Social media and the end of empathy

Why am I using a picture of a large mouth bass on a blog post about social media and business? Seems a little fishy doesn’t it? Well I didn’t use this for the halibut.  There is a very relevant story with a lot of marketing mussel. A story on a grand scale, you might say.

When I was a young sales guy I learned a very important lesson about customer relationships and empathy from a fishing trip.

My company was struggling through a massive quality issue that was threatening my customer to the point that it was shutting down their production lines … and THEIR customers’ production lines.  In business terms, this was an apocalyptic problem and it eventually resulted in the largest quality claim in the history of my company.

Nerves were beyond frayed.  I remember spending one Labor Day weekend sorting through reams of lot numbers in search of alternatives that might work. We couldn’t find any and I was forced to make an excruciating call. I had to tell a plant manager that every lot of our material in his plant, every lot in transit, and every lot in our inventory was defective. We were going to shut his plant down, maybe for weeks.

Months before, this customer and I had become good friends on a company-sponsored fishing event. Yes, businesses used to do that kind of thing. Believe me, when you spend eight hours in a bass boat with one guy, you get to know him pretty well!  We had shared a lot of our life stories and created a great memory on this trip.

As I made the phone call and delivered the news, I held my breath.  There was shocked silence at the other end of the phone. Finally, my customer said, “Schaefer, the next time we’re in a fishing boat together I’m going to toss you out!”

He was able to use our shared experience and friendship to break the tension and tell me in an empathetic and humorous way that he knew it wasn’t my fault and that we would get through this crisis together.

The days of conducting business based on these deep relationships is largely over I think — relationships that were built on a golf course, a boat, long dinner conversations — not text messages, online help functions, and customer service tweets.

Ten years ago, if you had a business crisis, you could probably count on those deep relationships to help pull you through, at least to a certain extent. Today, and especially after the recession, people just don’t have time for relationship-building.  I can’t imagine inviting a customer to a weekend of golfing any more.  Everybody is doing what used to be three jobs. Who has the time for building business friendships?

I wonder about the long-term implications for business when relationships are negotiated through spreadsheets and emails. I have an image in my mind of that United Airlines commercial where a businessman laments losing a customer because they never saw them. He proceeded to hand out airline tickets for customer locations.

Maybe there will be backlash and a re-focusing on deep relationships at some point.  There was recently a story about tech start-ups scrambling for office space near Twitter because of the live networking opportunities. Kind of ironic. Seeking deeper offline relationships with people dedicated to spreading low-impact online relationships.

A business relationship renaissance.  Could that be a competitive advantage for you?  Or, is the age of empathy over?

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  • Boy, let’s hope we’ve not seen the end of empathy. I suspect some of us are still driven toward empathy and we likely attract kindred spirits. Sometimes, our business success is heavily influenced by who we don’t do business with. Good story, and message, Mark.

  • I am and want to be, part of the renaissance.  Sign me up:)  Cheers!  Kaarina

  • Anonymous

    Mark, I think you hit on a really important concept:  The Great Speedup.  

     “Everybody is doing what used to be three jobs.”

    I wonder how we get around it? Maybe it’s reaching out one tiny bit at a time.  But then again, who’s to say that will be reciprocated?  

    To be honest, it really diffuses what could be a sucky situation when both parties are willing to extend a bit of grace–I’ve not seen too many examples of how that customer handled the situation by using that common experience you both shared.  

    In any case, I’m starting to ramble. Back to work on the thesis. Like Randy, I hope we haven’t seen the end of empathy. 

  • Thanks for adding your comment to the dialogue Randy!

  • My view is that we will never get around it. Advances in technology + plus drastic cuts during the recession have created The Great Re-Set.  It will never be the same. We have to re-adjust.

    I was in this very poignant meeting in Spain ad I was talking about eCommerce and Internet marketing with the leaders of a very old traditional customer.  It had sparked a violent argument (people were standing and shouting!) about how the company should do business — through handshakes or bits and bytes.

    The president of the company, an elderly man near retirement had sat quietly through this chaos. Finally with a gesture of his hand the room fell silent and he spoke.

    “I used to do business with based on trust and friendships,” he said. “But those days are gone. The sons and daughters of our customers are now running these companies. They no longer care for our hearts. They no longer want to be friends. Our business has grown cold and all they want is a discount on next week’s order.

