Don’t Play Russian Roulette with your Networking

On August 15, 2014, in Networking, by Phillip A. Jones

Schmooze 2007-10“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.

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Networking for Introverts

On August 15, 2014, in Insights, Networking, by Phillip A. Jones

IMG_9644I’ve a confession to make, I’m an introvert. a major one.

I’m usually exhausted after a function, inspired, full of opportunities, happy at the connections made, but worn out by the interaction with others.

But if I hadn’t tuned up, none of the opportunities and information picked up at the event would have come my way.

So, how does an introvert cope with a room full of strangers and networking in general?

Networking isn’t what you think it is.

 

The most common perception of networking is of turning up to a venue, putting on a name tag, and handing out business cards to complete strangers whilst sipping on wine of a dubious ancestry.

Many people who network do so unwillingly – it being part of their job description and they feel the pressure of collecting business cards and getting the word out about their organisation to as many people as possible.  This pressure and stress can make it even harder for good contacts to be made and to communicate effectively.

But is doesn’t have to be that way. By changing the way we see networking we can approach the process with confidence. In fact, many of us network very well all the time without realising it.

We’re all great Networkers!

Every time we recommend a good place for coffee, or recommend a plumber, or someone to wash the dog is a form of networking.

We share information, ask advice, make time for each other, send interesting articles via email or clips from YouTube to stay in touch with friends and colleagues.

All this activity and maintains your relationship, keeps you in synch and a great way to keep the momentum up. The process should be the same for your professional relationships.

The sharing of information, the giving of favours and making time for others is the essence of great networking.

Give, Give, Give, Give, Get

In my workshops, I stress that networking is a way of seeing the world full of opportunity. It may sound paradoxical in the commercial world, but the more you give out the more you get in return, eventually. All things being equal, people want to do business with people they like and they trust.

To earn that relationship takes time, personal attention and cultivation- just like any good relationship. So the more you help your professional colleagues out, the more positive they see you, the more relevant you become and your professional profile rises above your peers and competitors.

But more importantly, over time those professional relationships you’ve cultivated will in turn recommend you to others (the best form of marketing there is) and when the time is right you’ll get the work , the lead, the information you were seeking.

So stay focused on the main game- the quality and depth of your relationships and not the number of business cards in your collection.

Posture and Attitude

When you’re meeting people its worth remembering a few things:

  • They can’t hear the dialogue in your head saying ‘get me out of here, I’ve nothing interesting to say’
  • People generally assume the best of someone and will accept you at face value as you present yourself
  • You’re representing your organisation or company, that gives you a role to play, just like an actor
  • They’ve chosen to be there too in order to meet other people, so its quite ok to talk to complete strangers
  • You’re not going to get a sale/lead most likely right there and then, so just be yourself and let the conversation flow.

Homework

Finally, introverts have a lot going in inside their head… best to get it out and onto your computer or into a colleagues head. After the event, debrief yourself and make the information useful for the future:

  • Who did you meet?
  • What’s memorable about them? (hobbies, family etc)
  • Worth following up? (book the when and how)
  • What are the next steps to move things forward.

So, remember, we’re all in the same boat, you’re most likely much better at networking than you give yourself credit for, and by having a role and a system behind you, you’ll sail through the events like a pro.

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5 Common Networking Let-Downs

On August 15, 2014, in Insights, Networking, by Phillip A. Jones

networkingI’m sure you’ve read all the tips on the things you should be doing when networking. In theory they are all straightforward enough. But we’re only human and forget some key steps that can make the difference between wasting your time and getting a result.

The following are some of the common things I see at the hundreds of networking experiences I have each year.

 

1. No Plan

Serendipity is nice, I like it too, its often where the good stuff is.

But if you don’t have a reason for your networking you won’t know which groups to join, what events to attend, what to talk about, who to follow-up and what success looks like.

Get yourself a basic 3 month plan about the who/where/what and a reason or 2 to network and be systematic and consistent about the process. Then see how your travelling against your goals and refine, mix and pour.

2. Pitching Too Soon

Do you want to be sold to the first time you meet someone? Probably not.

There is a time and place for pitching your idea or spiel, and if the event is set up purposely for that, then fine, go for it, as long as everyone else is.

But most of the time you’ll be a mixer, or lunch or seminar and its small talk time. These are opportunities to just meet, get some some basic facts about you and your expertise established and move on to start cultivating the relationship.

At the end of the day, most people will choose someone they like and trust to do business with, that takes time, so work on that, pitch downstream.

3. Wrong People, Wrong Group

Sometimes you don’t have a lot of choice in your networking options, but consider three things:

  • What’s the level of the person: (graduates or executives?) you need to mixing with your peers usually, especially when building up your brand and contacts.
  • Culture fit: people are tribal and there are professional cultures too that can help or hinder your ability to connect and cultivate the relationship
  • Market: are they the right market for what you’re looking to introduce or what to achieve more generally?

Another letdown by managers is not prepping their younger team members appropriately and they’ll outmatched by the level of executive or manager in the room and don’t represent your company the way you’d like them to, no fault of theirs.

4 . No Maintenance

This is so common its not funny. Why invest in memberships, time and effort attending events if you don’t stay in touch with the people you meet. And I don’t mean just connecting them on LinkedIn afterwards.

Coffee anyone? Time is the biggest compliment you can pay someone these days.

Meeting people is just the starting point. You may not know their potential right away, and besides even if they’re not ‘relevant’ to you now, they may be when they change jobs in 6 months or indeed, who they know. Be nice to them and they just be nice back.

5. No Teamwork

My pet peeve. Seeing several people from the same organisation turn up at an event, stick together, sit on the same table, talk to the same people. Do the math. Try splitting up and multiply the number of people you can meet.

The other let down is after the event when you get back to the office. Do you debrief, share notes of who you met and who’s going to stay in the touch with them.

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