Horses are herd animals and thrive on their relationships within the herd. As humans, it’s important to develop and maintain relationships with our horses so they view us as part of the herd. To do that, it takes interacting with them on a recurring basis. That includes feeding them, giving them water, grooming them and even just sitting with them in the pasture as they do their thing. The point is you interact with them in some meaningful way to strengthen the bond and build and maintain the relationship. Otherwise you may find the horse is no longer between you and the ground the next time you decide to go for a ride.

Business relationships work much the same way. Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up, and according to Keith Ferrazzi in the New York Times bestseller, Never Eat Alone, 80% of building and maintaining relationships is keeping in touch or pinging.

In today’s overly crowded, social networking world, on average it takes 21 touches to make a lasting impression on someone. If that’s true, then to build and maintain your network, you have to stay in touch and the simplest way to do that is by “pinging”. Pinging is an intentional, repetitious, meaningful touch of the people in your network. It’s used to keep your network alive and active so it doesn’t wither and die on the vine.

Here’s the method I use:

  1. Categorize your contacts – segment your contact list into meaningful categories. For example:
    1. Prospective clients
    2. Important business associates – people you’re doing business with now or people you are actively pursuing as a client
    3. People you would like to meet sometime in the future
  2. Print your contact list – review how you’ve categorized your contacts so you can decide how often to ping them, once a month, once a quarter or even once a year. The point here is to intentionally touch them in some meaningful way on an on-going basis.
  3. Make it meaningful – based on your segmentation, decide how you will touch the people in each category. Do you plan to call them directly, send an email, provide something of value like a link to an article, make an appointment, schedule a cup of coffee or dinner, or even just leave them a voice mail message.

The point of pinging is to develop a defined strategy for keeping in touch and nurturing your network. As I noted before, pinging doesn’t have to be complicated and can be worked into the normally unproductive parts of your day to make them more productive. For example, you can ping while you’re riding the bus or in a cab, during breaks at a conference, driving to work, etc. In other words, anytime! And don’t’ forget to leverage technology to maximize your pinging strategy – that might include Outlook, a CMS or even a smart address book like Plaxo.

Pinging with people is similar to pinging with horses – it’s those simple, meaningful repetitious touches that keep you top of mind so you intentionally build and maintain both your personal and professional relationships.

*Horse-ism – Using good ‘ole horse sense to become an extraordinary leader!