netIf you’re marketing something, you’re likely investing resources in the development of connections. Social strategies, networking events, content marketing efforts…there is a long cafeteria line of tools, strategies and processes designed to get you connneted.

Then what?

Business development is about relationships. Not connections. Or fans. Or followers. Real honest-to-goodness-relationships.

Today’s tools make establishing a connection relatively easy. Building a relationship is a different story. And no matter how effective the visibility strategy might be — no matter how many followers, fans or subscribers you have — if the next part of the equation isn’t in place, we’re missing the real opportunity.

Do it right, and a single event can yield scores of business cards. Devote some time 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 numbers game.

But if the goal is to build a professional service practice, it is a mistake to think a connection is anything more than a start. Relating with a target client  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.

Is Anyone Listening?

The problem — or at least part of the problem — is the way we think about marketing communication. We invest significantly in the delivery of our message — web sites, email marketing campaigns, and YouTube videos that, with varying degrees of effectiveness, present what we do and how we do it.

Even when the story is well told, this is more often than not one dimensional message dissemination.

(Sidebar: attempts to infer relationship in a message delivery device — like dropping in a line at the beginning of your email that says “Hi Eric…I hope you’re doing well” — are transparent and ineffective.)

Relationship requires listening. Efforts that fail to get beyond the connection phase and deliver measurable ROI are likely lacking a listening component.

In fact, the most effective messaging begins with intentional listening. For years the successful marketing organization has invested in researchlistening — designed to identify what might prompt the market to buy.

Effective professional service marketers and business developers create and facilitate opportunities to hear and understand the target client’s story.

This is where the investment in connections pays off. Engage your connections as opposed to constantly distributing your story. In the midst of skillful and intentional listening connections become clients, and clients become real fans.

What do we do to leverage our connection efforts, and turn contacts into relationships? It begins with investing at least as much time listening as we invest in the creation and delivery of our message. If you want to see measurable results from the investments in making contact, begin with intentional listening with a few carefully selected targets.

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.