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  • Writer's pictureMalcolm De Leo

Do you treat your network transactionally?

I was having lunch with another co-founder the other day. We have known each other for about 10 years. He is significantly younger than I am (he is a Millennial and I am Gen X). We were meeting because we regularly check in on each other, see how the business is going, and more than any of that because we are good friends who do our best to support each other.

I arrived first, sitting on my computer typing something that probably was not that important when he slid into the booth and made the following statement...

"I am really sick of how people behave. I constantly feel like they only reach out to you if they need something or they believe you are of value to them at that moment, otherwise, they never pick up the phone or go silent if they don't think you serve their immediate needs."

He was deeply frustrated and for me it was refreshing. I smiled slowly back as I shared with him that I agreed completely. I asked him to keep going.

He continued, "I just feel like everything around me is transactional. No one seems to have a conversation anymore in my business life unless they are asking for something. No one asks how they can help, asks how I am doing or speaks beyond what is trying to be solved. It's no way to succeed in the long term. I believe that relationships must be nurtured and cared for not merely milked for one's own benefit"

Why do I tell this story? Because in some way things never change, but in reality they have. Some people put no stock in what I am about to say, but imagine the chasm crossed around 2000-2008. This was the point when the internet became ubiquitous and smartphones found their way into every person's hand. And as part of the Gen X generation, someone entering their 50s, I represent the last group of people who not only went to college but also became an adult without having the internet or smartphones as part of their formative years/everyday life. I remember what it was like to meet someone without a phone to contact them wherever they were. When I was a teen, we just were on time at the place were supposed to meet. We talked on the phone or spent a lot of time live, focused on the people in front of us because we couldn't multi-task our relationships. Things were by their nature more intimate. I smiled because it was just refreshing to see someone who grew up in today's reality recognizing the importance of strategic networking, not tactical relationship bloodletting, and I was thrilled.

What is a transactional relationship?

A transactional relationship is an interaction focused on the moment or need at hand. It is only calling when you need something but never answering the phone when it rings because it doesn't suit you. It is a relationship that merely serves a specific purpose at a given point in time. They are shallow. They are self-interest-based and not mutually interested based. Transactional relationships are merely playing a single note never seeing the potential in listening to the whole symphony. Frankly, transactional relationships get you high but when you come down you really have nothing to show for them. And most importantly, transactional relationships will fail you over time.

What are three reasons you should stop engaging in transactional relationships?

  1. Your narcissism is showing: People who take part in transactional relationships demonstrate a clear bend toward narcissism. While some people are enamored with narcissists, most people eventually figure out the game and they can often end up alone wondering why they have become anathema to those around them. Being transactional is by its nature a one-off experience that is usually focused on the needs of the one outweighing the needs of the many.

  2. They are low trust engagements: My good friend Robert Porter Lynch created one the most important concepts in innovation; the trust belt. According to Porter Lynch, "Short-term relationships, on the other hand, do not need that level of trust. In a transaction where I buy a bottle of water from a vendor, I only need just that amount of trust for the vendor to hand me the bottle the moment I hand them the money. That is the end of the transaction and, thus, the end of the requirement for continued trust." If there are both positive trust states and negative trust states, then transactional is a state of neutral trust and by its nature, not a collaborative relationship; merely one of convenience. You get nothing back when you engage in this type of relationship.

  3. You leave way too much on the table: If you think about it, the amount of effort it takes to transactionally deal with everyone around you means you are losing out on force multipliers all around you. Merely engaging when it's convenient in the name of "saving time" or "being efficient" is a misnomer. I can have 100 transactional moments in an effort to get things done, but my batting average on how far I move things is often quite limited. Understanding who provides real value, who you can trust and ultimately investing in those relationships even when it isn't clear why you should often bear much greater fruit and long-term success when you truly need help.

Why is it worth the time to interact in a strategic manner?

Our usefulness in any given business situation is really only as strong as the value we provide. This is the sad truth of work; you produce or fail. And while this is true, like any relationship when people care, trust and in reality can rely on you it is only natural that your long-term usefulness is higher. Think about it, you can choose between two people who are both equal in every way other than you trust one of them to be there for you because over time they have shown they actually show up when you need them. Who are you going to choose?

OK let's say they aren't equal in every way and one of them can produce 50% more right away but the other will give you 3X the time helping you versus the high producer. Who will you choose now? Simple math says that if I can get 150 for a single time unit or 300 consistently over a longer period of time, I should choose the person who doesn't require to re-engage to fill their position sooner which creates lost opportunity cost when you have no resource.

What are the characteristics of a strategic relationship?

  1. You want them rowing the boat with you: A simple litmus test is this. If you have to pick people to be in the boat with you, you would pick the ones who work collectively to win, not the people who quit when it gets hard.

  2. You can rely on them: This one is interesting. Some people define relationships where you rely on people as always being there the way YOU need them. I would say it differently. A great relationship can be one that has CONSISTENT behavior. For example, you might have a friend that is very different than you but they call you regularly, go out with you consistently, and are there for you sometimes in ways that are different but they are there for you. You might do this differently, but consistent and predictable behavior in a sense allows you to rely on them as a strategic partner. You bring them in when you need them BECAUSE you can rely on how they do things and they are willing to do them when you need it.

  3. They care about you beyond their immediate needs: Some people are just "other-centered" and interested. Sure, we all lean on our friends as we need them, but do your colleagues take the time to ask you about your business AND your personal life? Showing interest in what others are interested in is a really simple but critical measure of the nature of your relationships.

  4. They manage expectations and deliver what they say: One of the keys to being a great innovator and evangelist is being able to manage expectations: I say what I mean and I do what I say. Strategic partners are good at this and it allows you to trust them when they make promises to you. People who talk but don't deliver are worthless and self-interested. This might mean they say they can't deliver but that type of clarity and expectation management does build trust in a way people who practice lip service can't.

How do I know I have strategic business relationships?

  1. People you haven't talked to in a long time ALWAYS take your call: I am astounded sometimes that people I did great work with over 10 years ago will always take my call and listen to what I have to say. They value what we did, and how I treated them, and I sometimes call to just say hi and they know that my word is good. People who take your call are people you can't count as part of your strategic relationship network.

  2. They will always buy what you are selling: Sure if you are bringing an idea to someone, they may have pain and simply need what you are selling, but someone who believes in your value will be willing to buy from you again and again...and buy could be anything. It could be a product, a service, or even help

  3. They will consider you a friend: I always see business relationships on a spectrum Business Acquaintance < Business Partner < Business Friend < Personal Friend. Many times we start on one side and over time we get to know those we work with, we build trust and they move towards the right side over time. If you can move people along this spectrum from someone you have met to someone you call a friend you are doing something right.

How do I put this into action?

Start by changing how you deal with people. Challenge yourself to be strategic in how you deal with your business colleagues. It starts with you. If you treat people strategically, you will surely get tired of people who don't treat you the same way and you will learn to move on and build a really strong network of people who you can count on. Less is definitely more if you are interested in strategic business relationships. It's quite simple. Don't burn bridges to get your way, take the time to build strong unassailable ones that can weather the storm, survive the tornado and stand tall during the strongest earthquake.

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