I was recently speaking to a friend of mine who's a partner in an international consulting and training company when we discovered we had a mutual acquaintance--a bestselling author and fairly well-known speaker.

In our discussion, we found out he'd contacted each of us individually to see if there were any possibilities for some type of strategic alliance with his company and each of our own, individually. We were both open to the possibility but couldn't see an immediate and dramatic way our companies could link with his and undertake any specific projects at that time. We were both a bit amused to then discover that we were summarily "dropped" from his radar after that.

We sensed he was looking for that one big alliance that would help his company soar to the next level. Ironically, we'd had the same type of phone call with each other just 18 months earlier. We had come basically to the same conclusion: There was nothing on a grand scale that we could do together at that moment. The difference, however, was the rest of the story.

You see, we agreed to stay in touch, and we did. We connected several times over the year and met in person as well. During that time, we gradually found some simple ways to help each other and slowly enhanced the relationship. This was a sharp contrast from the third party we'd talked to individually. We both felt that when this person didn't see any big payoff, we became persona non grata with him. On the other hand, the two of us found ways to help each other gradually and still continue to build our relationship.

We came to the conclusion that most people who are successful at networking and creating strong strategic alliances view the process as a series of small actions taken with many people to create a long-term positive growth for their companies. The process is more of a marathon than a sprint. Throughout the race, you form alliances and help each other in what may seem like little ways over the long haul, but small actions over time can create big results.

Here's another real-life example of a scenario in which two companies reached out to me and my company to try to achieve a strategic alliance:

The first company, which shall remain nameless on the grounds that it likes to slam folks it doesn't approve of in the media, contacted me. Its introduction was akin to "Glad to meet you--let's get married!" I really got the sense from this company that it wanted to give me the privilege of sharing my entire database of contacts with it based on who it was and how amazing it would be for me to even say I had stood in its shadow. Get the picture?

When I explained our corporate philosophy and my own personal belief system that deepening a business alliance and building a relationship with a business partner took time and effort before getting to the "let's get married" stage, this company abruptly ended the call and--I imagine--moved on down its computer-generated list of businesses to call.

By contrast, here's how a second organization in the same business approached the same issue: The owner himself contacted me and started the conversation by asking what our corporate plans were. I shared with him what our overall goal for growth was over the next five years. The next statement from him was, "We want to help you achieve that!"

From there it went from "Glad to meet you" to "Let's get to know each other better." He then shared with me that he had ideas that could help us achieve our corporate goal and help our members perform better in business at the same time.

When I explained, as I had with Company X, that our philosophy as a networking organization was one of mutual cooperation and that our belief was that anything really of value to either of us would take time, he completely got it.

Our relationship has developed organically, and we now have a strong strategic alliance with the organization based on getting to know each other and working with each other gradually.

I'm not sure how Company X is faring; I don't hear so much about their program anymore. I wonder why.

Looking back over two decades of building an international company, I can clearly see that no one person or company brought something to the table that launched my company to the next level. Instead, it was the cumulative effect of many people, many strategic alliances and many well-nurtured relationships that over time catapulted my business higher than ever imagined in the early days. Each contact, each opportunity to reach out to each other and each mutually-beneficial activity served as just one more spoke in the wheel as we rolled up the hill toward success.