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In my previous article, I talked about how the many organic variables involved in playing golf make it a lot like trying to navigate business relationships. The article struck a chord with many readers and I heard from several avid golfers who suggested more ways in which the two are similar. So it’s time for the sequel, with three more ways business relationships are like playing golf.

1. Most shots are not aimed at the hole

Of course, the goal of golf is to get the ball in the hole.  But one of the ironies of the game is that the vast majority of golf shots are in fact aimed elsewhere. Shots off the tee are usually aimed at the fairway. Approach shots are focused on getting the ball closer to the green or onto the green itself. And even some putts are from far enough away that the goal is to just get the ball close to the hole to make the next putt easier. Now, if one of those shots accidentally goes in, it’s cause for celebration. Holes-in-one are rare and joyful events. But many shots in golf have no chance of going into the hole because they are not aimed anywhere near it. Instead, they are aimed at putting the player in a better position for the next shot.

If you think of playing golf as analogous to developing and nurturing business relationships, getting the ball in the hole would equate to making a sale. And what we can learn from golf is that, just as every shot is not aimed directly at the hole, every interaction in relationships should not be aimed at making a sale. The majority of interactions in business relationships should instead focus on putting the businessperson in a better position for the next interaction.

2. Some holes are longer than others

Just as some relationships take longer to develop, some golf holes are longer than others. Par-5 holes are 67 percent longer (in terms of number of strokes) than par 3s. This is why golfers carry so many different clubs. Big drivers that get used off the tee on a par-5 hole aren’t even touched on a short par 3. So even though the goal is the same (get the ball in the hole), the necessary tools and techniques are very different.

In business, sometimes it just takes longer to build a relationship with one person compared to another.  And we find that often, the bigger the potential value of that relationship, the longer it will take. Plus, not only does it take longer, it can require different kinds of relationship-building techniques and tools (just like longer golf holes require different clubs). Be certain, therefore, to have a mix of activities “in your bag” to utilize for different types of relationships.

3. The goals move every day

Other than sports where you’re trying to hit a person (boxing, MMA, dodgeball), I can’t think of any other major sport where the goal (or target or end zone or basket) is moved from place to place. In golf, though, the hole is moved to different locations on the green on a regular basis (and in between each daily round during professional tournaments). This helps to keep the greens from wearing out from too much traffic in one spot but also adds to the complexity of the game since the same course will present different challenges as the holes are relocated to different places on the greens.

It also provides a perfect analogy for business relationships. Even with all the planning in the world, sometimes the goal moves. People get fired, new bosses are hired, and business goals change. It can be very frustrating when you think you are on track, only to find out the destination is no longer where you thought it was.

The key is to make sure you have flexibility built into your relationship development and nurturing process. If your system is too rigid, it will not be able to accommodate the changes that are guaranteed to occur.

Let me know if I can help with any aspect of your business relationship process, and here’s hoping you get that ball in the hole no matter where they place it!

With the warm weather of summer, a lot of business owners find time (or would love to find time) to hit the golf course. Golf season always reminds me of a great analogy I heard from Frank Agin, owner of the business networking company AmSpirit. Frank explains that building and nurturing business relationships is a lot like playing a hole of golf. There is the initial meeting (the tee shot), then there are a variety of shots that lead to eventually putting the ball in the cup. Sometimes, it’s an easy shot from the middle of the fairway. Other times, it’s pitching out of a sand trap or hacking out of the rough. And of course, there are external factors that are out of your control, like wind, divots from previous players, and so on.

What I love about Frank’s golf analogy is that it shows how relationships have a starting point and a goal, but the path in between is never perfectly predictable. You know where you’re trying to end up, but you must navigate your way there through unexpected variables. In fact, there are three ways that golf and business relationships are similar.

1. Every shot is unique

Possibly more than any other sport, golf is a game of infinite variables. Played outdoors on a natural, organic surface (or surfaces, if you think about how fairways are different than roughs or greens) with shots of different length and complexity (sand traps, water hazards, dogleg turns, etc.), golf presents players with challenges that are literally unique with every shot. Even if you could play the same course over and over and hit every shot exactly the same way, there would still be variables like wind that would change the outcome every time.

This never-ending series of puzzles and surprises is one of the things that makes golf so appealing. It’s also one of the things that makes the sport similar to developing business relationships.

While there are patterns that are similar from relationship to relationship, there are so many variables involved in any human interaction that it’s important to treat each interaction uniquely.

