When most people think about taking a vacation, the imagery that first pops into their head includes a beach, a comfortable lounge chair, a frozen fruity beverage and copious sunshine. During my most recent vacation, however, I saw none of those things (except, occasionally, the sunshine).

Instead, I was surrounded by incredible landscapes that featured amazing canyons, snow-capped mountains, petrified forests, and the kind of wildlife that you’ll only find in one of our country’s many National Parks (we visited four of them in one week!).

And there’s something about that imagery—and the more familial, engaging, communal environment that those parks promote—that caused me to rethink how relationship-building has evolved in our society, and why it’s not necessarily a good thing for salespeople.

More specifically, I was struck by a family that my husband and I met on our trip.

This family shared that they had made an intentional choice to live in a community that requires very little money and encourages a very simplistic lifestyle. Everyone who lives in this community works together to build, grow or share the things they need to survive, and the relationships that they've developed with each other are built on a foundation of truly genuine care and compassion.

As a sales consultant, that made me wonder about the authenticity of the relationships that most of us are forging every day.

Yes, we’re more connected with each other than ever before, but how deep and meaningful are those connections beyond being able to simply say that we know someone? And, in a business sense, how valuable are those relationships to our ability to engage, close, nurture and retain customers? 

Why Relationships Can’t Be Forged Online

The reality, I would argue, is that most of our relationships are flimsier than we think.

With the propulsion of social media as a sales tool, all too often salespeople mistakenly believe that creating connections via the social networks qualifies as true relationship-building. So, they spend an inordinate amount of time networking and connecting with people online and ignore the need to still interact with prospects, customers and vendors offline.

The result is that salespeople create more relationships, but they aren’t as valuable because they’re built on very generic foundations. After all, online networking is virtual reality to a degree, and there’s a certain amount of disingenuous chest-puffing that goes on.

Unless they’ve taken the time to expand those relationships through actual conversations, when it comes time to leverage them as references, referrals or to close a new sale, how much do you think they’ll really be worth? My guess is that you’ll be disappointed with the results.

The Real Value of Offline Community-Building

Just like the family that I met on my vacation, the only way to truly cultivate relationships that are grounded in authentic mutual interest is to put down your smartphone or laptop and—gasp!—actually engage with your connections voice-to-voice.

Yes, that means inviting prospects and customers into your real life, not just your virtual one.

When you do that, you’ll create relationships that go well beyond belonging to a similar group or sharing a common interest. The payoff to inviting them in can be substantial. You’ll not only develop a tightly knit network that is more responsive to (and trusting of) your messages and outreach, you’ll also cultivate a self-perpetuating prospecting machine that churns out high-quality referrals.

At the end of the day, what salesperson wouldn’t want that?

Kendra Lee is a top IT Seller, Prospect Attraction Expert, author of the newly released book, “The Sales Magnet,” and the award winning book, “Selling Against the Goal,” and president of KLA Group. Specializing in the IT industry, KLA Group works with companies to break in and exceed revenue objectives in the Small and Midmarket Business (SMB) segment.