Networkingby Heather White
There are one hundred people at the event; there’s no speaker involved – just a group of business people here to meet people and perhaps do business. You join a group. Within a few minutes and for some unknown reason, you really get on well with one person. You click. What makes it interesting is that they are a potentially good contact as well. You exchange business cards and agree to meet up for coffee. It is all so easy, comfortable and natural.
Ten years later, you have both changed jobs a few times; you still meet up every three to four months; you’ve done business together and referred contacts to each other as well and, most importantly, you have helped and supported each other. Over time you have come to trust and respect each other.
Networking is to be likened to a season ticket, not a day pass.
One day you are having coffee and talking about how fortunate it was to have met. Your friend says, ‘Do you remember that chap who was in our group; you know, the one that was salivating at your feet – horrible sight’ You reply, ‘Oh good grief, yes. He took my card; didn’t think quickly enough to say I had run out, but in any case I’d just given you my card. Anyway, he got in touch the next day, and the next and the next. In fact he’s sent me a brochure and a Christmas card every year for the last ten years. I hate that.’
In networking terms, the follow-up is where the rubber hits the road.
There are two sides to the follow-up coin, if you like:
- Are people staying in contact with you and if so what for?
- Are you getting back to others and, if so, how are they responding to you?
Bearing in mind every one of you is at a different stage of knowledge and experience, this page has been stripped down so you can pick out any one bit that is missing for you.
Getting the first appointment
You met someone at an event and they are a good contact for you. You feel you have some things in common and get on well with them. At the event, do this:
- Enjoy the chat and, when it reaches it’s climax, ask for their business card
- Say it would be fun/useful to meet up again and gain agreement
- Ask what is the best way to get back in touch – for instance, email, telephone, through their PA
- You can carry on chatting or leave the conversation there so you can pick up where you left off next time.
The first appointment can often be very informal, as you are picking up where you left off. However, if there are buying signals, go for it!
If there are no buying signals, think long term and buying cycle (see below) and get into building the relationship through trust, respect and so on.
First set of questions:
- Is it possible to be honest and tell people why you want to stay in touch? Yes, it is. People are becoming very aware that they are being ‘networked’, and there is a very fine line between ‘give me the job’ and ‘no, no, I just like you!’ As both parties know they are there to network, however, it is perfectly possible to be straightforward about it.
- Is there a right and wrong way of staying in touch? Yes, there is, and if all you want to do is hit them every three to six months with a sales brochure, this would be wrong. Your intent should always be adding value and being of service. Stay focused on the sales cycle or buying cycle if you like. That will show you the timing and when to go for the sale.
- How many times should you get in contact with someone? The simplest way of demonstrating the answer to this question is to draw out three circles of contacts. The first group are the most important people for you right now. Stay in touch with them every month, using a variety of methods (see You are not adding value, below). The second circle comprises those who are important, but need less maintenance for now. Make contact with them every three to six months – probably by email. The email should be about added-value issues. The third group are those you have just started relationships with or with whom you are not yet likely to do business or who are interesting experts. Invite them to join you on LinkedIn or any other professional virtual network you have. Also try to get to see them once a year by inviting them to an event you are attending. Send an email just to catch up.
- Can you drop people from your contact base? (See Not all contacts are equal.)
- Are all contacts equal in terms of time commitment and engagement? (See Not all contacts are equal.)
- How do you establish a relationship with someone far more senior to you? (See Develop good relationships with your seniors.)
Remember, the magic is in the conversation, asking questions and thinking more of others than self.
Understanding the problem is the start of getting it right. So if you are not getting the call backs from those you are trying to build relationships with, below is a list of things that might be going wrong. Of course, it may not be one thing but a combination of reasons.
- You didn’t set up the relationship properly in the first place.
- You are not managing your own expectations.
- The buying cycle is not in tune with your networking activities.
- The buying culture is not in tune with your networking activities.
- Your message is not coming across.
- You soft skills are not working.
- You are using the wrong tools to communicate with this person.
- Your emotional intelligence is not honed in.
- The amount of time and effort you are giving this is sporadic.
- You are not adding value.
Imagine you are playing the board game called snakes and ladders. As we go through each problem listed below, some answers will take you up a level and others will take you back.
You didn’t set up the relationship properly in the first place
If you haven’t built some level of trust or rapport, or found common ground when you spent time together, then you can’t network with this person – go back to Start.
Next time, try this approach: people will take your call after they have met you if they like you, trust you, respect you, and simply feel positive about you. When you first meet, this is all you need to focus on.
So find the common ground. Build a reason to call them that has some substance and is in tune with their buying cycle and culture (see below).
If you didn’t say what you intended to do when you obtained their business card and simply dropped them an email selling your services – go back to Start.
When you say what you are going to do, watch their response, including
- Facial language, especially around the eyes and mouth
- Tone of the voice (relaxed and still engaged).
