Her response to my Facebook post struck me as profound:

“I found myself referring to you as a friend more than once while talking to my boss about working with you before realizing we’ve never actually met.” 

Immediately following the sentence was a little smiley emoticon.

What I’d just posted was something that had struck me as I saw something on the web about automating the marketing relationship:

“It’s not ‘marketing relationship,’ ‘relationship selling,’ or ‘relationship with our customers.’ It’s just ‘relationship.’”

I confess this was a knee-jerk reaction to something that bugs me at a deep level: you can’t automate relationship. Those who try turn people in to spreadsheet numbers and interchangeable parts of a big machine. It’s not only no-fun, it’s also decidedly short-term thinking.

So JF, who posted that she referred to me as a friend, actually is on to something.

Somewhere deep inside each of us, deeper than the actual wiring and neurons and cells, deeper than our fleshly hard drives and I/O ports and random access memory, somewhere way down there we’re all programmed to be relational.

In other words, we relate.

To be sure, one of life’s paradoxes is that we all are relational and at the same time unique in how we relate to each other. Especially when relate through something like words or images or Facebook posts.

As I recall, JF and I *met* on Twitter. Maybe it was after I spoke at a virtual event, I don’t know. We have subsequently talked on the phone when she and a partner started a business I wanted to know more about. Later we also end up in the same neighborhood on Facebook.

I don’t know what she thinks about God or which way she flies on sexual preference. I don’t know if she’s tall or short or round or square. I don’t know if she likes habaneros as much as I do. I do know that she’s articulate and passionate and conversational.

What I also know is that when I was a possible customer for her business that I never once felt like a mark. And when she started working for an organization that could be a client of mine that I’ve never felt like I wanted her business unless it was a mutually beneficial thing to engage in. At some point it may be, and it may not be.

“Developing relationship” or “networking” stuff like that starts running the risk of dehumanization the minute we have pipelines and sales targets, learning outcomes and ROI analyses. And those things aren’t wrong. It’s not wrong to automate some part of the information exchange that happens between company and prospective customer. It’s not wrong to have on-demand employee training videos that don’t have realtime human interaction.

So what, then, is that intangible something that we sense, even if we can’t put our finger on it?

Might it be heart?

Your significant other feels the difference between when you’re present or not present at a meal. Being in the same room doesn’t solve the problem. Intentionality solves the problem, and then only partially because we’ll probably always have misunderstandings (until we’re all Borg or mindmeld with each other).

When it comes to our virtual classrooms or employee portals or inbound marketing programs we have to trust that if we start with intentionality and heart, even if it’s sometimes misunderstood, that from there it have a better chance of translating than if we have no heart.

Out there beyond the website or elearning course or sales plan or Twitter connection are people. People are people.

And good, bad, frequent, infrequent, monetized or not, it’s just relationship