3 Deadly Sins of Building Business Relationships

As I was working with a client to develop her social media strategy, she mentioned that she has realized that relationship building is really a business practice. This is someone who was under the misconception that networking is about gathering business cards. She didn’t realize that networking is really about building and maintaining relationships with other business people. As we got her more involved with LinkedIn, she started reconnecting with people she had lost contact with over time–and she was really enjoying the rediscovery. She started to understand the real value that relationships play in business.

The Business Practice of Relationships

A few days later, I saw a friend of mine, Jeff Nischwitz of Think Again, who said that “networking” was a misnomer. “It’s about relationships,” he said. He was really talking about how people have the wrong idea about networking and this wrong idea is making business development difficult for them.

That got me thinking about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to networking and building relationships.

There still seem to be some misunderstandings about networking. Based on some of the behavior I’ve seen, it appears that many people are still missing the whole idea of relationship building. It doesn’t matter whether it is social networking or in-person networking. In the business practice of building relationships, there are three deadly sins to avoid:

1. Pitching early
2. Signing someone up without permission
3. Assuming closeness

1. Pitching early:

This is when you meet someone at a networking event, exchange cards, and decide that the card exchange gives you permission to give them a sales pitch. This happens all the time. It’s one of the reasons that some people avoid networking events. They either think they are supposed to behave this way and aren’t comfortable in that role, or they dislike the people who do it and don’t want to be around them.

People who pitch early don’t understand the relationship building aspect of networking. They believe that simply participating in the activity is a license to sell. Well, it isn’t. Networking is the opportunity to begin the relationship building process. Networking gives you the chance to meet people whom you might not otherwise meet.

I submit that the same is true for “social networking.” Linking in or friending someone online does not mean you have an open invitation to sell to them. Here’s an example of a double whammy – I met a young man at a chamber event. Within a couple of days he sent me a LinkedIn request to connect. I accepted. Now I receive solicitations from him via LinkedIn.

The problem? I don’t know him, so I can’t trust him. He doesn’t know what my situation is or what my needs are. He isn’t matching a solution to a problem. He is solely focused on what he wants. If, on the other hand, he had continued the process of relationship building, he would have learned more about me and my situation. He would have waited to sell until he knew there was a need and until he had established trust. As it stands, I’m not even interested in seeing him at the next chamber function. He accomplished the exact opposite of what he wanted–all because he pitched too early.

2. Signing someone up without permission: As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the deadliest networking sins. It is presumptuous and rude. I believe that when you do this you are telegraphing that you are more interested in building your list than in building relationships. How do you know the person needs what you have to offer? How do you know they want to read what you have to say? Where did you get permission to enter their e-mail inbox on a consistent basis? Remember, the simple exchange of business cards is not a license to behave in any way you choose.

The solution is so very simple. When you meet someone and engage in a conversation, you will learn things about them. If you discover that they have an interest in or need for the information you provide, ask them if they’d like to be added to your e-mail list and tell them why you think it would be a good idea for them. If they say “yes,” jot a note to yourself on their card. If they say “no,” don’t do it!

Did you notice the steps? They go in order. To take them out of order is to ask for trouble.

3. Assuming closeness: The story I told above about the young man I met at the chamber event also falls under this category. He assumed that we were closer than we were. He assumed that we had a relationship because of our chamber and online connections.

Think about the relationships you have with your friends, significant other, co-workers. Did they happen instantly? At “hello”? They didn’t, did they? They had to be built and nurtured; they had to grow over time.

This is not to say they you didn’t feel some sort of connection with some of these people. That sense of connection is what propels you to want to get to know them better. However, until you know someone better, you really don’t know enough to explore the possibility of conducting business with each other.

Nothing sends people running from you quicker than assuming closeness that doesn’t exist. Not only does it send people running, but they will tell others what you did. If you want to destroy your reputation quickly, then by all means, assume closeness. If, on the other hand, you want to grow your business, don’t make assumptions. Rather, grow those relationships first.

Ask yourself: Are you in business for the long haul or for a quick hit? If you answered “for the long haul,” then relationship building is a necessity. Do yourself and your business a favor and take the time to build relationships with the people you meet. Most of these people will become great referral partners for you – not customers. The more referral partners you have, the easier it will be to grow your business. Those people you’ve built relationships with will be the best promoters of you and your business.


Diane Helbig Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Top Sales World Experts Panel at Top Sales World.

