By Amy Dordek

I’m often asked how I maintain balance between  two worlds – my personal and professional life – and how I’ve been able to develop relationships that are lasting.  My response is sometimes surprising to people in that I don’t draw a line. Over the years, my friends have become my clients and my clients have become my friends. It may not work for everyone, but taking the walls down can be incredibly rewarding and of long term benefit. To know people on both a professional and personal level is gratifying. Today, almost anything can be commoditized but relationships will always remain dynamic and vital.

As a result of my philosophy I may get put in a situation that turns from advising someone personally to something that becomes an opportunity for us to do business.  I’ve built a career primarily in a sales role working with a wide variety of industries and organizations. This has afforded me the opportunity to  get to know people from coast to coast and from companies large and small. If I kept contacts walled off from each other, I wouldn’t be able to leverage the best of what I can bring. But it’s tricky when your worlds collide. Believe it or not, asking someone to do business with you can actually  be a natural outcome of an authentic, mature relationship.

Today more than ever, selling is about building authentic relationships and helping people address problems that need solutions. Those authentic relationships stem from mindful networking — another misunderstood concept – that leads many to envision awkward encounters or collecting stacks of business cards just for the sake of it.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.  People refer to me as the the “networking queen” because I’ve found a way to create value by cultivating a robust and loyal network.

Here are six strategies even the most timid among us can leverage to develop a productive network:

1. Hone your elevator pitch

Help people understand what you do. Don’t make them work so hard!

If you can tell someone what problems you solve, who you work with, and how you are different, you’ve already outperformed most people who deliver the typical elevator pitch. Instead of telling a prospect your job title, tell them about a problem you recently solved for an organization; tell them about your ideal client, and be sure to do both of these  with passion and enthusiasm. Who doesn’t want to work with someone who loves what they do and does it well? That energy is infectious.

2. It’s more about how you make them feel

Small gestures make a huge impression: taking time to prepare for a meeting, creating an agenda, asking your contact what they’d like to get out of the discussion, sharing thoughtful ideas relative to their situation, and following up in a timely manner with promised items.

There’s no better feeling for me than a prospect telling me they feel understood — like I’m going to be able to offer their team something truly valuable — after we meet.

People will remember your interactions with them — and, more specifically, how you make them feel. If they feel better as a result of spending time with you, then you’ve made an impact that will be long-lasting.

3. Shift your mindset from “getting something” to “giving something”

Developing authentic relationships requires being “other” centered: It’s not about you; it’s about the other person’s needs. Sometimes the best thing you can do is say you aren’t the right person or firm to help, but you know someone else you can better support them.

Creating generous, productive relationships involves understanding someone else’s needs. It’s not about what you want to get from someone but what you can give or share. One of the most powerful ways to build relationships is to make a person feel heard and understood. If they know you get them, or are clear on their objectives, trust often follows.

Without trust, you don’t have an authentic relationship. With trust, you can make a request or grant one. The first step in truly great relationship building is being other-centered and earning trust. Everything else comes afterward.

4. Find new ways to connect

Sharing articles, blog posts, interesting podcasts, or YouTube videos are just some of the ways to stay connected as you are also sharing a piece of yourself. Friends, prospects, or clients may associate that content with you and, as a result, see you as a source of learning or as a thought leader.

But think beyond yourself, too. Have tickets to an interesting speaker series or exciting industry event? Offer them to a prospect and invite them to take a spouse or colleague.

Lastly, introductions can be invaluable. Thoughtfully done, they can be a way for you to create a forever grateful connection. I have many success stories where I played matchmaker and, as a result, two people created a mutually beneficial opportunity. (In one case, a friend was looking for a new board member — and my introduction resulted in the company getting funding!)

5. Be responsive

I can’t tell you how many times people thank me for getting back to them in a timely fashion — even if it’s just a simple email response. It’s so easy to do, but sadly, today a quick response can be what sets you apart from your competitors.

I often say responsiveness is a cornerstone of my brand. People are so overwhelmed with information and correspondence that they no longer follow up on what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.

When you deliver on your commitments — when you follow up with definitive next steps in the promised timeframe — you will be seen as a rock star.

6. Advocate for yourself

There are countless people out there who will gladly eat up your time in their own self-interest — so make sure there’s something in it for you, too. Make a request, think of ways that the individual can help you. Create a process to qualify relationships that are more likely to be productive or inspiring — and maybe even result in referrals, introductions, or new business.

Time is a precious resource, so invest your time cultivating relationships that will have the greatest impact — whether those relationships are personal or professional.

Amy Dordek is the co-founder of GrowthPlay, a sales effectiveness consulting firm. She has more than 25 years of experience in the professional services and consulting industry. Known as a trusted advisor and for helping clients achieve their critical business objectives, she has worked with major global corporations in the Midwest across multiple industries. Having served as both a sales person and a sales leader in a variety of professional service firms, Amy understands how to solve client’s problems.  Twitter: @amydordek