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Matt Heinz
Principal & Chief Marketer
Kirkland, Washington
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13 easy steps to better business relationships

The fundamentals of social networking are crucial for business success. Here's how to start using "old school" relationship tools that have always worked.
Written Nov 17, 2008, read 1338 times since then.
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Let's face it, marketing is about relationships.

The relationships that tie you together with customers is the foundation of your brand. It influences purchase intent, repeat visits, loyalty, pass-along and virtually every other meaningful measure we have for our businesses.

So, if relationships are the foundation of our success, why as a whole are we getting lazier and more uniform in how we approach our relationship-building and networking?

We rely more and more on tools such as Facebook, Plaxo and LinkedIn to build and foster our extended professional relationships. It's far easier and faster to work via email and through our online social networks to stay in touch with each other.

Unfortunately, many such tools, by their nature and used in isolation, are shallow. By their ubiquity, they leave us largely undifferentiated. Sure, a sample of your personality and unique personal brand can be portrayed in a Facebook account or in your email copy, but that impression pales in comparison to how we used to build relationships.

As these tools become more and more ubiquitous, they fail to differentiate us and create the powerful business relationships we need to do our jobs and further our careers. They clearly have value, but if used exclusively, their impact on our jobs and careers will continue to be marginalized.

A case study of old-school relationship building
Let me tell a quick story about Mike Andrews.

Mike has had a successful career and has an incredibly deep, active network.

Mike isn't particularly active with LinkedIn and doesn't have a Facebook account. Mike builds and fosters his network the old-fashioned way. And his network is far wider, and far deeper, than any I've seen.

Mike takes the time to invest in relationships. He does things that fewer and fewer of us do anymore.

Through his relationship-building strategies, Mike makes people want to be close to him and want to do business with him.

Here are four key things Mike does particularly well:

  1. Phone calls. Mike makes a lot of phone calls. Oftentimes, he'll return an email with a call, even though it might take a little more of his time. The call itself is differentiated, and the conversation nearly always generates a new piece of valuable information, a new personal or professional opportunity, and at a minimum it is an opportunity for Mike to increase the emotional bond he has with the caller.
  2. Focus on them. Mike is very good at making people feel good. Quite often, when I hear him talking to someone he hasn't spoken with in awhile, I'll hear him say: "It's good to hear your voice!" Wouldn't that make you feel great to hear someone say that? It's a subtle but powerful way to show you care and to engender folks to you even more.
  3. Remember names. Mike makes a point of remembering names, and asking for someone's name when he first meets them. He does this for business contacts just as actively as he does at the barista at the corner coffee shop.
  4. Eye contact and focus. Mike looks you directly in the eye, maintains that personal connection throughout a conversation and stays focused. He doesn't look around and scan the room, as if looking for something more important. If even for those few seconds, he's treating his contact as if that person were the most important person in the world to him. That makes an impression, and it leaves an impression.

Mike does most of this naturally. But for the rest of us, we need to more intently focus on these things to make them a habit, and they will work just as well today as they have for hundreds of years.

Doing things differently may take more time, but that extra investment can almost always be leveraged later to get the personal and/or professional results you want.

Best practices of relationship masters

Below are several more best practices culled from many more old-school relationship builders who not only do these things naturally but have clearly gained the personal and professional benefits and success from their efforts.

  • Face-to-face meetings: An email or conference call might be faster, and in most cases it is the right approach, but neither can replace the deeper, long-term value of a face-to-face meeting. Seeing people in person allows you to leverage and express the tools Mike uses above, as well as many of the more tactical best practices below. The multi-faceted value of live meetings, more than almost anything else, lets you create value in your relationships.
  • Thank you notes: If done well (just 2 to 3 sentences, handwritten, on small note cards), they'll set you apart. Sadly, few people use them much anymore, yet they're hugely differentiating, and they take just a few minutes each. Try sending just a few each week, some personal and some professional. Thank people for small things, for professional courtesies, for an introduction to someone else, it doesn't matter what. The fact that you took the time to stop and personally thank them in a tangible way is very powerful.
  • Dress the part: This usually means dressing up, not down. The trend towards more and more casual dress, especially in the workplace, lends itself to more casual and sloppy interactions with others. There's clearly a direct link between the two. On the contrary, when you dress up, people will take notice and remember you. And that's the point.
  • Make eye contact: Studies have shown that eye contact is the more effective way to get someone to stay focused on you, thereby increasing the value of the impression you leave (almost regardless of what you say). This isn't easy for some of us, but it gets easier with practice.
  • Introduce yourself: Seriously. When you visit an office for the first time, introduce yourself to the receptionist. Ask for his or her name. Give a firm handshake. Show confidence, whether with the receptionist at your next appointment, or with everyone you meet at the next networking cocktail party. This alone goes a long way.
  • Small talk: Use it to your advantage. Sure, some productivity experts will tell you to get right to the chase and save those precious few minutes. But productivity to that extreme misses the point. Getting what you want or need from someone isn't just about directly asking for it. If you take the time to build a relationship, you're far more likely to get what you want in the end. 
  • Don't discriminate: Treat the administrative assistant the same way you'd treat the CEO. You never know where people will go next in their careers, how they might help you down the road, and who they know right now that could help you get where you need to go.
  • Remember things: Keep track of what people like -- sports teams, universities, sweets, etc. Merely bringing up the score from their favorite team the night before can be a huge differentiator and it can make you far more memorable. If you don't have a good memory, use the "notes" section in Outlook Contacts to keep track of these things.
  • Smile: People are attracted to people who are happy. Smiling also makes you more accessible, easier to talk to, and faster to get comfortable with. Use that smile to your advantage!

Learn more about the author, Matt Heinz.

Comment on this article

  • Entrepreneur 
San Francisco, California 
Mark Cornish
    Posted by Mark Cornish, San Francisco, California | Nov 19, 2008

    Great points! I think most people shy away from admitting they are weak in face-to-face interactions, and are reluctant to face their fears. It is all about practice (cause practice makes habit), and learning how to conquer your fears and weaknesses. While more people sit behind computers, personal interaction becomes the extra effort that your customer or client will really notice. Done well, and it will boost your social capital.

  • Instructor/Trainer 
Seattle, Washington 
Rolland Lawrenz
    Posted by Rolland Lawrenz, Seattle, Washington | Jan 01, 2009

    Excellent points. More and more I find myself doing some of the things you have outlined. Can see there are some that I need to add.

    Personally, I am a huge fan of emails, and the such. but, there is a strong argument of finding a balance between the electronic and the personal.

    Great article Matt, looking forward to more of your wisdom.