A friend of mine told me about bumping into someone recently who he went to school with. She was serving in a supermarket and he recognised the face, but didn’t recognise her name!
He was astounded when she said, ‘hello’ and mentioned she remembered him (including his name) and regaled stories of being in the same class. The encounter left my friend rather astounded.
Firstly, he couldn’t remember anyone in his class with the name Lorraine! Secondly, he was amazed that the person he recognised had actually been in the same class. He was sure she was in the year above!
Finally, he was a little bit embarrassed by the fact she mentioned that she always hung out with a couple of girls he was quite close to.
While chatting about this, it brought to mind a view I have about relationships: it’s impossible to have the same relationship with everyone. A school class is proof of that, and that is clearly evidenced when considering my friend’s story!
I was asked about the possibility of staying in contact with every business relationship on my LinkedIn page. It is something I regularly get asked. So what is the answer?
A study by business strategist firm Bain & Company found that 60-80% of customers who are satisfied with a business never return to it. That is because the company simply lost connection. This is an overwhelming reminder of the need to stay in touch, even if the relationship isn’t as deep as some.
As the story of my friend shows, it is impossible to have the same relationship with everyone. That doesn’t mean I am encouraging you to forget about some people within your circle. At the same time, do not wear yourself out keeping in touch, which you would if you were to contact every person in your relational ecosystem.
In my book Grow Your Business, I recall writing an article for the Harvard Business Review. In it, I explain that trying to keep in touch with everyone leaves you feeling so overwhelmed it paralyses you.
Having a strategy to stay in touch is essential to maximise the potential in your relationships. Here are some ways you can do that…
Differentiate your relationships
You can make your relational ecosystem sustainable by differentiating. Not all relationships are the same, so treat them as such. For example, as I’ve mentioned schooldays, think back to yours. You had close friends who you spoke to daily and those who you might chat to on an occasional basis. The same is true within business relationships.
I have a system of keeping in contact with all the people I know. It is built on the idea that my relationships fall into one of five concentric circles. At the very heart are my soulmates, which are literally a handful… You really can count them on one hand!
Within the next circle are about 50 people who I contact either daily, weekly or at the most, monthly. I call these my speed diallers. They are the people I have programmed into the 50 quick dial slots on my phone. They might be colleagues, clients, friends, family or neighbours.
I use my speed dial as a prompt to see who I need to contact. This helps me differentiate my relationships, something that businesses have mastered when dealing with their customers.
Those who regularly use a business’s services or goods will be offered something to reward their loyalty. For example, British Airways differentiates its Executive Club with bronze, silver and gold tiers.
They openly prioritise those who use them regularly by offering more benefits, such as priority boarding, access to executive lounges and additional luggage allowances.
The more you spend the further up the tiers they travel. It is a powerful example of differentiating customer relationships according to their importance to a business.
To help you differentiate your relationships, consider the Pareto Principle; or the 80/20 rule as it is often known as.
This concept is used by many business coaches to highlight the fact that 80% of revenue in a company is generated by 20% of customers. That’s also the case within business relationships, so concentrating on 20% of them is more beneficial.
Think about the most important relationships you have and highlight the top 20%. So if you have 150 names written down, that 20% is 30 people. These are the people I recommend you spend 80% of your time getting closer to. Consider setting up lunch dates and coffees and face to face encounters, once that is possible again. In the meantime, set aside quality time to make a regular call.
The remaining 80% of relationships are those you should contact by utilising genetic communications. For example, you can send a direct message on social media or use an opportunity to contact via email. You can also make the odd phone call when your time allows.
Professor Robin Dunbar, of Oxford University, is known for his research about the ‘cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain for stable relationships’. It is his belief that the number of stable relationships stretch from 100 to 230, with an average of 150.
Staying in touch with all of those people seems difficult – but it’s not impossible. Many of those will be people on your Christmas card list. You want to stay in touch but it isn’t a high priority.
Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define You Brand, Imagine Your Future tells Harvard Business Review, “Make a clear-eyed determination about who in your network you want to prioritise.”
She suggests ‘grouping your contacts into buckets’ of categories, such as current clients, potential clients, powerful and influential colleagues and ‘friends who are real connectors’. Once you have done this, you should work out the best way to allocate your attention to those with the most powerful connections.
You won’t always want to keep in contact with those who can help your business grow immediately. Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, says some relationships work because you simply enjoy each other’s company or have similar interests.
“Think about the ways in which your relationships make [you] better off. If you’re a happier person when you talk to a particular friend or colleague, make a point to do so on a regular basis,” she says
The way you order your priority is a choice for each individual. If you believe your best business relationships are those that will bring more sales, then you should consider keeping regular contact with them. If, however, you prefer to be surrounded by those who will give you honest advice, which helps you focus on and improve your business, then they should be your priority.
Whichever you choose, remember that while you can keep in touch with everyone, you can’t give them all the same attention. Try to ensure there are no ‘Lorraines’ in your relational ecosystem!
I can help you develop and build your business relationships, so contact me today if you’re struggling to keep in touch with yours.