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networking_businesspeopleDuring your career you’ve heard or read lots of advice on networking. And chances are you’ve picked up a subtle, underlying message: More is better. Why else would you have left the last conference you attended with a briefcase full of business cards? Oh, you haven’t reached out to any of those folks yet (or they to you), but you “networked” and that’s what matters. And your online networking efforts are even more fruitful—you’ve got hundreds of LinkedIn connections just waiting to be cultivated.

Andrew Sobel says this superficial view of networking just doesn’t, well, work.

“If you really want relationships that matter, stop aimlessly collecting business cards,” says Sobel, coauthor along with Jerold Panas of Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships and the accompanying workbook, Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide. “There is a big difference between ‘networking’ and actually building a network of deep, loyal relationships.

“Unless you’re a nightclub promoter, calling, texting, and ‘Linking In’ with dozens of people every day isn’t going to help your career,” he adds. “Neither is doing favors just to create ‘reciprocity’—so that people will owe you. In this age of social media, we’ve come to confuse quantity for quality. But supernetworkers understand that all contacts are not equal in terms of their career impact.”

Sobel says supernetworkers segment—explicitly or intuitively—their network into these two pieces: the “critical few” and the many. And they adopt totally different tactics to stay in touch and manage them.

“My own research shows that in your professional career, there are about 20-25 relationships that will become your critical few,” he says. “These are also the relationships where you, in turn, can make an indelible impact.”

Sobel and Panas explain how to connect at the top and build deep, trusted relationships with key influencers.

Read on for more advice from Sobel on how to become a supernetworker and build lasting relationships:

Know who your “critical few” are and cultivate them. Sobel advises clients to make a careful list of who they think should be their critical few and to build a regular staying-in-touch program for each of them.

“In my interviews with highly successful professionals who were at the end of their careers, I discovered that most of them actually knew very early on who made up their inner circle—those 20-25 key individuals who were going to really power their career and on whom they would also have a major impact,” he explains.

Build your network before you need it. Petri Byrd is the bailiff on Judge Judy Sheindlin’s family court TV show. Judge Judy isn’t any old show—it’s the most popular daytime TV program in the United States. One might assume Byrd got his coveted job because of his acting skills and training. But according to Sobel, who met him on a flight to Los Angeles a few years back, the real reason is because he followed this essential law.

“Turns out Petri had never acted in his life,” says Sobel. “He worked with Judge Judy—as a bailiff—in Brooklyn family court in the 1990s. When he moved to L.A., he heard she was starting a TV show and called her up. She hired him immediately. Petri had developed and maintained his relationship with Judge Judy years earlier—he built his network before he needed it. By doing so, he overcame what most would see as a huge disadvantage in getting a TV role.

“You have to invest in other people before you ask them for anything,” adds Sobel. “Otherwise, you’ll be seen as a freeloader. Cultivate your relationships over time, the same way you would tend a garden. Then, when you do need help, you’ll find the people around you eager to lend a helping hand.”