2. It’s a process that can’t be automated

These days, it’s an instant knee-jerk reaction to look at any process and immediately think of automating it. Sit with any consultant and discuss ways to scale up a business, and automation will come up as the first idea. But what we know from our work at Civilis Consulting is that human relationships can’t be automated. There can be a process for working to deepen them systematically over time, but that process cannot be turned over to a computer.

We all get examples of this electronically every year on our birthday. Businesses that have attempted to automate their relationships with us as customers or prospects send out messages that are obviously automated. We all can tell they didn’t really take the time to think about us as individuals, and often the messages do more harm than good. I get one every year that literally has the subject line “Happy Birthday from Your Dentist.” I’ve been getting it for years. And the funny part is that it’s not even my current dentist. It’s from a dentist I used to go to.

But let’s get back to golf. A process is defined as “a series of events that produce an outcome,” and the steps of moving a golf ball from tee to cup fit that definition. There is a process to playing golf. But with all the variables built into the game, it’s a process that can’t be automated. It takes a human to factor in the wind, the lie of the ball, and all the other things that must be considered before hitting each shot.

It’s the same with business relationships. There are too many subtle and subjective variables involved in each interaction to be able to trust a computer (especially one with pre-programmed messages) to move the relationship forward. Both relationships and golf still require a human.

3. Measure twice, cut once

Speaking of variables, there are so many in the typical golf shot that players spend much more time planning than they do actually playing. As with the carpentry proverb that says, “measure twice, cut once,” you’ll notice when watching the pros that they spend considerable time researching (consulting the yardage chart), examining (checking the wind and the lie of the ball), discussing (talking with their caddie), selecting (choosing the perfect club), and preparing (taking practice swings). Then, it’s all over in about twenty seconds—five seconds of golf swing and fifteen seconds of ball travel.  A golfer that spends two minutes planning is investing six times as much time in preparation than he or she is in making the actual shot.  But they know that the shot would not be successful without that prep.

It’s the same with business relationships. To move a relationship forward, it’s important to take some time in between each interaction to examine where things are (the “lie of the ball”) and what the best steps are to continue progress from that point.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy the warm weather of summer on the golf course and that you find ways to translate that success to your most critical business relationships. As always, let me know if I can help.

The advantage of digital marketing is reach. You can reach so many people so often, so fast, and (if you know what you’re doing) so effectively. But at what cost? And I don’t mean financial cost. I’m talking about the potential relationship cost.

We’re social creatures after all. So, what can happen to relationships—personal and business—when we allow people to remain perpetually at arm’s-length? Or worse, allow those relationships to become virtually mechanized (emphasis on “virtual”)?

Digital marketing: efficiency… but at what price?

So much of my work is accomplished in a virtual environment, with a large percentage of my day-to-day business interactions taking place through email. It’s fast, easy, and efficient. It’s the way business communicates today. But its efficiency discourages talking with people face to face.

When more time than I’d like separates in-person meetings, whether they’re with clients or coworkers, I tend to start questioning the status of my professional relationships. Are our clients still happy with what we’re doing (e.g., what are they saying among themselves offline)? Do they still understand and believe in the success of strategies we’ve developed? Are they steering off course? Is there disconnect within my team?

I know I can’t be alone in experiencing these misgivings—however unfounded they may be.

Without regular authentic conversation, it’s hard to know what one’s digital “audience” is genuinely feeling. Existing in a virtual cocoon can lead to skewed perceptions of reality on both sides of the relationship.

Emerging from the cocoon of online marketing

Email communicates through words, but conversation involves so much more than that.

What I’ve found, without fail, is that reuniting with a client in person forces a heightened level of communication that answers any questions I have about our relationship. I typically find that everything is good, and that most, if not all, of my worries were unfounded. And if there is a concern, conversation brings it out faster, when the issue is smaller and easier to address. Even better, clients are actually more likely to reveal their satisfaction in conversation rather than through an email. Many people (especially busy executives and business owners) don’t have time to gush over email.

There’s another advantage as well: You’ll be reminded of how much you really like that client (and vice versa). Strengthening relationships that way, beyond the obvious benefit of human interaction, can result in all sorts of unforeseen business opportunities down the road. And if the opposite happens, and one of you rubs the other the wrong way? Well, that can be valuable information, too.

What do you really know?

Think about the relationships you have that are based almost entirely online and through digital media. Maybe they involve people from high school that you’ve kept in touch with through Facebook but who you haven’t seen in many years. Maybe they’re with vendors you contact exclusively through email.

