Almost every day I receive an email from a Searcher, PE fund, or a Strategic asking me for a 15-minute call to discuss my legacy preservation, a committed growth partner, or the exploration of "strategic opportunities" (code for--I want to buy you). Sound familiar? Sometimes I'll take a call because I want to hear the pitch. I'm actively in the market looking for more follow-on acquisitions (I've done two since my initial search acquisition), so I'm sensitive to my market differentiation.

I read every Searcher site and many of the PE sites. Guess what? They all look, read, and feel the same. There's no differentiation. They're boring. There's bound to be a mountain, sailboat, trail, or someone looking into the distance. Was that me five years ago? Yep.

I asked my PE friends about this at my HBS reunion this past June, and they all confirmed how hard it is to differentiate in the marketplace. What wins? They were in consensus--a personal connection and relationship.

Reflecting on my own search experience and follow-on acquisitions, all the deals that gained traction are the ones that I established a strong rapport and a personal, empathetic relationship.

As you read all the posts about the best email campaign software and best practices, the best CRMs, and the best uses of interns, remember that they are only tools. Remember that your websites are a commodity product on a Target shelf. What's going to win for you to gain the traction you need is establishing that personal connection. That may come off the phone, but it will most likely happen in person over coffee (or my case, many coffees).

You can't hack your way to strong rapport.