4 Free Tools for Business Relationship Development

We live in a relationship economy. So much of business is built on relationships. I want to like the people I work with because I’m giving them both my money and my time. I want to trust them. I want to know them – or at least know about them. And they want the same.

We leverage our relationships with others. If we do this in a healthy way, both parties benefit and neither side feels used. We often participate without even knowing. We ask our friends for a good dentist, a good hair stylist, a good doctor, a good babysitter. That’s healthy leveraging of relationships.

Selling me a drink that will cure all my ails without me asking about it, that’s abusing our relationship. (I’m talking to you Facebook people.)

Whether you accept it or not, we’re all in the business of relationships. Unfortunately, most people don’t act like it. To them, a relationship is a one-way street driven by one question: “What can this person do for me?”

One of the most powerful ways of building relationships is through acknowledgement. People want to feel important. They want to feel like they’re making a difference in the world and in the lives of people. They want to be known. Consequently, almost everyone you meet will have some sort of presence online. Whether through a blog or Twitter or LinkedIn or community forums, people are engaging in things that matter to them.

I use a few tools that allow me to enter into the lives of people I have a business relationship with and connect with them outside of the conference room. But I do it in a way that is non-invasive and doesn’t threaten to undo all that I’m creating. Below, I’m going to share with you the four tools I use for cultivating my professional relationships:

Google Alerts

One of the very first things I do when I begin a new relationship with someone is setup two separate Google Alerts for both their name and their company. People have lives outside of their work and I want to know when they’re being recognized for it. That’s why I use two different alerts. I want to know that John Smith was mentioned in his local paper for helping a non-profit complete a renovation on a house used to support women in crisis. However, I also want to know if John’s company wins an award in their industry.

Either way, I want to acknowledge John for the achievements. Not in a self-serving way, but in a way that would make me feel good about the email if it were sent to me.

“Hey John, I just wanted to let you know I stumbled across an article mentioning the renovation work you were a part of on the house for women in crisis. That was a very special thing you did for those women and I just wanted to share the link to the article in case you hadn’t seen it. [Link to the article for him] Cheers, Travis”

I don’t ask for anything because I’m not looking for anything. I’m looking to give John something: recognition. That’s it.

Google Alerts will scour blogs, social networks, newspapers, etc. It won’t catch everything and sometimes what it does return isn’t always timely. Most people who use it do so in a narcissistic fashion and have only an alert setup on their name. Those who take the time to do it for others will discover a whole new world of possibility.


The next thing I do is check to see if the John or his company are on Twitter since that’s where I hang out online. You could do the same on Facebook but that tends to border on creepy if you’re not careful.

If one or the other is on Twitter, I follow them and add them to a private Twitter list called VIPs. This is a column for people I have a relationship with in some capacity. I can monitor their tweets and see what they’re up to. Not in a weird way, but in a helpful way. Did they just break some good news about a new project? I’ll shoot them a congrats tweet. Did they ask a question they need help with? I’ll re-tweet it for them.

I’ve had both existing clients and potential clients reach out to me to thank me for helping them as well as to ask for appointments to talk about work as a result. While that wasn’t ever my primary intention, it was nice to see.

Social Mention

SocialMention.com is a similar service to Google Alerts. The jury is still out on whether it’s useful to me or not but I thought I would mention it here. You have to be VERY specific about what you’re looking for with more advanced boolean and operator-filled searches which could turn some people off.

Also, it’s not the most user-friendly system since you have to approve each alert separately. While some results it provides are the same as Google Alerts, it does return some different data which is why I still use it. It will find things that Google won’t give me.

If you’ve figured out a better use for SocialMention, please tell me in the comments section below.

Google Reader (Or Any Other RSS Reader)

If the person I’m building a relationship with has a blog, I ALWAYS add it to my blog reader under a special section (much like my VIPs list in Twitter). I generally check my reader every day or so for new posts from those people. Then, if I can add something of value to the conversation, I’ll comment on their blog.

Let me say that again: if I can add something of value. If I can’t, I don’t comment.

People blog because they love to do it. Nothing means more to them (or me) than comments on the blog that continue the conversation, add new insights or challenge what was said. This is a huge gift of acknowledgement and recognition.

What?! Why Not LinkedIn?

I’m bound to upset some of you with my thoughts on LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn is a good networking tool but not a great relationship tool. It’s too much like the office and not enough like the local pub. People put their business face forward. They’re on guard for spammers. Everything is viewed through the lens of “What is this person trying to sell me?”

It’s not that LinkedIn doesn’t have a place. It’s just that I’ve never found it good for creating relationships with people that my competitors couldn’t create in just the same way.
These are the tools I use for developing my business relationships online. Always remember to be courteous and don’t SPAM people. Find genuine ways to help them, encourage them and relate with them. There’s always a time and place for offering up your services.

However, see if you can find ways of NOT doing that. You’ll be surprised how much further you’ll get with people. When in doubt, “Do unto others…” I’m always asking myself, “Is this making me the type of person that John Smith would want to grab a beer with while visiting Nashville? Or will this make him not want to tell me he’s in town?”

Question: What tool(s) have you found for creating better business relationships? Please share them with me and others in the comments below.