Shutterstock_193017806A Brit writes to me on social media and wants to discuss referral selling. An Aussie reaches out to confirm his understanding of American prospecting practices. (There really isn’t such a thing, but we try.) A Chinese woman connects with me on LinkedIn and then books a flight to California so we can begin a real business conversation. Another Brit sees a post on Twitter and writes to ask if he can use my article for his presentation. We talk on Skype the next morning, and he introduces me to an entrepreneur who wants to learn about referrals. The entrepreneur is Croatian, and he helps me select places to visit on an upcoming trip.

These are all true stories of social media connections that turned into international business conversations—no passport required. Of course, for these conversations to become relationships, I eventually had to take them offline.

Around the World in 80 Minutes

Social media is not the end-all, be-all for sales. It absolutely will not do our jobs for us. But it does offer endless possibilities to expand our networks—with people around the world, or right in our own backyards.

Social media reminds us to stay in touch with people—to catch up and learn what’s happening in their lives. It creates opportunities to start conversations and strengthen our relationships offline.

It also puts us back in touch with former colleagues, clients, and friends who could be potential customers or referral sources. My client calls this “the joy of social media.” Reconnecting is powerful, because we have strong ties to the past. We’re interested in each other. We want to learn what’s happened in the intervening years, both personally and professionally. And we no longer have a good excuse for losing touch.

Take the Relationship Offline and Get the Referral

Relationships drive business and drive our economy. Unless you’re selling a commodity, people buy because of a relationship they have with you. Not with your company. With you. Ever have a “debrief” to ascertain why you won or lost business? I bet you won because the clients felt they could trust you and your team. You were “on the same side of the table.” And you wouldn’t have been at the table in the first place unless you had a solution.

Referral selling requires particularly strong relationships. After all, you only refer people who’ve paid you attention, built and nurtured their relationships with you, and earned your trust. Why would your referral sources be any different?

As my colleague, Ernie Almonte, says: “All things being equal, we work with friends. All things not being equal, we work with friends. And when we need a specialist, we ask a friend.”

Social media is the place to begin a conversation, to begin a relationship that might even turn into a friendship. Then it’s time to take your conversation offline. Share ideas, learn about business challenges all over the world, and strengthen your ties. Who knows? You might get a new client or an introduction to the perfect prospect.

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