Over the years I have had the privilege of associating with and gleaning knowledge from a lot of experts. Be it entrepreneurship, marketing or indeed project management, I have picked the best brains. One such knowledgeable person famously quoted something poignant that has stuck with me because of the insightful analysis behind the remark. It went something like:
“Networking is very similar to cold calling! The same principles apply. You wouldn’t ask somebody to purchase a product on the very first phone call. Similarly you must invest time nurturing connections before you can leverage them for achievement of your goals!”
It is especially true of business networking. With competition escalating every day startups, entrepreneurs and even established names want to go “straight to the point” and skim the cream off from the jug before someone other cat gets its fill. And that is just wrong. Reeking of desperation is not the best eau de cologne and doesn’t leave a good first impression. In order to understand the basics of smart business networking, it is important to re-condition your thinking from the concept of six degrees of separation to the more relevant three degrees of influence.
INFLUENCE TRUMPS NUMBER:
Around 1929 Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy commenting on the rapid trend of globalization and ease of communication posited that an individual is connected to any other individual (irrespective of geographical location, socio-economic conditions and similar factors) by a maximum of six contacts one of whom is an acquaintance or a friend. So technically speaking you have someone in your network circle who can introduce you to the angel investor you have been eyeing for a long time now. But the real question is:
- Is that cherished contact willing to introduce you to an influencer?
- Is your connection suitably influential? (Does he have the necessary influence to give you time of day with the investor, does the investor trust the him you and the list goes on and on)
With the advent of social networking even shy introverts have thousands of virtual friends. Unfortunately since it is so easy to network, the quality of the connections has deteriorated rapidly.
According to Forbes magazine memorable interactions are 7% verbal communication and 90% body language or facial cues. This is completely missing in the virtual setting. Most of the connections we forge are hollow, shallow and frivolous.
Thus the concept of influence is gradually winning credence. It is not about the number of people you know, it’s about who you know.
Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler have put forth the theory that if you can build influence amongst your direct connections, it is bound to ripple through the network to reach their friends and their friends’ friends!
So strategically sound networking is almost like inbound marketing. The more value you give to your immediate network, the more you are discussed in the individual circle of each connection. And the more people of note reach out to you in order to offer mutually beneficial deals and opportunities. LinkedIn is a perfect example of new age networking. Done right it may bring you in contact with people you never knew existed. But that is easier said than done!
SOME ACTIONABLE TIPS TO SAVE THE DAY:
Social Guru Jan Vermiren has suggested that the foundation of smart business networking is harmony among three basic tenets – Giving, Thanking and Asking. It is also known as the Golden Triangle. A triumvirate worth remembering!
Advice without understanding is just asking for trouble! Now that you realize the value of the quality of your connections, we can discuss the ground rules of effective networking.
- Ask any eager entrepreneur about networking and you are likely to get a positive response. Businesses like the concept of reaching out to hundreds, even thousands of people (the real reason why the era of brand focused marketing lasted for so long!). It makes them feel successful. And so most networking events have individuals with no definite agenda, just a manic desire to meet and greet. Inevitably the whole thing deteriorates into a black tie party with free alcohol!
Not acceptable! Networking is not socializing. Join any physical or virtual event with a clear cut idea of:
- What you want to achieve at the cost of investing your time
- The profile of the people who are your “ideal” targets
Otherwise you may end up squandering precious hours.
- Remember “nurturing” is the key word. The first contact prospective connections have with you should be pleasant. It shouldn’t be an obligation with you plying them with your business card. Contribute to the event, share your knowledge. It may be your sparkling conversation! Or if you are not the sparkly type, it may be a simple introduction done as a quick favor.
The bottom line is “You gotta’ give before you can receive”.
- Give an impression of success! In order to reach your destination, you must convince others that you are already there. Counterintuitive but true. In the context of networking, this means not appearing desperate, being relaxed and pleasant and sporting the finest accoutrements of your trade! Invest in a deluxe business card that you can offer with pride when asked. Have a short but impressive elevator pitch ready for eager and willing ears. If you spread the honey of nurturing correctly, the bees will come.
- Ask politely and thank profusely. Once you have shared value, built trust and impressed with élan, it is time to get down to business. Ask your connections for favors politely but consistently. Do not request something vague and open ended. Be as specific as you can be without sounding rude and overbearing. If you give busy people something they need to figure out on their own – it is likely they won’t go through the trouble.
And once you do taste success through your networking connections, thank them profusely with a promise to do the same when the need arises.
- Last but definitely not the least, respect everybody. As much as you should concentrate upon quality of your connections, you must also keep in mind that time is whimsical. Someone you may not particularly seek today can be the superstar everybody wants a piece of tomorrow. So concentrate on your immediate targets but maintain pleasant terms with all your possible connections. It is one of the most under-rated secrets of intelligent business marketing.
Networking, like wine, is for most people an acquired taste. Proficiency in it grows and matures with time. Keep at it with enthusiasm and pragmatic planning and you should be able to make the most of a world that is rapidly becoming smaller than the proverbial village.