    “We must adjust to this new way of doing business. It won;t be me. I am not the right person to lead this change.”  His finger pointed to those around the table. “You — the next generation — you must change with our customers and create the online systems they want.”

    From that moment on, my job was easy, but for me it summed up beautifully this generational cultural change.

  • Well we have a club of two so far! : )

  • Anonymous

    “Seeking deeper offline relationships with people dedicated to spreading low-impact online relationships.” You couldn’t have said it better.  We find that the social marketing campaigns we run with the highest impact are those that carry a huge weight on ‘In real life’ (IRL) experiences. Whether it includes face-to-face social sampling, meetings and events, meeting people in-real-life creates much deeper, memorable and lasting relationships.  Empathy is not gone, it’s merrily masked by a virtual curtain. This virtual world has open doors of opportunity for meeting even more people IRL.  It’s up to them to get off their butt to actually do it.Great story Mark.  Thank you for sharing.

  • That’s a start:)

  • Thanks Mark for your eye-opening message today…

    An empathetic relationship for me — offline and online — is felt and seen by the willingness to “stand in the other person’s shoes” — competitive or not!

  • I believe (hope) that there will be a renaissance in business relationships but they will certainly be much scarcer.  Scarcity usually leads to a higher value placed on a product or service.  I hope that is the case because time is the one commodity that we all possess but is finite in supply. 

    My initial thought was that it may be like the resurgence of vinyl albums.  I was surprised to learn that last year while total album sales decreased by 13%, vinyl sales increased by 14%.  I like vinyl.  It brings back great memories of playing Led Zeppelin IV while hanging out with friends.  Will I continue to buy vinyl? Probably not because iTunes is less expensive, easier, faster and better quality.  

    I believe it is possible to go from B2C to P2P but you have to be committed and enjoy the process.

  • Mark, 
    Once again, you capture the essence of a Big Idea that underlies all of what we do. This is the Big Question that sits just beneath the surface of all the buzz around social media and marketing: how will it change not just how we do business, but how we behave as human beings? 

    Your story in the comments about the generational difference around how business relationships are built really brings the concept home. Are we really thinking about people differently? Does the disembodied nature of virtual communications make the other person seem less “real” and therefore less important? Does that lack of Real World connection leave some business executives feeling like they are operating in the context of a video game – where shooting down your opponent isn’t “real?”

    I also find that the online medium can often change a person’s personality. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” How much is the social medium changing our message? I notice that people are often more juvenile, more biting, and – yes – less empathetic in an online environment. Yet, these same people show a different side in real world interactions. I’ve been guilty of that myself – coming off sassy and fresh online when my real world persona is definitely a lot more tempered. 

    You’ve given me a lot to think about, Mark. No surprise there. Thanks & here’s to building the kinds of relationships that cross digital borders to grow in the real world … on fishing boats and beyond. 
    🙂

  • Steven Burgess

    Today, I had the pleasure to speak with Mark and interestingly enough it was around a marketing and relationship issue!  Like Jeff Reed (who is a friend) says ” I believe (hope) there will be a renaissance in business relationships”  Yet, our culture of rapid fire, turn on a dime mentality, speed to market, 1 call close model is pervasive and dominates top of mind for most in the game of business today.  I posted recently that the new shelf space war is not in the retail store but inside the hearts of consumers.  It’s all about how much “shelf space” do you own in terms of relationship with your customers.   Mark, great story!

  • Great points jeff

  • Another great post, Mark. All too often people hide from the bad news. I once reported to a guy who was vacant whenever bullets were in the air. He is not a rarity. As the mantra goes, customer service is an inside job and when we get to know our customer’s businesses like this, it is our business too. So I am in tuna with you and catch your wave because it can be a very barbed situation that may require a large mouth to delver the truth. We can’t simply cast a wide net for prospects and become jellyfish the moment we can’t angler bad news to a client.

  • Thanks for your comment.

  • P2P all the way, man.  You have learned well my friend!! Great comment.

  • Of course it is possible to build those online relationships too … like me and you!!  : )  We’ve done some great things together — only enabled by the bits and bytes.   I think we’ll be in each other’s circle of friends for a long time.  Thanks for the thought-provoking comment Jamie!

  • Well said Dr. Rae.  Too easy to fire off comments sometimes without thinking of the human being. 

  • Thanks Steve. I hope the conversation was helpful. 

