The other day, I was having breakfast with a great friend, one of the most talented marketing executives I have encountered. Unwittingly, we had the same thought on our minds, ending up talking through breakfast—unfortunately, with no good ideas on dealing with it. Thought I would share it here, getting your views about the issue.
Both of us are very active, both individually and with our respective companies in leveraging social media/networking tools, many of the marketing automation, Sales/Web 2.0 tools, and other tools. We each are also on the receiving end of seemingly endless communications, through email, the various network updates, Twitter, and the list goes on.
Maybe our concern was heightened by the high number of personalized “Dear Occupant” holiday cards we had gotten, but each of us commented on the accelerating trend of commoditizing relationships. Relationships are critical to each of us and our organizations. We can’t accomplish anything without close and deep relationships with other people, whether they be colleagues at work, suppliers, customers, or just friends. All of us have a variety of relationships–some very close, with frequent personal contact, others with varying degrees of contact, and others that are more distant. The closeness and distance of relationships vary over time and circumstance. All of that is natural, but there are other trends we each described that were causing us concern about the commoditization of relationships.
Many of the tools, under the guise of improving efficiency of developing relationships, have become nothing but “brokerages” of names and email addresses—we will give you a contact, if you give us a contact. One I find particularly offensive is one that collects cards at business shows then lets you buy them. Their pitch is, “don’t worry about attending the business show yourself, we’ll attend for you, then you can contact them, saying you met at CES (I’m in the airport waiting to go there right now). Their belief on relationships is not only do they broker the contact information they collect, but they also supply you the “lie” about how you “met.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a company with a new “referral tool.” They wanted my endorsement. Basically the tool enabled you to put in a contact’s name, business and home addresses, they would give you a list of all their neighbors, work colleagues and other links they found, along with a “form letter” asking your contact to forward a pre-written reference to the names on the list. The only thing missing in the pre-written letter, was “forward this to 10 other people, do not break the chain!” Their tool was one of the more offensive and blatant in brokering relationships I had seen. For those of you that see it, please make sure you never use it in asking me for referrals. You will not get the reaction you expect!
There are a number of powerful and good networking tools that individuals misuse. Every week, I get requests from people, I very distant contact with for a “LinkedIn endorsement.” It seems because we are linked, they feel they have the right to ask me for an endorsement. I see companies and individuals using other powerful tools, focused on giving greater insight into a company and even key people, as just ways of getting contact names and email addresses. What ever happened to opt-in? One company, actually provides derived email addresses. You know how it works, they get one email address for a company, then apply the same method to all other individuals in the company–whether they have provided an email address or not.
So part of the problem is we have tools that blatantly commoditize relationshsips by brokering information. Another part is that we have tools that have great potential for giving us insight, but are misused by too many people, just looking for contacts—not interested in developing relationships.
Finally, the most significant challenge is the tendency each of us has to default to “low touch” relationships—putting great distance in relationships that should be closer. We use all kinds of excuses not to pick up the phone and talk, or not to get together for a meeting, a lunch or dinner. We are busy, but is that an excuse. It’s as easy to dial a number and talk to someone as it is to tweet them—yes the asynchronous nature of many of these tools enables us to connect, but using twitter, texting, email for an interactive discussion rather than picking up the phone (Full disclosure, I have fallen victim to this myself). Teenagers today are, perhaps the most extreme example–preferring to text or use something like Facebook, to picking up the phone and talking.
Technology is wonderful. It provides a potential to improve both our efficiency and effectiveness. We have to keep thos in balance—relationships are not about efficiency. Technology is wonderful, it enables us to quickly extend and build networks of relationships, but it’s a double edged sword, it is so easy to misuse the tools and cross that delicate line from providing insightful communications to intruding and spamming. Technology and the new tools are wonderful in providing more alternatives to reach out and touch someone—but sometimes it’s better to actually reach out and really touch someone.
Am I off base, or does it seem that we are rushing headlong down a path of commoditizing relationships?