Make Friends First, Business Second

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.



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