By Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chairman at BNI

Is your personal network “deep” or “shallow?” Chances are, it is a bit of both. The question is, how strong is the deep part of your personal network?

A shallow network is where all of the people you meet will start out – and where, in my opinion, far too many of them will remain. In the course of developing your network, you meet and learn a little about lots of people. But you don’t go much “deeper.” You don’t know much more than the superficial things about these people – their names, their jobs, and maybe one or two other small facts about them.

A deep network is one that contains the contacts that you know much more about – and who usually know much more about you.

It’s great to have a large network, but if your network is a mile wide with tons of people in it, but with no deep relationships (or very few of them), it will never be very powerful. You need both a wide and a deep network – with some relationships that really go deep. To maximize the relationship, you want to know as much about that person as possible. You want to find out about their family, their hobbies, what interests they have, etc.

One of the masters of developing a deep network is Harvey Mackay. I know Harvey and it is truly amazing how much information Harvey asks for – and retains – when he decides you are someone he wants to have in his deep network! When I met Harvey for the first time, I remember having a very nice conversation. Then, the second time I had a conversation with him, he started up with “So, how are your kids? You’ve got three, right? What’s Ashley doing now? What’s Cassie doing now? And how’s Trey doing – is he about ready to go to college?”

I was flabbergasted. Wow, how did he remember all that? The more I spoke to him, the more I realized he must have taken notes. As it turns out, that’s exactly what he does! To help him deepen important relationships faster, he takes careful notes about things important to the people who are important to him. He carefully catalogs that information – and he adds to it every time he meets with someone, adding things like pets’ names, children’s’ names, your birthday, the anniversary of your business…literally tons of information.

Harvey has developed a great method that helps him deepen relationships. There are several methods, and to be a successful at building a powerful personal network, you need to develop one that works for you.

The important thing is to have such a method. We live in in such a sound-byte society. You know, after a simple, “Hi, good to see you again,” so many people jump right into business without getting to know the other person very much. And that’s too bad, because one of the things I’ve found is when you really get to know somebody, amazing things happen.

One of the best ways I’ve even seen for shallow – or casual – business relationships to deepen is through a tool called the GAINS Exchange. I remember the first time I introduced the GAINS Exchange into my business. GAINS stands for “Goals, Accomplishments, Interests, Networks and Skills.” We put these five elements on a paper so that two people who met for the first time – or who had met only briefly and had only a shallow relationship – could take turns learning about each other’s GAINS and writing them down.

We tested it to see if this would work. We gave the GAINS sheets to several pairs of networkers to meet and try it out. One meeting stays with me in particular. It was two men who, after being given the form, protested about how the exercise seemed silly; they didn’t need it to get to know each other better, they complained! We stood our ground and asked them – as a favor – to just test it out. If it didn’t work, fine. They could let us know that.

As it turned out, during their conversation where they each shared their Goals, Accomplishments, Interests, Networks, and Skills, they found out they were both soccer coaches for their sons’ soccer teams. All of the sudden, these guys were practically best friends! They talked about soccer. They shared plays with each other. They even ended up going and scouting for one another – one of the men would literally scout the competition for the other.

Guess what happened? They had known each other casually for a year in a networking group—and had never done business with each other. Within three months of discussing their GAINS, they began passing referrals to each other. This began because they found out they were both soccer coaches, and that made a deeper connection between them that led to trust – and to giving each other business referrals! If they had continued with their more “shallow” relationship, they may have never passed a single referral!

It’s really fun to see two people at a GAINS Exchange that start out learning about each other on a business level (“What do you do for a living?” “What is your business like?” “What are you looking to do to grow your business?”) and then all the sudden one of them shares something really unique – like an unusual hobby, or an unusual place they dream of traveling to see – and the conversation just takes off.

Things like hobbies or travel goals can be useful information too because really, maybe you really didn’t care about what they do for a business, but that hobby that they do—that’s something that you can really connect with – and might even be knowledge you can use to do business with that person.

I have a business associate who had always wanted to go to Greece – it was an item high on her bucket list and a very important dream to her. She had a contact who had taken the time to get to know her, and knew about her dream of visiting Greece. One time, that contact wanted to thank my business associate for something she had done – and presented her with two gifts. One was a calendar full of beautiful photos of Greece, and the other was a coffee table book about that country. Boom! The impression that person made on my associate was huge! From that point, their connection deepened, from something as seemingly simple as recognizing her dream, and supporting that dream by providing a visualization of it in a couple of different ways. It meant a lot to my associate – and that’s what getting to know your contacts is really all about.

Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI (www.bni.com), the world’s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company (www.referralinstitute.com).