  • Mark, you always start the best conversations. I’d like to link to a blog post I wrote on “The Empathic Civilization” by Jeremy Rifkin, because I think it might extend the discussion — http://marcana.com/2010/12/22/the-empathic-civilization-lessons-for-business/. Personally, I think that online or off, it’s about the quality of the relationships — how much attention are you paying, how much value do you return, are you listening to what is being said, and how? Empathic poverty is just one more symptom of the bowling-alone phenomenon, it seems, and much social media criticism sounds like justification for cocooning. 

  • Oh gosh, I had a boss like that. He set me up to be the fall guy for everything!  I’m sure there are those kinds of folks everywhere.  Always a delight to see you in the comment section Kneale.

  • Roger Pynn

    A powerful commentary on the potential we might forget the human side of what we do. 

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thanks Roger!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I know we’re always in for a treat when I see you in the comment section Will!  Thanks for the link. Looks like a facinating book.  I totally agree with the quality of relationships and impact on business.  I have lived that in so many ways.  Thanks!

  • Cynthia Schames

    I have to say, while I do believe that “culture” as a whole is indeed falling into this abyss of many thin, shallow interactions passing for “connection”…those of us who do still truly value deeper, more real, sincere personal interactions can only stand out further from the crowd as time goes on. I’m still a solution salesperson at heart, which means that even in a highly transactional, discount-driven world like the one where we live, I’m highly motivated to dig a little deeper. Whether that’s a comment on a blog post, a comment on a RT, taking a customer out to lunch instead of a 30-minute rush meeting in the office, or just simply asking questions to determine not just -whether- you want to but, but WHY–I feel that I’m not only utilizing better business practice, but I’m also sort of putting it out there to the works that we CAN and SHOULD still be connecting and fostering relationships. Sure, the mediums have changed, and yes, we all need to do more with less, but at the end of the day the customer or friend who knows that I really care about his or her needs on a personal level is the best PR rep in the world. Caring builds relationships; relationships breed trust; trust opens the gates to success for both sides.

  • Anonymous

    I am not much of a fisherman, I suck at golf and I’m not a natural networker at business functions. But your story resonates with me because I’ve been fortunate enough over the past 30 years to have experienced some remarkable relationships with both clients and vendors. Business isn’t just about the good times and the easy wins. It’s about partnership, mutual respect and at it’s best – friendship.

    In business, as in life, things can go off course. In my experience it seems to happen at the worst possible times and if not for the patience, shared responsibility, fairness and understanding, my business wouldn’t have survived as it has. I hate mistakes but they happen. Strong business relationships can overcome them, learn from them and rebound.

    Over the past few years my business relationships have been based more on conference rooms, phone calls, emails and retweets than shared experiences like the fishing trip you describe. I’ve always considered marketing to be my favorite sport though. I enjoy the hunt, the competition and the rewards. And it’s especially nice when it’s the result of some tough choices, bold moves and shared risks by my clients and our agency. Navigating through challenges is scary as hell but it can also be half the fun.

    I have hundreds, if not thousands, of new professional contacts through social media engagement. Some of those ‘virtual friendships” are developing into actual working partnerships. The optimist in me believes these relationships, although different from old school business friendships, are just as strong.

  • Competitive advantage.

    Either that or I’m idealistic and old-fashioned. I think that if you were to build those deep relationships, then your business would flourish, especially in todays market where none of that happens. I’m applying Supply and Demand to this, even if it seems odd.

    People have an innate need to have a relationship with those they deal with on a regular basis. That relationship inspires trust and, to me, that’s the most important indicator of a great business. They will rely on you and, in turn, you’ll gain more business because they’ll vouch for you every chance they get.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    This makes my heart sing. Nothing to add to the beautiful comment Cynthia except to say thank you! 

  • Mark W Schaefer

    You do realize of course that you just wrote your next blog post. Cut and paste my friend, cut and paste. This is fantastic. I particularly like the way you lead with your faults.  There is power in vulnerability.

    I don’t know how it works out this way, but my customers almost always become my close friends. I haven’t really analyzed it but I guess both friendships and customer-ships are built on the same foundations you mention here.

    I did have one customer from hell but I probably knew it was a mistake from the start.  Our value systems were too extreme. Big lesson learned.

    I know I tend to rely on quick messages instead of visit and even phone calls so you have to work at those customer-ships just like friendships.

    Thanks Billy!!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    “Idealistic and old fashioned.”  I do believe there can be competitive advantage in that!  Shad, I’m loving your contribtions to the community this week!  It’s nice that we’re starting to get to know you. Thanks for taking the time to share with us!

