It is news to no one that when it comes to business development in the professional services arena, relationship trumps everything.

Not connections. Or fans. Or followers. Real honest-to-goodness-relationships.

Establishing a connection is relatively easy. Building a relationship is decidedly not.

Do it right, and a single event can yield scores of business cards. Devote some time (or buy information someone else has compiled), and it is possible to connect with hundreds of thousands via social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Add a budget to the mix and it is possible to put together a list that would tempt any marketer to play the old numbers game.

And while there can be value in all of the above (making contact is where it begins, after all), it is a mistake to think a connection is anything more than a start. Relating with an individual almost always requires two things — dialogue and shared experience. And for many this is where it gets tricky.

If we misunderstand what constitutes dialogue, or underestimate the critical role it plays in building and maintaining relationships, we’re in for a long and likely frustrating journey.

The problem — or at least part of the problem — is in the way marketing communication is typically defined and used. We invest significantly in the delivery of a message. The result is the creation of entire web sites, advertising campaigns, and collateral communication materials that, with varying degrees of effectiveness, begin and end with a lot of information about us.

Even when the story is well told, it is one dimensional. Meanwhile, the potential that resides in relationship derives from the art of listening.

We know this, even though we often struggle to put our finger on why efforts to get beyond connection fall short.

We experience it every day — with family, friends and in the workplace. The more time I spend listening the closer I get to the fabric of meaningful and productive relationships.

For years the sophisticated marketing organization has invested in research designed to identify what might prompt the market to buy. Today the smart organization understands the value of investing in shared experiences —  in listening to and understanding the target’s (or client’s) story.

This is where game-changing relationship takes root. Listen hard enough and this is where we learn what it takes to become trusted.

In the midst of skillful and intentional listening clients migrate from satisfied to loyal.

What should an organization do to develop loyal, lasting relationships Begin by investing at least as much time listening as we typically invest in the creation and delivery of our message.

In fact, ask the right two or three questions, listen closely, and the market will tell you exactly what it takes to move from contact to relationship.

We might decide this is the most eloquent messaging strategy there is.