“I know what networking is”, I hear you say, but do you know how to use to use it in a systematic way that will drive your business forward in a competitive market?
When I use the term ‘networking’, I include all engagement with clients, prospective clients and the general market place, whether in the real world, or online. It’s an ongoing process, not an event, and too often that process is ad hoc and the opportunities and contacts made are left to chance.
For most professionals, networking generally falls into one of three categories:’
- Something you do already and don’t need to think much about, and you reckon you pretty much have it covered (sure about that?)
- A function of someone else in your organisation (such as your sales/marketing team or BDM) does (whilst you get on the with the real work)
- Its on your To-Do list if you had the time to spare (you’re busy now, but what will happen in 3 months’ time …how’s your pipeline looking?)
What’s common to all these attitudes is the hit and miss approach to what can be the most powerful way to drive revenue and corporate reputation. Most all companies have a communications/marketing strategy, an online presence (including social media), a business plan, training schedules and a contacts database. But where is the networking strategy to pull all that together into a coherent whole?
Consider all the time, effort and money invested in all the events and associations your company takes part in: are they supporting your corporate goals? What’s the return on that investment? Take a moment to reflect on why online networking sites are so popular.
LinkedIn passed the 4 million user mark in Australia, and Facebook is the size of a large country in terms of population. It is clear that people want to connect, and connect meaningfully.
We’re all busy people, but in my opinion real change, trust and rapport only happen in the real world.
People, after all, still want to do transactions with entities they like and trust, and that entity could be an individual or a brand. So, whilst an online networking presence is both efficient you still want to aim for real world outcomes.
To ensure your team are engaging externally effectively, and that you are leveraging all your company’s tools, a networking strategy should look at the following:
- What you are trying to achieve through your networking. Is it for market intelligence? Perhaps to create a new market, or improve the understanding of your services, or perhaps to put a face to your company name in the market place.
- How those goals align with your company/marketing/business development goals.
- What resources of time, staff and money you are willing to invest? In many instances your current contacts may be able to help you, but you have never looked at them in the light of a future champion for your company or client.
- What are your performance measures? Define metrics on a 3, 6 and 12 month timeline.
- Aim for a systematic process, both online and offline that are mutually supporting.
- Ensuring all your team are skilled up appropriately with an internal means to share contacts, market intelligence and communications.
- Identifying those events, groups and forums that are most likely to attract your target contacts.
Finally, you should divide your activities into three broad categories:
- Maintaining your current clients
- Cultivating new clients
- Expanding the market for all, or part, of your organisations offering
All of the above is not rocket science, but you need to be systematic in order to identify and exploit the opportunities that come your way as a result. Don’t leave the results of your efforts to chance.
A networking strategy will go a long way in ensuring that your team and online tools are not only creating new contacts, raising your company profile, gathering market intelligence and in turn improving the bottom line.