As we all struggle to figure out how to stay in front of clients and customers, current and potential, there is a lot of talk about how to use Zoom and other collaborative platforms, or how to create webinars or post more on social media. All of this misses the point. These are just tactics. We have to move beyond the tools to consider how any of this helps us establish and nurture relationships.

Bonds for Success

Relationships are the foundation of all human activity. From the moment we’re born, we form bonds with others — first our parents and relatives, then siblings if we have them, other children at school, teachers, coaches, bosses, and so on. Our success in life hinges on our ability to forge and maintain bonds with the people we like and trust.

What’s In It For Me?

This may sound cynical, but when you come right down to it, our lives are a series of transactional relationships — short-term exchanges and long-term investments. At every decision point, all parties involved are asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?”

We give something: our love, our smarts, or our talent. And we get something in return: love, appreciation, or a paycheck. Healthy relationships have a balance where everyone gets something out of the bond.

We are friends with certain people because they support us when we’re down, they’re fun to be around, and we just feel good when we are with them. We buy brand-name shoes because they protect our feet with style that gives us status. We frequent specific restaurants because we get our bellies filled with delicious food and have a delightful experience in the process. We work for companies because they compensate us so that we can keep a roof over our heads, develop professionally, and achieve dreams for ourselves and our families. We give, and we get, in big and small ways, every day.

Return on Relationship

In exchange for answering our needs and wants, we give companies, organizations, and individuals our time, our money, our brainpower, our passion, and our hearts. We’re happy to participate in these exchanges because we derive some benefit. But if it isn’t clear what the return on the relationship (ROR as opposed to ROI) is, we are less likely to participate. When we no longer get the love or support we need from a spouse, we get a divorce. When the mean boss continually belittles or mocks us, we find another job. If we must have the paycheck, we do as little as possible and frequently call in sick. When the brand-name shoes aren’t cool anymore, we switch to a different one.

Our value is based on the perceived quality of the exchange and ROR. We will pay more for a BMW than we will for a Chevy. We will pay a huge sum for a facelift that isn’t covered by insurance because it can turn back our clock. We will go the extra mile for the boss or the enterprise that makes us feel important and worthy.

So before thinking about how to broadcast your messages, think about how to build relationships and communicate your ROR.

What return on relationships (RORs) do you provide your boss, colleagues, friends, or family?

What do you value most in relationships with the people who matter most to you?