outreach and go from there.

A little help from your friends

Nurturing relationships in your business network doesn’t have to be complicated—you’re just doing the kinds of things you instinctively do with your friends, only applying it to a business environment.

That said, if you’re interested in learning more ideas, feel free to call us—we’re here to help.

Sonny Corleone may have missed the boat, but it’s not too late for the rest of us to enhance our business and marketing opportunities by building better relationships with our business contacts. After all, even Vito Corleone, the pinnacle Godfather, knew the value of friendships: He warmly met people on his daughter’s wedding day, doled out favors like lollipops, but then also said, “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.”

Sometimes (God) father knows best.

Every savvy business person will tell you, “It’s all about relationships.” What not everybody realizes, however, is that there are several types of business relationships that provide value to you, and they do it in very different ways.

The most obvious relationship—and the one most people are thinking of when they say, “It’s all about relationships”—is the one that provides direct financial value: the customer relationship. You have a product or service, and the customer or client pays you money for said service or product.

But there are other, equally valuable types of business relationships.

Referral relationships

Not everyone you know is a potential customer or supplier. Certain people simply don’t need what you offer (or offer what you need). Others are past customers, and some will be customers in the future. But the important thing to remember is that even if you are not in a customer relationship with a person, they may know other people who will someday need your service or product. If you have maintained a good relationship with those people, you have an excellent shot at getting business on their recommendation when the time is right. This is what is called a referral relationship. Nurturing these potential referral relationships will help keep your business top-of-mind when the moment comes for a sale to be made.

Mentor-advisor relationships

Another type of business relationship is the mentor-advisor relationship. This kind of relationship can take years to develop, so be patient and consistent with the maintenance. Whether you’re the mentor or the mentee, the relationship can help grow your business and benefit your personal career path. There are plenty of ways you can be valuable to each other; from potential future job placements to future business referrals.

Be careful not to grow apart from your mentor. Take advantage of tools such as LinkedIn to keep the relationship in what psychologist George Levinger calls, “the continuation phase”, where it’s being consolidated for the long term.

Co-worker or recruiting relationships

The co-worker or recruiting relationship gets a lot of lip service from a lot of companies, but consistently attracting talented people who can improve your company is easier said than done. Lots of time and effort can be saved by going directly to people you trust for recruitment referrals.

Think about who you know who can refer or recruit great people. Who do you know who would be a great candidate themselves? Keep a list and maintain relationships with those people, even if you aren’t hiring now. Someday, you will be.

Subordinate or employee relationships

Another familiar, but often overlooked relationship is the subordinate or employee relationship. There’s more to it than the employee doing a job and the employer paying them for it. Nurturing this relationship can lead to happier employees, which results in greater productivity and less turnover. The continuation phase of this relationship can be tricky, especially in larger companies with hundreds of employees, but it’s critical nonetheless. Certain people advance from employee to peer, and good peer relationships can benefit you when the time comes. Certain people will leave your company, but that doesn’t necessarily signal the end of your relationship. It can continue as a referral relationship, a mentor-advisor relationship, or a recruiting relationship—if you’ve taken the time to nurture it while it was an employee relationship.

How structured relationship building and nurturing can help

Digital tools can help maintain the various relationship types. Some digital tools can be used quite effectively to establish certain relationship phases described by Levinger, including the acquaintance phase and the continuation phase. The human factor is still critically important, especially in the build-up phase—nothing can replace eye contact and handshakes (or their digital equivalents), and direct, one-to-one communication in real time. Nevertheless, asking for a little help has its place in nurturing and maintaining all of the business relationships described here.

Recognizing the value of these different relationships, and understanding when and how much attention to pay to each one is crucial. We can give you pointers on how to nurture and make the most of all your business relationships, so give us a call.