  • I’m glad you’re enjoying them, Mark.

    It’s truly be a great time going around to these different blogs and contributing. I’ve learned a great deal in my (just over) three week introduction. And it’s all because the community in the field is tremendously welcoming. I have to thank them again and again for that hospitality. 

    So, thank you for having me! I’ll be around for a while yet.

  • Bill Strawderman

    Mark,

    Thoughtful post with an interesting parallel to an Eric @wiitlake post today re: role of emotion in decision making. It’s probably easy for negative emotions to cut loose relationship ties. But positive relationships can overcome negative affect to a point, and are therefore worth building. It may be that as accountability and visibility in our complex roles increases, we think of “friends with benefits” as those who get things done, and are a joy to be with (in that order). It’s the difference between being in the center of the circle of trust, vs. lurking on the edge. @brainseason

  • Hi, Mark.

    Building deeper relationship always mean competitive advantage. People love it when the guys or gals they do business with take the time to let them they care and would like to know them better. However, there is a difference between building a relationship for business sake and building one for the reason that you really want to know somebody, whether they are your client or not. And, people can always tell the genuine branch of friendship from the fake one. That is where the trust Shad mentioned comes in. 🙂

    Cool one, Mark. It has been a while since I dropped by because of the deluge of posts in my Google Reader that are arranged in alphabetical order, so you can just imagine where your name stands. But I discovered Feedly (through Sharon Hurley Hall), so I’d probably have a better way to get to the posts I want to read now. 

    Enjoy your weekend. 🙂
    Kim

  • Neil Fletcher

    Mark, thanks for a great, thought-provoking article.  It rings true for me but for so many of the wrong reasons!
     
    My company (a very large international corporation) actively discourages the type of relationship building you describe for fear of being seen as corrupt in trying to influence future business.  I’m not just talking about the big stuff like fishing trips or rounds of golf.  If I’m intending to take someone for lunch or dinner, I have to apply for permission in advance of the event, providing names and positions of all those who will be attending and what I expect the per head costs to be and I’m not allowed to ‘entertain’ them if permission is declined.  It could be declined because one of the people has been entertained by someone else from the company within the last six months.
     
    The situation in the UK is not helped by the recent introduction of the Bribery Act.  There is a great discussion on the Modern Selling discussion group on LinkedIn.  This is an open group so anyone can view the discussion here: http://lnkd.in/Rd7eeH
     
    As you can see from the discussion, there is a very strong inclination , particularly among smaller companies, to stop entertaining in order to avoid running the risk of breaking the law.
     
    It’s a sad day indeed when you can’t socialise with your customers and prospects.  Although I’m not seeing too much evidence at the moment, I can think this will ultimately lead to a downturn in business.  The old saying is that people buy from people.  How can you do that when you don’t know (and aren’t allowed to get to know) the person on the other side of the table?

  • Ah, this is such a fantastic post!!

    I remember when I was a kid my dad would often go golfing with clients. Being a kid, I could never understand why he did that. Of course, I also don’t really get the whole “golfing” thing so I was REALLY at a disadvantage 🙂
    Anyway…

    People who have started their business careers just in the online environment probably feel like I did when I was a kid. Why would you go fishing with a client or a customer? Why would you send out holiday gifts? We had a vendor contact us once and they wanted to see if they could work with us. They were local so we invited them to stop by. They actually said, “No, since I do most of my business long-distance anyway, I’d prefer to meet you via GoToMeeting like I do everyone else.

    Really?

    You can’t know things you don’t know. If you don’t know the value of doing business in person you can’t know what you’re missing. That said, I share your fears.

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  • Anonymous

    What a great story Mark. We can use social media and all of the wonderful new tools to meet and sort through all the possibilities of relationships, learning more about people and then taking it to the next  level.

    I truly believe that social media creates an even playing field  for us introverts but the fact is as Professor Dunbar discovered, social media has NOT increased our ability to truly maintain relationships beyond around 150 people in our lives, real relationships. But I think it has increased our ability to find those we’d really like to get to know better.

  • We’re human, and as such we want deeper relationships. I have yet to have a services client that I hadn’t spoken with via Skype or phone numerous times before they became a client. That will never go away, though there may be much less.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    That is an extremely good way to characterize this Bill.  That depth of relationship can get you through a lot.  It can generate patience and forgiveness … even when you’re mad, even when you don;t understand.  Well said. Thank you!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I’m so glad to see you back on the comment section Kim.  “Building deeper relationship always mean competitive advantage.”  … that is a great quote and certainly consistent with my philosophy too.  I wonder if this will be apparent to Generation Text?

