Monday, June 22, 2009

Networking for Success

Everyone should network, and I mean everyone. Unfortunately networking has been miscast as primarily a sales activity. So those with no direct sales responsibilities are likely to think that networking isn't for them.

But networking shouldn't be all about selling, rather about building relationships. And everyone should be into relationships. Ultimately that's what we take of enduring value from our careers (see my post on "The Intrinsic Value of Your Network"). There are multiple benefits we derive from the business-related relationships we develop, and one of them is potential new business.

That's why in my previous post "The Extreme Marketing Makeover," I advised that you encourage all employees to "nurture their network." But not with the primary motive of increasing sales. More sales will result from building more and better relationships. So what, then, does this kind of networking involve?

Serve those in your network. Helping others is a great way to build relationships and, of course, to build service businesses like yours. Networking often fails to yield satisfying results when it is approached from a self-serving perspective. When you interact with others for the primary purpose of uncovering sales leads, it's common to find your network become increasingly unproductive. But when you are motivated to help others, most people are inclined to reciprocate. Serving your network includes:
  • Providing timely information
  • Making introductions and referrals
  • Sharing ideas and advice
  • Helping others succeed!

Be consistent in your contact. Networks languish with inattention. This is the other great cause of ineffective networking. We get busy, we let too much time pass between conversations, we let the relationship weaken by neglect. What makes this a bigger problem is that it is usually shared by both parties. If you're not taking the initiative to keep the contact regular, chances are the other party isn't either. Someone needs to take responsibility; let that be you.

  • Set up Outlook or Act! or whatever scheduling software you are using to prompt you to call or visit on a regular basis

  • Whenever you uncover a lead or interesting information ask,"Who else do I know that might be interested in this?"; then pass it on

Always follow up on your promises. There is a surprising number of unfulfilled promises that are made in conversation. They often escape our notice. "I'll call you with that information." "I'll send you the article." "We need to have lunch together soon." Does the other party remember? Sometimes. But even when forgotten, the insidious problem of unkept promises takes its toll. It erodes trust, compromises your integrity, weakens the relationship, and can do so without conscious thought. Be dependable. Always follow up what you promised. And don't promise what you won't deliver.

Promptly return calls and emails. We get this, don't we? Then why do so many of our "friends" in business take so long to get back to us? What message does that send? The common answer is "I was really busy." But we all know that no one is too busy to promptly respond to that important client, regulatory agency, or golf partner. Tardy responses communicate that the other party isn't that important to you, even if that's not the message you intended to send. If you really don't have time to talk, respond with a message like, "I'd really love to talk with you, but I'm covered up with work right now. If it's not urgent, could I call you back next Tuesday?"

Respect confidentialities. I'm assuming we all agree on the importance of respecting formal confidentialities. But what about the informal ones? This includes information shared with you where the expectation (often unstated) is that it wouldn't be shared with others. It also includes things you have witnessed, read, or overheard that are best kept to yourself. Sharing such privileged information or experiences not only harms the party not present; it can harm your relationship with the person you're talking to. He or she might be reluctant to share information with you for fear it will be passed on to others. And you might lose some respect in that person's eyes.

Networking isn't about sales. It's about tending to relationships. It takes time; it takes attention. But it pays back big time and for the long term, both personally and professionally. Don't neglect this critical source of sustainable success.

No comments: