• The Missing Link of Making Meaningful Connections

    I am decidedly in favor of using Contact Management and Customer Relationship Management solutions and have a determined view of the kind of data to populate them with. However, the question should be asked of any user of these kinds of solutions, “Do they really, and I mean really, create and sustain genuine connections with those I deal with in my various networks?” To those of you who might have readily said they have, let me then ask these follow-up questions: Could they be even more effective? If so, what would it take to achieve even greater success?

    The “Traditional” View

    Collecting and storing facts about the people in my networks are what Relationship Management (RM) tools are designed to do. Creating a profile for an individual is thus an aggregation of information, collected over time and enhanced with every new piece of information. This is the baseline of “getting to know” those you deal with better. Knowing that you like a particular sports team can certainly help to “personalize” your efforts at establishing a relationship, for example. That is much better than just knowing their title and other exclusively business-related information, but it is a far cry from reaching the full potential of that “relationship.” Meaningful relationships are about about much more than data collection. The value of collecting data exists truly as a foundation and a place from which to grow.

    It’s Not About Just Relationships – It’s About Connections

    Real meaningful and sustainable relationships are the result of a “connection” that occurred between two people and is just as important to achieve in business as it is in your personal life. That’s not to say that business connections become lifelong personal friends—it’s not to say they couldn’t either, though. When you think of those people with whom you feel connected, chances are they are in your personal network. Yet think of the value of those connections and what they mean. What did it take to initiate and sustain that connection?

    It most likely required something rarely mentioned with regards to how best to optimize RM solutions and achieve the kind of relationships that they are supposedly intended to help you achieve. While is rarely mentioned, it’s crucial to bridging the gap between relationships and true connections. Stopping short leaves an opening for competitors to fill as well and thus further handicaps further progress in your pursuits with those in your business networks. What are these other pieces of information left un-entered in your RM profiles that could be the catalyst of opening up the full potential of those elusive “connections”?

    The Missing Link

    The thing, that thing, that it takes to establish a real connection with people of any kind is vulnerability—yours. The business relationships that you stand to have the strongest bonds with are those that go beyond the “data collection” type of information to exchanges in which you have shared something authentic (read vulnerable) about yourself with them. Scientific studies bear this out. As counterintuitive as it may seem, when you share something about yourself with them, something beyond the apparent reason you are developing the relationship for strict business purposes, you have allowed your weakness to be your strength. In my own experience, when I have had the chance to share some private side of myself, I simply include that in the contact’s profile (in my case, in Vipor CRM) with a simple tag of “PS,” which signifies that I have personally shared something about myself with this person.

    Sharing an authentic and humble revelation about yourself with others is an extremely powerful and seldom-used technique to establish a genuine connection with people. For example, I have created tight connections with business people simply by sharing a personally authentic story about myself and more often than not, we both get a laugh out of it. It can be something as silly as having spilled coffee on my shirt while driving to an appointment with someone. We end up laughing at my expense, but it helps create that all-important and elusive “emotional” connection.

    Those types of simple gestures more often than not lead to an unfolding level of shared information on a more personal level. Those vulnerabilities can help you to achieve success at a greater rate than simply gathering facts and numbers.

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    Surface or Substance? What to Do After the Introduction

    It seems as though a new software product or online networking platform emerges almost weekly. Often they entice users with effortless ways to find new “connections” by accessing address books and other social platforms to cull for people you “may know” or wish to know. But what are they offering, really? Are they providing just another aggregated list of names and profile pictures? So what.

    What should you do from there? Should you call someone in your contact list to tell them that you saw the picture they just posted on their Facebook page and can tell them how cute their new puppy is? Or reach out on LinkedIn to acknowledge that you both graduated from the same school? Or should you favorite their latest tweet that has nothing to do with anything pertinent to your newly formed “relationship” with them?

    I’m not suggesting that social networking is a bad thing, per se. What I am pointing out, and hoping to spark some deeper thought about, is that like so many things in life, you get out of a relationship what you put into it. These superficial attempts to build a relationship may give you a starting point, but only that. There are four main components that determine meaningful relationships: time, intensity, reciprocity and consideration.

    What may be superficially acceptable on a social network with a new connection does not necessarily translate into a valuable business relationship without effort. In other words, just as businesses invest in many things to help them achieve the greatest return on investment, so too do each of us need to invest the time and effort it takes to build lasting business relationships. We must capture the hearts and minds of those we deal with to gain a competitive edge that goes beyond the globally-available-to-all information about people with whom we associate.

    Real relationships, and I am talking about where there really is a mutually satisfactory connection, move away from the “publically available” knowledge to “this-is-between-just-us” private state. That is where we actually begin to develop that all-important trust. It might be said that when it comes to “working” a contact, where there is no up-front work there is also little back-end value.

    So, how do you build that substance with a new connection? Whether the introduction is virtual or in real-time, consider these three tips for investing in a newly formed connection:

    Be “Them-Centric”

    Think about what you can offer to the other person, not what you may want to get out of the relationship. Remember, the best way to invite reciprocity is by giving to others without expectation and without pressure. And keep in mind that one of the most valuable gifts you can give is your attention. By asking questions and listening attentively to the answers, you can get to know others better and show them true consideration.

    Meet In-Person, if Possible

    When you get together, try to meet in person, so that you’re communicating on as many sensory channels as possible: eye contact, body language, and so on. If meeting in person isn’t possible, choose a virtual method that allows more sensory channels, rather than fewer, for a higher-intensity connection. (For example, choose a videoconference over a phone call, and a phone call over texting.)

    Don’t Forget the Follow-Up

    Keep the relationship moving forward by following up quickly—ideally within 24 hours—with a note of appreciation. Let the other person know you enjoyed getting together and appreciated the time he or she spent with you. Don’t try to solicit a response. Simply offer a respectful “tip of your hat” and leave the decision of whether to respond up to the other person.

    If you understand that professional success is tied to the strength of your networks, you probably also realize the need for real, deep and authentic relationships. Success is not achieved by amassing a list of contacts. Those introductions are only as valuable if you continue to invest and develop them. We make meaningful relationships by making investments in others. Therein lays the potential for infinite opportunities and mutual rewards.

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    The Shore of Opportunity…or Destruction

    Every entrepreneur and business owner out there knows this truth: Customers are the lifeblood of success. It is probably fair to say that there is a mental awareness of this but all too often we become complacent to this truth. Finding and keeping customers can mean the difference between handicapping your business, growing it, or risking losing it altogether. Continue Reading

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    Furnishing Your Relationships

    Do you know the difference between a house and a home? A house is nothing more than a structure providing shelter. Imagine wanting to move and beginning the process of exploration to create something that in your mind fulfills your needs, desires, and dreams. You’ve found a place in a great location, maybe even in a certain neighborhood, perhaps even with a bit of curb appeal. You might even have a sense of what it could be like inside. Continue Reading

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