  • Mark W Schaefer

    My hunch here is that the lowest common denonminator effect is in play here!  What I mean by that is when one employee screws up one time and it has a deleterious effect on the company, a new rule is instituted that clamps down on everybody!

    This is really a very sad situation, but I do know government and defense insitiutions have some pretty strict rules around this stuff.   It makes the sales process very difficult.  Do you think your competitors are under the same strict rules? 

  • Mark W Schaefer

    That is a great anecdote Margie.  I share your fears.  I see a trend in young folks that entire relationships are managed over smartphones.  It’s more than an observation, the research is supporting this too.  There is a whole host of implications for those of us who will be hiring these folks or marketing to them.  Being skillful at text-based relationships might actualy be an important skill set in the future, right? What a strange world!

  • Anonymous

    Mark, I don’t think you have it bass-ackwards at all. 😉 I think we’re still (thank goodness) awash in empathy; it’s the sense of time pressure and pace that’s changed. (Or maybe I think there’s still a lot of direct relationship-building and connecting because I live in a southern-friendly place?)

    Fishing is a slow, open-paced activity that unfolds over time, with lots of room for one-to-one conversation. It’s harder to justify that time commitment in business when we think we don’t have enough time for our families, our non-work friends, and ourselves.

    For me, lunches and breakfasts have become the time for those empathic, deeper work connections. Although that’s getting harder to do, what with working through lunches (ah, the Great Re-Set strikes again).

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Superb point Kat.  That whole topic is so interesting to me.  I am enjoying the research coming out of the Pew Institute examining the connections between social media and human relationships. On top of the negatives expressed in the comment section for this post, there are a lot of positives of course.  I have built my enitre business from these so-called “wesk links!”

  • Mark W Schaefer

    You really do an excellent job with that Robert.  Thanks for being a role model and pursuing that deeper relationship with me too!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Finally!  Somebody picked up on the fish jokes. I was beginning to think that readers thought I wrote it this way on porpoise.

    Knew I could count on you!

    You are such a gifted thinker and writer Lori.  You humble me with each comment. This is a good thing.

  • For sure life is getting harder, and work needs more and more input to get results that were easier to achieve a while ago…..  Technology makes some of this easier aswell….
    But there will always be a place for human relationships having a value and for the time spent in building those (even if the golf is now Playstation based!!).  We need to find time to continue to focus on the key relationships – as you say – your business could depend on it!!

  • I’m having a good laugh imagining some of my customers playing Wii golf with me.  I guess you wouldn’t get a sunburn : )

  • Mark, I agree with your underlying sentiment that nothing beats real life, face-to-face contacts for building empathy. However, I do think the best companies are also using social media in an empathic manner. The tools and adoption are just increasing, so they really have no choice at this point.

    It takes skill and some good gut instincts to discern someone’s intentions in 140 characters or less. The very best attempt to take the conversation offline quickly. Better yet, they recognize that a lot of “old school” marketing activities are still vital—namely actual human contact— despite how many shiny new social networks get added (plused?) weekly.

  • Thank you Mark, that is kind of you to say.  Too often, our ego moves ahead of our heart…

  • “Caring builds relationships; relationships breed trust; trust opens the gates to success for both sides.” — that sums it up very nicely…excellent comment Cynthia.  🙂

    I don’t think the days of deep relationships are gone altogether yet, but we are certainly “likebuttoning” it to death IMO.

  • Hi Mark:

    I hear what you’re saying in the article above, but I can’t believe that twitter and deeper relationships are mutually exclusive. While “customer service tweets” are lamentable, I don’t think they’re the foundation of twitter — in fact, I think the platform gives all of us an opportunity to get to know each other in a “digital cocktail party” setting, THE KEY however is in connecting this digital setting with the real world by attending meet-ups and retreats. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity to solidifying our efforts online. And while brevity may win the day on twitter, FB, and Foursquare — I believe sincerity coupled with that brevity is both a choice and essential ingredient to making a significant impact.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I really like that very practical perspective Brandon.  Thanks for taking your time to add to this discussion.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I agree with you and did not mean to imply they are mutually exclusive. In fact I would say one of the themes in this blog over time has been the incredible and life-changin opportunities social media provides to connect with people.  There is a general trend however to take short cuts on the time it takes to build relationships in business setting. And it has been heading this way for quite some time.  Thanks for the excellent comment!

