The opposite of networking is not working. When used correctly, it can be your most important business skill. Every time you meet people, there is an opportunity to learn from them and be a resource to them, as well.
Networking is not about an immediate gain. Sometimes it can take years to cultivate, while other times it can develop into something positive within days.
With all the current scandals in the financial services, networking and building strong alliances has never been so important because it delivers the element of face-to-face credibility and trust.
In business, networking is a necessary skill for finding new clients and making a variety of contacts. However, it often has a bad reputation. Many people fail to make personal connections when following up with these contacts, so the focus becomes quantity rather than quality.
When networking is good, the interpersonal and communication skills it uses can be beneficial to the entire business community. We all want to do business with people we like, respect and trust.
Through one of my clients about five years ago, I had the great fortune to meet and work with a fellow advertising executive. The project was successful and over the years, we have stayed in touch. We have become part of each other’s network because we took the time to communicate, even when there was no immediate work to be done. We were good business friends and there was mutual trust and respect. The key words in the relationship are trust and respect.
I have listed some ideas below to think about as you continue in the process of networking and building alliances. They are filled with common sense. It is just not part of common practice.
A recent survey my company did in conjunction with New York University showed that too many people were turned off on networking because people tried too hard to sell only themselves without any give.
Networking takes time and patience
As important as trust is, it takes time and patience to generate. When we network, we have to learn to respect the timetables of others. New contacts may not always respond in a timely fashion. It is unavoidable. They have their own deadlines and a lot of responsibilities. So how can we move the process forward without pushing other people too hard?
If someone you met or were introduced to does not call back after being given a great introduction or offer, avoid badgering them with follow-up calls. They will only disguise what you are really trying to say, for example: “I think it’s time my efforts got some business out of you,” or “What’s taking you so long to respond to me?”
Being harsh or impersonal when calling can do more harm than good. These types of calls can be best avoided when earlier conversations include a couple of productive questions, such as, “Which way do you prefer to learn about new suppliers?” or “What is the best way to present the product information?” These queries help the other side, and ultimately get the response you’re looking for.
Rushing communications can become another networking stumbling block for us. This happens when we don’t use the telephone well or send poorly written correspondence. It tells the new contact that you are trying to get through the process in a cold and mechanical way. Even when we have long lists of people to contact, it can take very little effort to develop a personalized approach. Here are three ways to do it:
1) Ask the contact how they want the issue to be handled. Some people prefer that everything be done in writing, while others would rather receive a quick follow-up phone call or e-mail letting them know about new opportunities. This is so simple, but watch how many calls don’t get returned. When we e-mail them, the response can be immediate. We have just learned to communicate with people the way they like.
2) Check on new contacts regularly. Often salespeople are told to deal quickly with people without having a long-term follow-up plan in place. Mark your calendar for the next significant date on your contacts’ calendar. You can phone or e-mail them a month before new information or material is sent. Or even mention that you hope to connect with them at an upcoming conference or meeting.
3) Develop a networking game plan. New contacts often do not develop into anything important because there is no long-term plan in place. Keep a list of all contacts readily available so you can develop plans for each contact and choose which will get unique treatment. For instance, you may see that it may be effective to look for the contact at an upcoming business function, while another contact might appreciate a note with helpful information.
Once you find out what is effective, build on that and develop the skills you need to develop meaningful connections.
Making networking practical
Two main areas of focus exist when using positive networking tactics: how contacts are identified and appropriate follow-up.
Once networking is approached from a positive standpoint, you can use techniques that are specific for each of the following categories of contacts and find ways to leverage them:
1) Satisfied clients. What better referral? They can be the best advocates because they know what you have to offer. You can ask them to introduce you to other people. Most importantly, thank them with a personal note or phone call. I call this keeping them in the loop with a simple thank you. Sounds easy and it is — but it is not always done.
2) Friends. We work hard at building our friendships that include mutual trust and respect. As you learn more about your friends’ work, you want to help them. Over time, they will do the same and they will want to give you some referrals.
