“If you believe relationships build business,
then make building them your business.”
Scott Stratten, author, UnMarketing

Senator Angus King and Nancy Marshall
In 1982, I met Angus King while working at Maine Public Television. He later became Governor, then U.S. Senator from Maine, and we have been friends ever since. Relationships like this are a wonderful part of my personal and business life. We met this fall at the Colby /Bowdoin football game and, even though his team (Bowdoin) won, we still had a lot of fun.

When a baby is born, the first thing he or she wants to see is the adoring face of its loving mother. Then, throughout our lifetime, we are conditioned as human beings to connect with happy, smiling and familiar faces whether we are a newborn baby, an elderly person in a nursing home or a business executive giving a presentation in a crowded convention hall. There is nothing more compelling in business or in life than a bright smiling face with an open attitude of warmth and acceptance.

If we have the opportunity to do business with a happy, smiling professional we know, like and trust, or another professional we don’t know anything about, we are most likely going to go with what we know. It’s the human connection that makes the difference.

Whether we’re in the business-to-business world or the business-to-consumer world, human interaction is ingrained in the fabric of everything we do. In our day-to-day dealings with clients, potential clients, vendors, and our professional peers, we should strive to make authentic connections so the people in our professional network know us, like working with us and trust us.

Zig Ziglar, the late great sales guru, said, “People will listen to other people they know, but they will do business with those whom they trust.”
What does it take for people to know, like and trust you? They need to know you care about them as individuals, not just as talking heads you are only interested in because they can further your business goals in some way. You establish the “know, like and trust” factor by asking them about things other than work and finding common ground. For example, I find that asking about a person’s family, where they grew up, upcoming vacation plans, or hobbies they are passionate about are all good conversation starters. By asking these basic questions, you are guaranteed to find something you have in common with virtually anyone.

People love to talk about themselves, and everyone loves a good listener. Being a good listener and giving the person you are talking to your full attention are important parts of the equation, too. Make eye contact with the person you are speaking to and treat them as if they are the only person in the room. Say their first name frequently. During the course of your conversation, also refer back to things they mentioned earlier to show you are really hearing what they are saying.

Like the business contacts we are working to connect with, we ourselves want to do business with people who we know have “got our back.” It takes a great deal of time to identify, build and maintain business relationships fortified by a strong foundation of trust. However, it is very much worth the investment. It’s kind of like building the “circle of trust” Robert De Niro’s character Jack Byrnes refers to frequently in the classic comedy “Meet the Parents.” Though future son-in-law Greg, played by Ben Stiller, eventually makes it into Jack’s circle of trust, you will find that, just like Jack, you cannot like and trust everyone. Aligning yourself with individuals that share your values, respect you as a business person, are competent in what they do, and are trustworthy themselves is critical to building a strong circle of trust that will bring you personal happiness as well as success in business.

In a world driven by technology, social media now plays an important role in building human connections. While it can never take the place of face-to-face contact, social media can be critical to maintaining and strengthening the connections you have within your professional and personal networks.

Recently, when I was leading a PR Boot Camp, an ad agency owner questioned whether social media is really worth the time or not. I responded, “How could it not be worthwhile to have an ongoing dialogue with your current and prospective customers?” If people want to read what you post, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or another social network, or to admire the photos you post on Instagram or Pinterest, how could that not be to your advantage?

Also think of it this way: thanks to social media, you can maintain a connection with many more business contacts than you ever could before. I travel a great deal to conferences, workshops, and networking functions throughout the country as part of my position as CEO. I always meet lots of great people with interesting stories to tell and professional experience to share. It’s one of the most gratifying parts of my job. Before social media, I could never make the time to maintain connections with all of those people. The occasional email, phone call, or holiday card was just not enough. With social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn, I have established a community in which I can communicate with my “tribe” on a near-daily basis. When we do have the good fortune of meeting again in person, we can pick up right where we left off without missing a beat.

The takeaway from this article is that the ability to build relationships and make connections with people is one of the most valuable skills you can possess as a professional. Likewise, a strong circle of trust is the most powerful tool you can have when it comes to growing and sustaining your business. I encourage you to get out from behind that desk and get to know those you do business with on a personal level. Cultivate your network with the help of social media but don’t rely on it to do all the work. If you work at it consistently, your own happy, smiling face will begin opening doors where there were only walls before.

  • Ed Stone says:

    Outstanding. ..right on!!!