One of the things that technology has surely enabled is the ability to build a truly global network.
People we call thought leaders and influencers can quite easily build a community following that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
Much of the attention on this development is focused on the score keeping aspects of building large networks. Increasingly, the attention has shifted to the impossible and exhausting nature of viewing relationships through this mindset.
Real relationships take work. That’s the bottom line. An important relationship requires love and grace. I don’t know what else there is to say about that. Without attention, care and service it’s hard to build something as real as an authentic relationship.
Now, not every single person that comes into contact with your business need be seen through this lens, but most business need at least a handful of people that will run through a wall for them – and that requires genuine, thoughtful appreciation over time to develop.
And mind you, we could be talking about staff members, customers, suppliers, mentors, industry gurus or prospects – you get to define what an important relationship is.
I’m here to suggest, however, that the number you can manage with love and grace is probably far fewer than you might think. A few years ago it became fashionable to cite some research by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Dunbar’s number, as it is called, suggested that people could effectively manage about 150 relationships.
The thing is I think that number gets even harder due to the potentially distributed nature of many of our most important relationships. When you rarely sit across the desk from an important person in your life it’s harder to stay in touch.
Add to that the fact that some relationships may be deemed important by factors beyond our choice – a large customer may be defined as an important relationship by default.
If you want to get good at nurturing relationship you need to develop a system designed to allow you to do just that. Nothing can replace your authentic desire to build durable relationships, but employing a few strategies and processes can help you keep priorities where they should be.
Shrink your pond
The number of relationships you can actually attend to will differ for each person, but part of the refocus process must involve acknowledging this fact and doing something about it.
Here are two approaches I employ.
I’ve created an entirely separate CRM just for what I call important relationships. This small group is set up in Nimble, a CRM tool that allows me to easily unify all of my interactions with this group including social interactions.
The second thing I did was unfollow everyone on Twitter. I know this sounds a little harsh, but like so many I followed thousands on Twitter only to realize it made Twitter somewhat less useful as a relationship tool. I slowly refollowed several hundred people for various select reasons and now I can interact with this group in ways I had lost.
Collect better information
Two good books on relationship building are Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone and Harvey Mackay’s Swim With Sharks. Both suggest building and keeping a file on your most important relationships that allow you to better stay in touch and on top of the most important moments in their lives. The Mackay 66 profile is a great starting place.
Social media participation has certainly made some aspects of this easier (Facebook birthday notices), but I wonder how many actual snail mail addresses you have for those you would deem important relationships. When’s the last time you dropped them a note card or box of flowers?
Create behavior nags
Remember I said this relationship stuff takes work? It’s not that it’s not enjoyable, it’s that other stuff gets in the way. How many times have you returned home and night and wondered what you did all day?
It’s important to set up routines so that you make the time to do the little things that keep you connected. Tools like Boomerang in Gmail and Nimble can be set up to nag you if you haven’t reached out to someone in, say, 30 days. You don’t want to be a pest, but sometimes you need reminders to help you say, “hey, I’m here for you” and “what are you working on?”
The last standard bit of advice is to serve. Social media allows us to see people who do this quite well. People like Bob Burg, Pam Slim and Chris Brogan are constantly caught in the act of giving and sharing value. It’s a mindset and perhaps a personality trait, but once you realize how satisfying a place it is to go, it can become your first and most important relationship tool.
The context of this post is meant to be one of business relationships, but we all have other, really important relationships we need to honor and, frankly, this advice might just apply to those as well. (Call your mom today!)
So that’s my story and part confession. What tools and tips can you share to help people make 2014 the year of honoring their most important relationships?