Question to ponder.

In terms of your professional success, do you think it’s better to have 100 casual relationships with people you know in passing — who might lend you a hand every once in a while — or 10 “power relationships” with people who think you’re amazing and who go out of their way, time and time again, to assist you in reaching your goals?

If you observe the behavior of many job hunters and business professionals out there, you could easily conclude that the former quantity-driven option is the one occupying the hearts and minds of most people in terms of their networking strategy these days.  Casual, drive-by networking still seems to be the rage, especially when facilitated with a caffeinated beverage in hand.  And any serious job hunter who has NOT seen their Rolodex grow significantly during several months of searching is, frankly, not trying very hard.  It’s just not that difficult to meet new people these days, and every once in a blue moon, you might even run into somebody who has the perfect referral or job lead to route your way.

This being said, however, is networking really all just a numbers game?  Is the goal simply to accumulate as many names as you can in your contact database or LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter empire?  Recently, I’ve bumped into a number of successful consultants and business owners who seem to challenge this assumption.  They’ve told me, in one form or another, that while they meet boatloads of people around town each month, they consistently seem to get most of their referrals from a very small core group of acquaintances.  One consultant referred to these people as his “advocates” and said they meant more to his business than all of his other relationships, put together.  Another called them her “circle of champions” and said they have been an immense source of inspiration, support, and strength that she draws upon every day.  And yet another business owner I know, in the staffing biz, said he now routinely gets hired to conduct recruiting searches well outside his area of expertise, simply because certain clients say they trust him so much that they know he will do a great job for them — even if the search area in question isn’t his specialty.

Heck, even Keith Ferrazzi, author of the best-selling networking book Never Eat Alone, seemed to echo this same sentiment when he followed up his first book (which promoted a “meet with everybody you possibly can” stance) with a second book called Who’s Got Your Back? that focuses on more on the quality, versus quantity, of relationships.

So my question for those of you out there, in transition, is whether you’ve gotten so sucked into the game of meeting lots of people that you’re forgetting to “go deep” with a select handful of individuals, focusing on driving certain relationships past the superficial layer of acquaintanceship to the much more powerful — and lasting — level of friend, ally, and advocate.  I know for a fact that some of you are.  I’ve seen some great things happen lately in terms of people giving back, making quality referrals, and engaging in premeditated (in a good way) acts of thoughtfulness that clearly tell a given person “I like you, care about you, and really want to go out of my way to build a win/win relationship with you.”

But for those who are just buzzing through the local networking scene, trying to meet with as as many people as possible, it might be time to revisit your strategy.  Or at least give some thought in terms of how you can elevate some of these contacts to more productive plane.  It takes energy and effort to do so, but I think it’s a critical element to modern professional success, since the omnipresence of networking technology (I mean, who CAN’T you get to anymore with a few keystrokes?) is leading to things becoming even more “tribal” out there in the business world, as a counterweight.  People don’t want to get burned, so they’re tending to place a premium on doing business with the people they like and trust — not just the people who offer the right credentials, on paper.

So ask yourself: how many advocates do YOU have in your network?  How many couches could you crash on if you suddenly didn’t have a roof over your head?  How many people seem to believe even more in your talents and capabilities than YOU do?  How many people truly “have your back” and would fight, scrap, and claw to help you land a piece of business or secure an interview with an organization they know — versus just passing along your resume, politely, and then walking away, as seems to happen the majority of the time?

I’m not sure of the exact ratio, but I have a hunch that a person with even just a couple of these diehard advocates is going to generally get farther than the person who can drop the names of hundreds of more casual connections around town…