This is a picture of me building business relationships in Italy during World Cup. Well sort of.

Let me relate three quick stories that took place in the last 24 hours:

  • Yesterday morning, I went to a networking meeting and recognized somebody from his Twitter picture — a fellow I had followed for several months. Even though I had never spoken to this person before, he greeted me like an old friend, asking me about a common interest I had discussed on my tweets.
  • In the afternoon, I had a conference call with a potential customer from California. She had read some of my posts on Linked-in forums and was interested enough to go to my website (where she read some of my longer articles) and my blog. Based on my web and social media content alone, she was convinced I was the right marketing “voice” for her company and offered me a significant new business opportunity.
  • In the afternoon I received a call off my website. This young entrepreneur had also gotten to know me through Linked-in discussion boards and he referred to recent blog articles. We agreed to meet next week and discuss a new business engagement.

I’m not telling these tales to demonstrate my good fortune on this particular day. I’m providing examples of how a social media strategy can be used to attract potential customers and “pre-populate” business relationships.

What do I mean by this? In normal business relationships, it might take weeks or months of discussions and meetings for a new potential client to know and trust you. Through original web-based content and participation in forums related to my profession, these nice people felt they had a personal relationship with me — before they even made a single phone call.

In effect, I was able to pre-populate the business relationship with my life, talents, hobbies, opinions –and probably a few flaws — to significantly expedite the sales cycle.

Here’s an important point. In NONE of these cases did I actually try to sell something to somebody. One pundit likened social media to a dinner party. If you stand there and simply talk about yourself and your product, people will quickly try to get away from you. But if you offer something of interest, they’ll listen, seek you out, and perhaps become a new friend.

What are your experiences with this topic? Does it make sense to you? How is pre-populating sales leads relevant to your business situation?

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