What do you really know about these people? Probably not a lot (though that can partially be remedied with active social media listening). In your business, you probably know 50 or more people who fall into this category. These are people who say they prefer the efficiency of doing business digitally but reserve disclosures of their utmost preferences and feelings to in-person conversations.

How many of those people could be incredibly beneficial to your business if you invested the time and effort in getting to know them better?

Business relationships thrive on real, not just virtual, nurturing

Perhaps you’ve heard of the 7-38-55 rule? According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, in “like-dislike” messages involving feelings or attitudes, 7 percent is conveyed through words, 38 percent comes through certain vocal elements, and 55 percent of what is communicated comes through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.). When you’re relying on words alone, you may be missing out on 93 percent of the true feelings and attitudes being conveyed.

Digital marketing moves products, and email moves more business communications faster and more efficiently than phone conversations ever could. But phone calls, face-to-face conversations, and well-crafted digital communications (the kind that feel as if they’re coming from a person, not a brand) can move mountains. They can fortify those business relationships that encourage real people to prefer buying from you.

That’s why both are so essential for successful relationship-based marketing.

If you’re feeling like maybe you’re living life and running your business in a vacuum, get in touch with us. We have processes that will actually help you move those mountains.

Whenever I make a keynote speech about the dangers of Clicksand, almost invariably the same question will be raised in the Q&A afterward. Business owners always want to know how they can get out of the trap. One of them will usually ask, “What is one simple thing I can immediately do (or have my team start doing) to get us back on the right track of building real relationships instead of being trapped in Clicksand?”

My response is to give them a phrase they can use as a practical guide. It’s the old Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

That’s a phrase we’ve all heard many times in our lives and it’s a good general sentiment, but when I tell audiences to use it to get out of the Clicksand trap, I don’t mean it as a fluffy feel-good adage. I mean they should use it as an easy-to-remember, literal how-to guide to reimagine their marketing communications—especially communications for their most valuable business relationships.

If you’re wrestling with the same “What’s something I can do right now to get back on the right track?” dilemma, here’s how the Golden Rule can lead you in the right direction.

Start with what people are doing unto you

An easy place to start when trying to (re)discover the most effective ways to communicate with the people who are most important to your business (potential customers, referral sources, high-level future employees, etc.) is to use yourself as a mini focus group. You receive dozens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of messages a day. Most of them go unopened. And most of the ones you do open do NOT make you glad you opened them.

But a few messages get through that actually give you a good feeling. Maybe they provide you with some information you need, or make you smile. Even more important, a very small minority of the messages you receive each day are worth responding to—and you take the (valuable!) time to reply to them. Those are the messages to pay attention to as part of your “do unto others” focus group effort.

Then, do unto others…

As you notice which messages in your own inbox elicit A) good feelings, and B) a response from you, you’ll start to see patterns that are consistent across those messages.

In general, you will probably notice they are almost always personalized in some way—something showing that the sender knows (and values) you as a person and not just as a “target.” As social creatures, we humans are wired to notice if someone takes the time to care about us as an individual, and we all tend to respond favorably to anyone who treats us specially.

You will see other patterns as well. The messages will often reference something you and the sender have in common. Sometimes the message might ask a question. You’ll probably also notice that almost all of the messages you respond to are short.

We get into the science of these interpersonal dynamics when we work with clients at Civilis Consulting, but even if you don’t dive deeply into the psychology involved, you can gain a lot from this approach. Just noticing what you enjoy receiving from others will get you back into the proper frame of mind for what you yourself should be saying and sending to the people who can most contribute to your potential success.

But don’t stop there

It’s not enough, however, to just take note of what works and get into the “proper frame of mind.” Remember, the first word of the Golden Rule is “do.” It’s “Do unto others…,” not “Notice what others do….” So be sure you really put it into practice.

The easiest way to do that is to simply replicate what you see. If you got a message from someone and you liked receiving it, turn around and immediately send the same kind of message to someone else in your world with whom you want to enhance your relationship. Did someone send you a question that gave you a chance to feel like an expert and help out with a problem? Ask someone else a question to give them that same feeling. Did an old acquaintance send a note because it’s been too long since you’ve seen each other? Think of someone else in your world that you could similarly reach out to.

Keep at it and you will quickly see (and feel) the difference in the way you are interacting with the people who are important to your success. You’ll also see results. The Golden Rule technique will start you down the right path, and the responses you get back from the people you reach out to will energize you, enhance your success, and entice you to keep moving forward to get out of that Clicksand trap.

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.