45 Reactions
  1. hello Diane

    well…I have made those mistakes too.

    It is so true what you said about having people reject your offers or even friendship, when you come too close too soon. It reminds me of James Schramko’s words : (I will paraphrase it) “if you are desperate, and approach someone as a desperate person, expressing your wish, it is always about you. About your needs, and thoughts. Not about them, and what they want, or even about relationship building. And it repels people.”

    thank you !

  2. Hi Martyna,
    You are so right! It’s that desperation that people really don’t like. I think it’s exactly as you say that it clues them into the fact that you are only thinking of yourself.

    I often remind my clients and audiences that you have to be a partner to your client but they don’t have to be a partner to you. The same, I guess, could be said about networking relationships. When you put them first, and their needs first, they will see you as a partner to them.

  3. Diane,
    Great article. It is spot on. Thank you for sharing.

  4. You hit the nail on the head on this one. It’s quite annoying when you meet someone at a networking event and they make assumptions and jump down the road quickly and make the sales pitch. It is difficult to politely ask them to back off. It is even more sad when you really would like the relationship, that could lead to the sale, but the aggressive approach makes you not even want the relationship.

    Great points!

  5. Thanks, Diane.

    Gotta schmooze a little, first.

    Now, about Jeff Nischwitz….

    The Franchise King

  6. I was at an event last week where a gentleman approached myself and another woman who were chatting. He said hello and within a second was handing his card out.

    I was most surprised and happy that the other woman called him on it. She suggested it may serve him better to speak with us first and see if there was even a need to exchange cards. I was happy she did this and I commented on it to both of them.

    I run business networking events and the one thing I try to stress to attendees at every event is to stop selling and try connecting.

    Leave the cards in your pocket. If the connection is there then it’s appropriate to exchange cards instead of just handing cards out to everyone. It’s not a numbers game, it’s about establishing a relationship that’s important. Business will come after that.

  7. It is interesting how much we really dislike it yet people still do it.

    Ilana, props to the gal who called the man out. I think that’s a tough thing to do since we really want to be polite and in relationship building mode. I think these folks who hand us their cards and try to sell us don’t realize that they are giving us permission to call them out.

    I used to just delete the email solicitations I’d get from people I met at networking events. I’ve now decided that they’ve given me permission to suggest they read my book and change their networking and prospecting practices.

  8. Diana,

    I think Ivan Misner’s VCP method is right on the target. First you have to show visibility, then earn credibility and the last stage is profitability. It is all about referral networking.

  9. Exactly right! I think the credibility piece is the one people miss. THey don’t realize how important it is.

  10. I tend to disagree with Point #1 for one simple reason. If you attend a BUSINESS networking event then you are there for a one reason, to find people to do BUSINESS with. If I walk up to you at an event like this and you ask me what I do then you will get an elevator pitch. This isn’t meant to sell you necessarily but to briefly tell you who I am, and what I offer which allows you to quickly determine if additional discussion is warranted. I also want to know this information about you. The attitudes of those commenting are exactly why I skip these types of events and work on personal referrals through a referral exchange group instead. This is a group of people who get together with the sole purpose of helping each other generate business. If you are looking for new friends try a bar or some other social event. Don’t attend BUSINESS networking events if you aren’t open to doing BUSINESS.

  11. A theme emerges through your tips (sins) and the comments, which can be expressed simply as one word – “Listen”.
    Thanks for the insights!

  12. I agree with all of this information. I’ve been “preaching” these concepts to my clients for over two years now. It’s applicable for job seekers, those managing their careers and people who are self-employed or own small businesses.

    Great article.

  13. Granted, Business Networking IS about business, but mostly its about letting people know about you and know you. What many fail to realize is that business is done with you because people know you, trust you, and refer you. So it is important to drop the “whats in it for me” attitude and think that spreading the wealth of business cards is going to get you anywhere. I approach all networking with an attitude of how can I assist those I meet. This doesn’t mean doing business, but it may mean, “I know just the person or company you need” for something they DO want and need. I’m more amused these days when I meet someone who is so intent on making sure the people know everything they do and desperation creeps in. Networking key: relax, have fun, enjoy, and let those you are to do business with come through. . . they will.

