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Friday, May 01, 2009

Online or off . . .

In just a few minutes, I'm on my way to Washington, D.C. as the relaunch of Washington Construction News is about a month away. One of the visit's highlights will be a meeting do discuss an impressive online addition to the publishing mix. Separately, I'll meet personally with a client who I've only known so far through Internet postings and emails. Finally, I'll spend some time with local publisher Karen Buckley, who I first "met" through a Craigslist online career posting.

The stories of the evolution to real business beyond these initial online meetings and encounters seem, in retrospect, to be somewhat improbable.

Somehow, out of a needle-in-haystack process, electronic ether has turned into meaningful business. Online networking has become something much more; a life-changing connection of experiences which would have been seen as unfathomably impossible just a decade ago.

But most of my online relationships are not real relationships; they are casual and frankly insignificant links. Looking through my list, for example, I noticed that most of the people there that I hadn't known first through offline contacts are really strangers to me. They are just "other names".

So what resulted in the change?

Somewhere, somehow, we moved from the general to the specific, from anonymous to personal. Most likely the beginning of the change occurred with an email not out of the can, followed by a phone conversation or (even more effective) a meeting at an industry association conference.

Now we were working on wholly different levels. I'm not suggesting the initial communication required much effort or work; in fact, if either of us had to strain too hard to make the connection happen, I think both of us would have backed away. (In sales, few people are eager to deal with a desperate sales rep who is trying too hard.)

Most successful marketing and sales is just like that. Sure, you have to put effort into the process and not rely on chance, or blindly spending huge amounts of money in hoping something will happen. But the real reason you succeed is you are able to connect through something more personal and meaningful than the results of binary electronic arithmetic.

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