Leveraging your network for greater success
We all have our professional network made up of colleagues, bosses, peers, and subordinates, as well as mentors, acquaintances, and advisers. The size of the network may differ, but the value can be assessed just the same. So why does our professional network often go underutilized or under-perform for us?
Three items come to mind
NETWORKING THAT WORKS
Attending networking events is something that we all do as business development professionals. They come in all shapes and sizes but have one thing in common – opportunity. The problem seems to be that too many businesspeople just don’t know how to network effectively. Networking is NOT socializing!
Very often networking events have a social component to them, especially those after-hours mixers where cocktails might be involved, but at the end of the night how much networking have you accomplished? Changing your mindset to be targeted and goal-oriented throughout the event will yield greater results.
Avoid “socializing” with the same group of people you see every month (and already know,) to make time for meeting new people. Your strategy may involve connecting with a set number of individuals, such as collecting 3 business cards of solid prospects for follow-up or might be more specific. For example, maybe you enter the evening with a mental list of industry specific connections that you are looking to meet. A realtor, for example, might endeavor to gain introductions to mortgage brokers, home inspectors and home stagers for example. Having a specific goal in mind helps better assess the successfulness of the event.
Lastly, avoid being “THAT GUY or GAL” by monopolizing the conversations or being pushy with your own agenda. Nobody likes to be “sold to” at a business event. Treat other networkers with respect thinking of them as resources for future referrals rather than a means to an end that evening. Instead, spend quality time listening to others that you meet to develop a sense of their business needs, goals and tactics. This will help you more quickly identify a potential synergy, and allow for an accurate determination of the need for a follow-up meeting. Not all connections will be ideal for a follow-up meeting. Save time and try to assess that in a 2-minute conversation.
CLARIFY WHAT YOU DO
Once you have found those select professionals that can be an asset to your network you can begin to develop a symbiotic relationship through which a referral stream can begin to flow. This means you must develop a better understanding of their needs, while also educating them on the type of business you are trying to create and attract. This does not happen through a single meeting, so setting opportunities for information exchange are crucial. Whether in-person meetings, email or online network correspondence or some other form of communication, teaching your network how to identify potential referrals for you will yield the best results.
The best way to help your network understand how to listen for and identify great referrals for you is through providing examples. Develop a couple of scenarios describing your best customer in that a listener can have a snapshot of the ideal client. Tell a story. Talk about how you were introduced to the client, what characteristics made it a good client for you and how you could solve the client problem or meet their need.
If there are specific industry trends or geographic, psychographic or sociographic groups you are trying to reach, name them. It is also extremely helpful to give specific examples of businesses, by name, that are on your target list. If you are looking for an introduction to Rockport Shoes, tell your network partner “I am looking for an introduction to Bob Infantino the CEO of Rockport Shoes.” The more specific you are, the more likely to grab the attention of someone who might know Bob.
CONSISTENCY | DID I SAY CONSISTENCY?
Foster Relationships! This is the most essential element of effectively using your network. Relationships are the reason that you will get your ideal referral. Rapport is generated with people on a professional and personal level by spending time with them, participating in the same activities and showing a genuine interest in what is important to them. The more often you see your network partners, the more quickly those interactions can take place strengthening those bonds.
Never miss an opportunity to grow those relationships. Informal networking, such as chamber mixers and fundraising events, are often the first items we eliminate when we get overbooked. Nobody can make all meetings; however, you can reach out to members following the event. Call a few of the business people you know attended and ask them for their thoughts. You might hear about a special guest or unusual participant that you could follow up with. By “touching base” you are also staying front of mind for some of your current connections.
If you are part of a regularly scheduled meeting with a set networking group (a weekly leads group, etc.) be sure to send a representative in your absence. This keeps you in front of your referral partners AND reminds them of what you are looking for in a referral. Present a clear message to the group, whether you are there or sending a substitute. Formally write an introduction if sending a sub. You may not need to write a formal message for yourself, but do put some thought and research into what you are going to say before arriving at the meeting. Not only will you feel more comfortable by being prepared, it helps you develop a consistent style and ask each time you present. The more consistent you can be in your presentation, the easier it is for people to remember your request and understand what you do.