  14. Hi Diane. GREAT article! I am also a firm believer in making a relationship first and then taking it from there.

    I remember when I was in the music biz that whenever I talked to one of our label’s recording artists who I didn’t know or just met, I would NEVER talk about music with them, even though that was the business we were both in. These people EXPECT you to talk to them about music, which they probably hear about all day. So I would immediately bring up sports and a lively conversation would ensue. It relaxed everything and we were able to engage each other and create that initial bond. We could talk business later. No one’s going to write a $1 million check at a networking event. But I’m sure a potential investor will remember the one person who spoke to him about the baseball game rather than his “pitch” (like the play on words?).

    Having said that, I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable having someone invest in my company and me without getting to know me in the same manner. So kudos on your suggestions! I’m going to a Angel/VC bootcamp next month and will be adhering to many of your rules. It’s also important to play off of what the other person is saying. I could go on and on…lol.

  15. Excellent piece on relationship building. There are tons of articles on the “do’s” of this topic, and the “dont’s” are equally as important. This is all true information that I can’t believe how many people overlook sometimes. Listen and engage instead of spamming and shoving your way in the door–Though it takes longer, it does much more good.

  16. So many great additions to the conversation here!

    Jim, I hear what you are saying though I think you may be misunderstanding my point. The 30 second commercial is, of course, an opportunity to start the conversation. That’s not what I mean about pitching early. Pitching early, as I say in the article, is trying to sell someone at the event or shortly thereafter. Just because you tell me your comercial and I tell you mine doesn’t mean I want what you have to sell – or that you want what I have to sell. While BUSINESS networking events are about business they aren’t about selling to the people in the room. If they were they’d be structured as matchmaking events for that very purpose.
    In my opinion, business networking events are opportunities to meet people who may or may not need what you have to sell.They are people who you can build a relationship with who will refer you time and again once they know,like, and trust you. Frankly, they may never do business with you themselves.

    Attending a networking event with the idea that you are there to sell to the people in the room is, in my opinion, the wrong idea.

    The great thing is this – we are all entitled to our opinions. As my grandmother used to say, “that’s what makes horse races.” That we can participate in an exchange of ideas is the best part of all.
    Thank you all for taking the time to add your comment here.

  17. Diane- Thanks for the feedback. I think in some ways we are saying the same thing however as I mentioned some of the other comments describe being at a business networking event and being upset that someone would introduce themselves, hand out a card and talk about what they do. I submit that this is exactly the activity a business networking event is for. Now that being said that exchange does not give you the right to call that person up the next day and make a pitch. If you do that, what is the chance you will do any business with that person? I’d say somewhere south of 0%. But, I have employed many salespeople who think that “networking” is selling. They never made much money because they spent all of their time chit chatting about someone’s kids, hobbies, favorite sports teams and etc and never moved the process forward. You have to walk the line between having a relationship with the person (on their terms by the way)and doing your job which is to make sales. Some of my best referrals come from people that I have virtually no personal relationship with. They know me on a purely professional basis and quite frankly they aren’t looking for new friends. This is my point, you have to read people, know what they want and give it to them. If you can do this you will be successful and at a high level.

  18. I think #1 & #3 are pretty much the same. The degree to which you sell depends on how close you are to the person. I’ve made the #2 mistake before. Fortunately, since newsletters aren’t as popular as blogs, now at least it’s in the hands on the reader.

  19. I agree with Jim in the sense that you have to read people. You usually can tell after one minute whether the person you’re speaking with is someone you can joke around with or if they’re a “by the book” type of person. What works with one person more than likely won’t work with the next person…unless they’re clones of one another, which I’m sure is common in certain investors.

    I also understand what Jim is saying in terms of sales people “chit chatting” about meaningless details rather than getting to the nitty gritty of what you’re trying to sell. I did music distribution for 10 years and there was a thin line between being “buddy buddy” with a music buyer versus having a “no-nonsense, let’s get down to it” personality. This goes back to what Jim said about reading people. It took me awhile but eventually I knew what customers I could “shoot the sh*t” with for 5 minutes before selling them records (yes, vinyl…lol) and the ones who wanted to know right away what new records we had, place their order and then hang up. You have to learn to adjust to both types of customers. At the end of the day, though, you have to close the deal.

  20. Additionally, many times I wanted to scream at a buyer, “OK…enough about your problems! Do you want these new records we have or what?! I don’t have all day!” Of course, though, I would never do that.

    You also have to prioritize sometimes in terms of who’s more important to speak to. Why would I speak with someone for 20 minutes who has invested in 2 companies over the last year versus speaking 2 minutes to an investor who has invested in 10 companies in the last year. It really comes down to common sense and logic.