  • I think we’re getting better while we’re getting worse. Social media and the technological communication channels at our disposal make the initial steps of the relationship building process far easier. But empathy…ah empathy…nothing builds that like time. In a fishing boat. Over lunches. Attending an event together. Those are things that should not be forsaken.

    But I’ve got to say, you had me at the puns.

  • Anonymous

    I really shouldn’t be back here but I was hooked by this topic. And I had another idea. As tangible, memorable and meaningful as your business friendship proved to be due to the foundation built upon time in a boat, how big was the boat? How many times did you have available for trips with business aquaintances. The bonding potential of real-life, slow-day, easy-going fishing trips and adrenalin rushing extreme adventures is as real as ever. But it doesn’t scale well. That’s the beauty of social media engagement. It can reach an entire tribe and be personal at the same time.

    Surely social media engagements are more shallow than shared real life experiences, and the deeper the relationship the better, but my boat only seats four people at a time and I’m an hour from the lake. My comments here and exchanges within the grow community everyday are almost as fun and no one gets seasick.

    I had to get in on some of the pun fun too.

  • Brilliant article, it struck a chord 🙂 and I loved reading the comments as well.

  • Anonymous

    *blushing* Must be your inspiring me!

    I think there’s something in the water today about customer service – I saw a post on my soon-to-be-new-employer’s blog that talks about the one metric needed to measure customer satisfaction. It’s not got the same human hook as your post, but if you don’t mind, I’ll share a link to it here since it’s a research-based compliment to the comments.

    http://bit.ly/qdimCD

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  • Mark

    Thanks for the addition to the conversation!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thanks for the addition to the conversation!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I’m glad you enjoyed the puns. It’s always a risk using humor. I mean the thing could have just floundered.

    See what happens when you encourage me?  The more my kids groan the faster they fly : )

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Mimi!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    This really connects the dots Billy.  You and I need to tag-team when I write a blog post because if I had included this point it would have made the original post so much better.  And of course that reflects my outlook too.  Thanks for the extra effort on this. I guess you could say it was a whale of a comment : )

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thanks for taking time out of your day to say so Sanjay.

  • Laughed at the twitter real estate; there’s a business plan there, commoditization of office neighbors. No way twitter should be paying rent.

    I guess the question comes down to what extent virtual interaction is crowding-out real-world interaction, or is virtual adding new connections that wouldn’t have existed.

    It reminds me of the early complaints in social media (going back to BBS days) that people were substituting virtual for real-world friendships. I think it turned out that, socially anyway, people were adding, not substituting.

  • You got it backwards. Today there are more people in my network with deep relationships because of social media. Today it is so much easier to maintain intimacy in relationships

  • Hmm I don’t think the days of empathy are over but rather it is an opportunity to stand out. Sure, everyone is busy and they do not have time at their leisure like before but if you’re able to give that time of yours – just a little, imagine what the impact can become.
    Business owners are getting lesser time for themselves to build relationships but consumers are wanting that interaction. Whoever plugs that gap wins 🙂

  • Neil Fletcher

    Mark, I know from ex-colleagues who have moved that some of our competitors are not under similar regimes.  You are absolutely right about lowest common denominator, though.  That said, it was a major screwup costing us billions of Euro in fines (yes, billions) so I do have a degree of understanding about where we are.  However, day to day it still feels like we are using the blunt sledgehammer of compliance to crack the walnut of wrongdoing.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I disagree so utterly and completely that social media is killing relationship-building. I agree that it’s hard to really establish a relationship completely online…but online is an amazing catalyst for initial introductions. Without Twitter I wouldn’t have met 80% of the folks I consider colleagues or tech friends.

    Emphasis on quality time and empathy is great, but don’t write off social media. It’s the letter/telegraph/telephone. We’re the ones who actually build those relationships.

  • Evan, if you’ve read my book or my blog over time, you would know I’m a passionate advocate of the relationship-building opportunities of social media. I’m the poster child. I have built my entire business that way.  But there is a big difference between being a solo entrepreneur connecting on an individual basis and a multi-national company managing global sales relationships.

    There has been a huge change in how business relationships have been forged and nurtured.  Can you imagine that in 1990 there was no internet, barely email, let alone online customer service. Everything was done by personal communications. Phone calls, visits, letters. Friendships. Year by year we have loaded more onto the online relationships and less on to real people.  Our focus is on inbound leads and marekting automation instead of personal sales calls.