3) Neighbors. Make the effort to strike up conversations with people in your building or neighborhood. You’ll often find out that you have common interests with them. I have many true stories about this and it all starts with a genuine interest and curiosity about others. I continually go back to the premise that we meet people in a variety of ways, develop relationships and then opportunities may present themselves. This, however, takes time.
4) Happy, helpful people. These are the people all of us meet by chance or connect with in unexpected ways. You can meet them on a plane, train, or waiting in line at the movies. Life has a funny way of connecting us when we least expect it. We just have to be ready for the opportunity.
Effective networking is based on simple tactics. Here are seven rules of follow-up networking:
1) Smile. A smile is a universal welcome sign. The people we meet for the first time will appreciate our warmth. Have you ever been at a meeting or function and felt frozen because you knew no one there? As soon as we see a sincere, warm smile, we feel more able to approach them.
2) Look the person in the eye. It’s a comforting to look at someone. You can connect with someone new in the shortest time possible. Many people look over, through or around someone as they are speaking. They seem to be looking for someone “more important.” In reality, we can learn something from everyone we meet.
3) Listen. Commend people by simply listening to them. When we network with someone, it’s like reading the paper. Let people tell their stories so we can discover the “news we can use.” This will create starting points to develop rapport and conversation.
4) Body language. First impressions are lasting ones. Monitor expressions on the face. Sometimes we need to loosen up because meeting new people can make us tense. People can “read” us by the way we communicate, which is especially important because 55 percent of our communication is visual.
5) Avoid being too aggressive. Be careful about coming on too strong. Even if we just lost our job, avoid having people think that we are desperate or simply want something from them.
6) Give genuine compliments. Yes, even with new contacts, a compliment might be appropriate. When we listen to people carefully, often they will mention something that they are proud of. We need to think for a moment to find a way to sincerely acknowledge others’ achievements.
7) Business cards are golden. Ask for people’s cards. But only offer yours when someone requests it. When we are given cards, we should treat them as fine treasures and give them the most respect.
Networking is a process, one that can create business connections to last a lifetime. As someone who works in the financial advertising industry, you are constantly developing, building, and cultivating relationships that can give you results beyond your expectations.
Power of three
“The power of three” consists of writing a follow-up note to three contacts a day. The United States Postal Service tells us that only four percent of the mail is personalized. So sending notes puts you ahead of 96 percent of the competition. Here are some good examples where personal notes work particularly well:
1) “Heard something good about you.” If you hear about someone’s personal achievement of if you read something positive about their company, that gives you a good opportunity to send a note.
2) “Give-away information.” If you participate in an association meeting, invite a contact to join you as your guest at a special program by sending a note with a copy of the announcement for the event.
3) “Gone but not forgotten.” Even if your contacts have clearly stated that they are not interested in communicating with you right now, a follow-up note offering some valuable information is a good way to keep current and potential customers aware of your company.
The ultimate goal of networking is to develop mutually beneficial relationships with people. It’s important to reach out of our comfort zone and know more people, develop more relationships and learn that even with our strongest business accounts, it is good to “surround the account” and know several people at the firm.
If I had to use a pneumonic device to say what networking was in ten short and simple steps, with the help of, they would be:
Meet new people and nurture your current network relationships.
Have empathy when you meet and work with people, look them in the eyes and know when it is time to exit.
Trust is critical. No one will help anyone else unless we have established trust and respect, something that takes time. Also, talk less and listen more.
There is work in the word network. Work pays off. Remember to stay in touch by writing notes.
Organization is crucial. Everyone you meet is a new opportunity to learn and be a resource.
Reputation is also important when networking. We want to establish rapport and build on the relationships we develop. Learn to reflect. When I introduce two people, I want to make sure they reflect well on the relationships I have already developed.
Knowledge is power only with execution. Kindness, as my father would always tell me, is a true strength.
Integrity is everything. Become truly interested in those you meet.
Sometimes we have to say “no.” Reputation is everything, along with trust. There are times when we have to go with our gut.
Set goals for yourself as you continually network. Be generous with your time and help. It will come back to you in the end.