  21. Frankly, This post by Diane and the comments it inspired is one of the best exchanges I’ve seen online on this subject in quite awhile. Although many commentors simply wanted to complain about premature sales pitches, I thought that the exchange between Jim and Diane really put the issue into a clear perspective
    I do agree with Jim’s primary point, that business card exchanges are set up to help business people meet each other for the POTENTIAL purpose of doing some BUSINESS together. If that’s not your purpose, or intent, don’t go! On Diane’s side of the exchange I agree with getting to know what the other person is about first. I will always remenber one of the primary rules that I’ve ever been taught about sales, and that is ” YOU HAVE TO KNOW, WHO YOU’RE DEALING WITH”! You can waste a lot of time and energy if you just hang around and chit-chat with the WRONG prospects!

  22. Oh I just love this exchange! Jim, I get what you are saying completely. And I don’t necessarily disagree with the chit chat nonsense that many sales people do while never moving beyond it. I submit they really don’t know how to maneuver in the situation so they get stuck. .
    David, it seems like you are talking about customer relationships which for me are beyond the networking stage. ONce you are in a relationship with someone you can get stuck listening to a lot of nothing – of course I could say that goes to getting to know someone before you decide to do business with them. Some people are more difficulty than the business is worth (if you know what I mean.)
    Hank – I couldn’t agree more! This is really a lot of fun

  23. I’ll never forget a VC/Angel networking event I attended in Boston in Summer 2009. I was having a great conversation with someone when out of nowhere this lady interrupts our conversation, introduces herself and hands us her business card. Her business had to do with outsourcing manufacturing to China or something. I had absolutely no interest in it. So not only was she rude but she totally ruined the vibe that I had with the person I was speaking to. I remember thinking “What an as*hole” lol That woman was a prime example of what NOT to do.

  24. Hi Diane,

    Let me send you my card and tell you what I do.

    Just kidding. Great information. Thank you!

  25. John,
    Thank you so much for that! It made me laugh out loud – something i aspire to do every day. My day is now complete.

  26. What a great posting!

    I can’t recall how many networking events I’ve been to where my goal was to simply meet and greet and start a few new business relationships, and that’s it. Colleagues constantly chide me that I didn’t get any solid “leads” or direct outcomes where I could call for business. I’ve never understood this sales mentality.

    Networking doesn’t necessarily have a direct one-to-one tie to leads and outcomes – sometimes the best social connections you make lead to the best outcomes because people like people like themselves, and WILL refer others to you if they like YOU (not your sales tactics).

    Thanks for putting so much good stuff into words here!


  27. Great article, the networking tip is crucial. People always try and gather as many business cards as they can and then sell, sell, sell. When you know someone on a personal level you can help them so much more.

  28. Thanks Chad. You know what I say to my clients? Who do you want to be known as? It’s worth thinking about BEFORE you go to an event.

  29. Thank`s for nice article. Anyway making a business require to assume a little.

  30. I couldn’t have said it better Diane. I agree with you 100% and try to live by the more ethical rules when it comes to networking and building relationships!!!!

  31. I completely agree with the core of this article. I know people that make a horrible use of mail contact list. Shooting an e-mail each 10 days offering something I don’t need or asking for contacts to sale them “a great product/service”. It annoys me a lot!! I propose a reflective question: Is there any polite way to tell them that following this path they won’t get a thing from us? Because is clear that they don’t seem to understand the silence code. Great article!!. Thanks from Spain.

  32. HI Dolores. Thank you for the kind words. As for a polite way to tell them to knock it off, I think if you frame it in a helpful way you can be polite. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll hear it, but you’ll know you were being kind. You can say something like, “I know you are really interested in building your business and I admire your drive. I do think, however, that you might be hurting yourself with your methods. People really don’t like being sold and they don’t want to feel like someone is intruding on them via their email or phone. If you really want to share your product/service with others, why not start by finding out how you can help them? I think you’ll find that those people will be more open to learning about your business that way.”

    What do you think?

  33. Hi Diane!
    Great suggestion.You know, I don’t want to lose politeness and I really like your approach. Polite, honest and helpful at the same time. I’m going to try
    this. Thank you so much!!
    Kind Regards,

  34. Hi Dolores,
    Let me know how it goes!

Win $100 for Vendor Selection Insights

Tell us!
No, Thank You