Wait for confirmation on how they would like you to get in contact. The facial and tonal signals will show you if you are hot, warm or cold.
You are not managing your own expectations
Your needs are not in alignment with their needs, throw the die again.
Read about aligning networking activity and approaches to the buying cycles and culture – go up a level.
How much is your networking in alignment with their buying cycles? If you don’t know, go back to Start.
The more you understand about frequency – why people buy your type of services, why they switch suppliers and what triggers other, more immediate purchases – the easier it is to build relationships that co-exist together. Once you have found the answers to these questions, go up a level.
So what I am really saying to you is this. ‘I can’t buy anything from you at the moment because the timing is not right. By timing, I mean we have a supplier whom we are happy with for now; we only buy this service every three years and last time was 18 months ago. Please stay in touch, but make it useful, relevant, interesting and so on. I know that you are ‘networking’ with me – that is fine. There are no guarantees and if you are the right fit, I will let you know when the timing is right.’
The buying culture is not in tune with your networking activities
How much do you know about how this person or company buys your type of services? Don’t know? Go back to Start.
- The more you understand how they buy – for example, recommendations only, market position, always through tendering, trusted advisors – the easier it is to network with these people. If you have the answers, go up a level.
- If your client is in another country, state, department or whatever, then their culture will be different to yours. Are you using their language, approach and so on? If you don’t know, throw the die again and learn.
Your message is not coming across
- Can your contacts articulate what you do, your specialisation and how to get the best from you? If they don’t know, go back to Start.
- You know what part of your market thinks, but perhaps they’re not saying what you would like. Get back out there and really hone your message. Throw the die again and again and again.
Your soft skills are not working
Communication skills, interpersonal skills – call it what you like, but if you are not likeable, approachable and personable, then we are unlikely to do business. Go back to Start.
Go up another level if you are totally prepared to hone the following soft skills:
- The desire to learn
- The desire to share
- Your willingness to build trust
- Your handshake (see Hands and arms in the topic on Body Language)
- Your understanding of body language
- The ability to adapt your communication style
- Presentation skills
- Negotiation skills
- Active listening
- Observation skills
- Questioning skills.
You are using the wrong tools to communicate with this person
There’s a limited number of ways to physically stay in touch with anyone, no matter where they are in the world. Read through the list below; notice how many you use, and consider the contact’s preferences of communication – throw again:
- Face to face
The follow-up letter, email and so on is instant, normally done with humour, often relating to part of the conversation when you met and then perhaps including something which might be of interest to the other person.
The good networker also does whatever they said they were going to do, such as send the CV, give the other person a call, talk to them about being a speaker and so on.
Your emotional intelligence is not honed in
Simply put, are you not ‘hearing’ the messages you are being given by your contact? If you don’t know, stay where you are. If you do know, but don’t know what to do about it, try these:
- Ask the difficult questions – what do I need to do?
- You may need to cut lose and or hand them over...
- Recognise that some people just don’t do ‘networking’.
The amount of time and effort you are giving them is sporadic
If you don’t have a strategic networking plan on how you will follow-up with your main contacts and your approach is not focused on adding value and merit, then go back to Start.
If the nature of your workload means that you can’t be consistent, then set your contact’s expectation for this – or stay at the same level.
Read through the following list and consider the various ways in which you are staying in touch and perhaps things you might try. You don’t have to do all of these, but consider several different approaches:
- Invite them to an internal event
- Invite them to an award event
- Invite them to an industry event
- Invite them to a key speaker event
- Invite them to a peer group event
- Invite them to a sporting event
- Invite them to event where you are the speaker
- Inform them of any speaking engagements for them
- Ask them to become a speaker
- Send articles on your specialisation
- Send articles about your industry
- Send articles about their specialisation
- Send articles about their industry
- Send articles about other added-value issues
- Send a case study or fact-finding article
- Send other business publications
- Introduce your contacts to internal specialists
- Introduce your contact to a business opportunity
- Introduce your contact to a career opportunity
- Introduce your contact to an external specialist
- Introduce them to a thought leader
- Introduce them to a key speaker
- Introduce them to a project case study
- Recommend a book or website
- Become a champion to one of their causes
- Become a coach/mentor to them
- Dinner, coffee and so on
- All the normal sports, social things
- Go somewhere different.
In the main, you will need between 20 and 100 good useful contacts to achieve most of your business aims. For some, this figure is much higher. This drops to between ten and 20 good contacts to achieve your personal aims.
- Break these contacts down in to bite-sized chunks, such as
- Keep each group to a maximum of 20, as this is more manageable.
- Contacts ebb and flow over time, which is perfectly fine; just keep an eye on this to make sure you have the right mix.
- When you really click with someone, no matter what, get to know them better and this may turn into one of those lovely life-long relationships.