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Enough coffee and lunches! How do we make our connections meaningful?

Tired of endless coffee meetings and lunches that produce little to nothing? What if we were a bit more intentional about how we build and enhance relationships?

Let’s face it, we all know we live in a who-you-know world. We all know that our most valuable assets revolve around our most meaningful relationships. So how intentional are we about creating, enhancing, and enriching important relationships? Do you have a system for moving from just a contact, to a connection, and ultimately a collaboration?

For those that know me, you’ll know that I tend to observe quite a lot and pay fairly close attention to details. Not details like crooked signs, the car you drive, or mismatched clothing patterns, but more the nuances of how people interact and communicate. With this, I’ve spent a fair amount of time observing and considering how most of us build relationships. My conclusion is that while there’s a wide range of skills in this arena, most could use some improvement (myself included) at being intentional about enhancing the right relationships. And since relationships are perhaps the most important assets we have, I figured I ought to spend some time and intellectual energy coming up with a way to be more purposeful and more productive in how we connect and expand relationships.

From what I’ve experienced, most relationships begin with an introduction from someone else,

or perhaps an exchange at an event. You meet someone new, exchange pleasantries, learn a small amount about what you both do for a living, then one of the two jumps the gap and suggests you should get together for coffee or lunch to learn more about each other. Sound familiar? You agree this sounds nice and part ways. In most cases (not all), one of the two will reach out, and you will meet up, mostly out of obligation. They both drive to an agreed upon location, spend 45 minutes to an hour talking over coffee or lunch, then drive back to their offices, having invested about 90 minutes to 2 hours, in addition to the cost of the meal. In 95% of these, the two individuals had spoken somewhat openly about doing business together, may have planned some joint marketing, they agree to “continue the conversation,” then nothing ever happens. As good as their intentions may have been, they will never exchange business.


And therein lies the rub. Why do we run around attending events, meeting with people for coffee or lunch, and then never doing anything together? What are the darn barriers that we can’t overcome?? How can we make this relationship building efficient, effective, and likely to produce results?

So goes the questions in my mind. And at the present moment, I may have a few answers. As with most, they are likely to evolve over time, but there’s a starting point that warrants consideration.


5 Principles to Actually Doing Business with Other People

  1. We do business with people we trust. Most of us have figured this out. What we haven’t figured out is that there are ways to more clearly define and accelerate trust. If you think about someone you don’t really trust, do you know why? You should. Most have a sense that something is wrong, but it’s difficult to specifically define why you do or don’t trust someone. Spend some time creating your criteria for trust. And if you don’t have them, let me know; I’ll share mine. (Too many words for this writing.)

  2. We need a system of clarifying and setting expectations. Every relationship begins with expectations. We expect to deliver something. We expect that the other parties will act in a certain way, or deliver something as well. Most of the time, these expectations are not communicated up front. If I don’t know what you expect from our relationship, there’s a darn good chance that I will not meet one or more of your expectations. If you communicate them to me, I at least have the opportunity of making a conscious decision on whether or not I can deliver.

  3. We need to define the purpose of our relationships. Not all relationships have the same purpose. I have business relationships that are for the purpose of sharing business, resources, or intellectual capital. I have business relationships with people that are great resources for my clients, but I know they aren’t positioned to reciprocate. I have relationships that are for playing basketball, music, accountability, or simply talking about life. Each of these serve a different purpose. If I expect the guys on my basketball team to send me business clients, I’m probably going to be disappointed.

  4. We must be referable. There’s a basic standard that must be achieved in order to earn the right to be introduced to a new client. If I have no idea how to address your client’s issue, or if my process is so broken that the experience will be awful, you shouldn’t introduce me to your client. Do you have a system to determine if someone else is ready to be introduced to your client? You should. Define what’s important, document it, and ask before you introduce.

  5. We need to communicate like grown-ups. Hurting people’s feelings sucks. However, dragging them along is also no way to enhance a relationship. When we make a new connection, one of the best things you can do to add value to the relationship is to quickly surmise the purpose of the relationship. Yes, it can change over time, but you need to start somewhere. This begins with several conversations that should help you determine if you’re a match. The match could be for doing business together, drinking wine together, or for your kids to hang out; but one way or another you need to make the determination. What are the criteria you will look for? What will determine if you are a match? What are each of your barriers to moving forward and doing something together? What are your expectations? You need to know these for yourself, and you need to have a conversation about them with your new contacts.


Here’s the skinny. Making new contacts is not difficult. Anyone can go to an event and exchange contact information. Many will do this and simply add the new person into their drip campaign database and assume that means they are building a relationship. This doesn’t count. In fact, for many, it’s offensive. You can move beyond a contact to a connection. This is someone you’ve taken the time to understand. This is someone you’ve made the effort to understand who they are, what drives them, and why they do what they do. This is someone you’ve had meaningful conversations with. Then, if you find this is someone that is truly a match, someone that you trust, you can move into a collaborative relationship. Collaboration is an upper division relationship that requires another level of engagement and understanding. However, it’s collaborative relationships that will ultimately be the most valuable, both for you and the clients you serve.

This brief writing was merely to open the door to the conversation. There’s much more to be discussed. In addition to writing more on the subject, I welcome your thoughts and feedback. I’ll also host a webcast in the coming weeks as well as an event for those in the San Diego area. If you’re interested, drop a note here.


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