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Who Are We Building Relationships With?

by David Brock on May 5th, 2014

As sales people, we know relationships are important.  I hear comments all the time, “Sales is a relationship business.”  “Sales is a people business.”  We are learning the importance of networking to increase the breadth and depth of our relationships.  We nurture those relationships to build trust and confidence with out customers.

In building relationships, we use terms like “connecting,”  “creating value,”  “earning the right.”  We seek to develop relationships where we become trusted advisors.

But sometimes, I wonder, “Who are we building relationships with?”  Sometimes, I think we are building relationships with our devices and technologies.  I think we leverage these as surrogates to connecting with human beings.

Look at most meetings:  Most people have one ear, one eye tuned to the meeting, the other eye and both hands focused on their device.  Rather than looking at the people in the meeting, we are looking down at our devices.

Look at a group of people having a meal, cup of coffee or drink.  Mobiles are arrayed on the table, a buzz or vibration, diverts someone’s attention to the device.  Walk down any street, people aren’t looking around, they’re heads are bowed, I suppose in some sort of ritual worship of their devices.

It’s amazing to me to see a group of people who obviously know each other, sitting together in absolute silence.  Eyes focused on their device, thumbs busy, no one is talking to each other.

There are those that say we have to be “social,” then talk about numbers of connections/friends, likes, follows.  We measure our social relationships using things like Klout scores, reach, impressions, or other meaningless indicators of relationship quality.

According to Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, “Now our global sales team can create customer relationships instantly from anywhere.”

We tend to focus on quantity, rather than quality, proudly proclaiming ourselves to be “LIONS” or “Open Networkers.”

Rather than meet, we text, IM, Tweet, email.  Voice traffic on phones is declining, being displaced by messaging of various types.  Rather than developing relationships with people, our devices and tools serve as surrogates.  It seems we let our devices and tools actually put barriers to establishing rich, quality, thoughtful relationships.

There’s security in building a relationship with a device.  It never argues or disagrees with you.  You don’t have to pay attention to the device–you choose when you want to, and what you want to pay attention to.  You can say what you want, you never have to listen, you don’t have to respond to someone challenging or questioning you.

Our devices serve as our relationship intermediaries.  If we were to focus our relationships on people, we have to be present.  We have to pay attention.  We have to look a person in the eyes, as they look into ours.

Building a relationship with a person is tough.  We have to pay attention, we have to listen, we have to actually engage them in something meaningful and relevant.  Building a relationship takes time, we have to invest in the individual, we have to trust and be trust worthy.

Developing a relationship with a person heightens our insecurities or vulnerabilities.  What if the person doesn’t reciprocate or want a relationship?  What if the person disagrees?  What if we are wrong, maybe we have to change our point of view?

Developing relationships requires we invest ourselves in others.  Great relationships create great value for both parties–over a long period of time.

I love my tools, I love how they extend my ability to connect.  But ultimately, what I really value is the ability to connect with an individual.

Over the past two days, there have been a couple of remarkable pieces about this issue–far better than I’ve expressed here.  Take the time to look at them:

Charlie Green on Relationship Inflation.

And this fascinating piece on YouTube, Look Up:



  1. I’ve been self-employed and selling professional services for a long time. All of the platforms and tools now at my disposal are good for two things – finding and connecting with real people. The sooner I can take a social media contact to a phone or in-person conversation the better.

    Good food for thought, Dave. Thanks!

  2. Kyle McDougall permalink

    Like most sales types, for the last decade I’ve been adapting to every device and app that I could find in an effort to make my sales biz more effective. My new secret weapon is actually meeting with people and enjoying real face time. Welcome to the 90’s!
    It seems that my competitors are tweeting, liking and texting clients and worse, potential clients instead of making them feel special. It’s pretty easy to say that no one has time anymore for actual phone calls or in person meeting but if you got something to say, people will make the time.
    Good article.

    • Kyle, I couldn’t agree more. If you have something meaningful to say, people will always make the time. Thanks for the great comment. Regards, Dave

  3. Micah permalink

    this has more to do with the physical environment than devices. The sales team is in a cubical. When companies first start, their founders aren’t in cubicle, they are doing the very thing you are speaking of. it is close quarters and you truly rely on each other.

    We are visual beings. Our vision from each other has been removed. I worked in San Francisco over the summer and have to say the reason innovation happens there is partly because there are no walls.

    Technology isn’t really a barrier; culture is, and that flows from the top. And its not intentional but simply a by product of any organizations evolution.

    Part of leadership means being aware of variable implications of standard business practices. From user interfaces to interior design. It all matters.


    • Micah: Thanks for the great observations! You’ve hit on a number of critical issues, developing relationships is really about removing barriers–whether they are physical–walls, distance; technology (kind of underlying my articles), behavioral/attitudinal (e.g. listening and openness to new ideas). It seems too often we create barriers rather than removing them.

      Culture is tremendously important in organizations and in shaping our behaviors to people outside the organization. I disagree, slightly, I believe culture needs to be intentional, at least if we are going to leverage its great power. It is driven from the top, it needs to be consciously reinforced by the examples leaders set, in needs to be what attracts and retains people to the organization. If you aren’t purposeful about culture, you get what you get—often it’s not what you want or intended.

      Thanks for the great comment Micah. Hope to see you commenting often!

      • Micah permalink

        I totally agree. Culture has to be intentional. I meant that a lot of the time it isn’t intentional. Thanks for bringing the conversation into better focus. I have to agree with your article. I really liked the video too, so much that I posted in on my facebook.

        Today I randomly said hi to people with their head staring at their phones. They had the most bizarre look on their face but then were happy to be ‘engaged’ as Brian has cleverly put it.

        Thanks for the your thoughts and I look forward to more!


  4. Brian MacIver (@Palayo) permalink

    In a word: ENGAGEMENT.
    It’s not about knowing, or sharing, or content, or reach.

    It is about engagement.

    It begins with a handshake, or a kiss,
    then a smile and the words “Good Morning!”
    I love it!

    You had me at “Hello!”

  5. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave, Kyle, Brian, Stephen- thank you for the reminder of how important relationships are, how challenging they may be and it takes work to develop them. The big challenge I see is that more and more we may be able to be trying to do too much, expect too much from ourselves and others. .
    For example, I am not sure why they call my phone a smart phone when many times I am so frustrated and not so smart using much of this technology.
    For me the bottom line is “I can’t tweet trust”!

    • Thanks Doug–but now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m sure someone will try to develop an App…..

  6. Mark McNamee permalink

    Dave – a very timely reminder. A number of small SMEs that I work with have come to me concerned that they are ‘missing out’ because they are being bombarded with invitations from various social media marketing organisations promising amazing sales generation through network building. While I am not anti these tools the fact remains most business growth (by a factor of X) will come from or by referral from existing clients. My council is to focus on the low hanging fruit because you can smell it, see it, touch it and eventually taste it. Yep you and the client have a ‘real’ experience. Much better than dreaming about it.

    • Great comment Mark, as with anything new, much of the new networking and social media tools tend to attract a lot of charlatans, promising riches with no effort. The only thing one can advise is “buyer beware.” Having said that, I think it’s important for every sales/business person to start to leverage these tools to extend the channels of communication and reach. I tend to look at these as complements to current methods, not replacements. We may, over time, shift the balance of investments, from one to another. However, if we want to grow and acquire new customers in new markets, occasionally, we have to go higher in the tree or to a new tree.

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