    This trend has been exacerbated by the need to cut costs. Our relationships have been automated and clipped into sound bites to a large extent. People, in general, don’t have time for people in the business world any more. Of course this is a generalization but I think it would be difficult to deny this trend.

    Maybe I have a unique perspective because I my life has straddled both worlds. But while the power of social media is undeniable, so is the way technology has fractured business relationships and the selling process.

    I sincerely appreciate your dissent and passioante commentary.

  • Thanks for the insight Neil.

  • Sorry for the delay in response. I did respond but am now surprised to see days later that it is not here! : )

    I think we can agree actually. At least I think so. I have made more friends in the past two years, over the social web, than in the past 20.  Having said that, I am having more trouble connecting and communicating with my customers than ever, too. The two situations are not mutually exclusive.  The fishing example I used above was TYPICAL of sales in that era. Lots of meeting and entertaining because there was no other option. No email. No texts. Even voicemail was a radical innovation. So when you made a sales call, it was a big deal. Today, most companies work to AVOID sales calls through automation … true?

    How much of the budget today is going into internet marketing, automated customer service and inbound sales leads rather than sales training? I think that’s apparent. I’m not ruing the days of old. I embrace change and think the era we are in is very exciting. But I don’t think you can deny the deterioration on an emphasis on relationship selling. And the procurement folks don;t have time for it any way!

    Thanks Warren. Always an honor to have you come by.

  • I think it is both, actually as I have articulated in a few comments. An opportunity to expand your network but possibly a time when deep customer relationships are more difficult to maintain.

  • Perfectly said, Jan.  Great comment!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mark,

    I’m actually new to your blog, so it’s great to hear that you see the good as well as the bad. 🙂

    I still hear you saying that phone calls and letters are better than social media. How is an email different than a letter? If you write it with less empathy, sure. But there’s no reason an email to a customer can’t be as effective as a letter.

    Visits, as I think we both agree, are a different beast. There’s something very special about meeting in meatspace and really getting to know someone, and social media should facilitate that, not replace it in any way.

    Am I saying that folks haven’t used the web to have more, shallower relationships? No. There are plenty of folks abusing the tools. But there are also plenty who aren’t. I talk to a lot of people online…but I also meet a lot of them (including customers) in person to further that relationship. Tools don’t make the man. 🙂

  • I’m excited that you’re here for the first time — particularly because you not only commented, you dissented! I love that. Good for you.

    I have written extensviley about the opportunities to build relationships on the social web. Here is a post you might enjoy. I took some risks with it — The Spirituality of Social Media => http://bit.ly/dn9qeD

    I think you’re beginning to understand my point. There is a big difference doing business with somebody who is your friend versus somebody who just buys your product. Deep business relationships can be leveraged in so many ways, especially in times of opportunity and crisis. In my experience there is no substitue for face to face communications for building those bonds and that simply is not where the emphasis is today.

    I’ll leave you with an important point to think about. Actually tools DO make the man. Everything we do, and everything we don’t do creates our personal brand. A person who chooses to avoid human interaction through text messages sends a distinct message about hwo he is and his priorities with time and relationships.

    Another person who takes the time to make a visit, even when he doesn’t have to — well that sends another message, doesn;t it? Creates an entirely different experience. Everything communicates. Even how we choose to communicate!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mark,

    Great post and enjoyed the fishing trip story particularly as former fishing enthusiast. In my mind, everything has a life-cycle and we are on the peak of Social Media and its keen ability to build massive, shallow networks and relationships.

    I believe that Social Media came about as a revolution against big brands replacing human communication with automated systems and technology compounded by complex process standing in the way of human to human communications; the foundation stone of all deep relationships. Our primitive drive to be social found a new outlet which manifested as social media. But everything has a balance and to your point we are seeing the decline of deep relationships.

    But if we follow a life-cycle mentality, the loss of deep relationships will serve as a catalyst for further (r)evolution in the way we develop and retain relationships. As i explore Google+ for example, i can see circles enabling me to develop closer ties with my most trusted network, a group of no more than 20 people while i continue to keep tabs and somewhat relevant presence in the shallow network i have created.

    In the end, everything will balance and i can already see the pendulum swinging back towards the middle.

    Thanks for making me think!

    Jeff – Sensei

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