“If you really want relationships that matter, stop aimlessly collecting business cards,” says Andrew Sobel, coauthor along with Jerold Panas of Power
Relationships (Wiley, 2014). “There’s a big difference between ‘networking’ and actually building a network of deep, loyal relationships.”
Unless you’re a nightclub promoter, calling, texting, and ‘linking In’ with dozens of people every day isn’t going to help you build business. Neither is doing favors just so that people will “owe you.” In this age of social media, we’ve come to confuse quantity for quality. But “super networkers”, as Sobel calls then, understand that all contacts are not equal in terms of business impact.
For most of us, there are fewer than 40 relationships that will truly make a difference in building a business. These are the “critical few”, and super networkers treat them much differently than other simple “contacts”.
“I’m not saying that once you’ve settled on your critical few that you never need to network again,” Sobel says. “You should never stop making new contacts. But you’ll reach out to your larger group through less personal means — blogs, e-newsletters, social media — than you will with your critical few. And in the meantime you’ll be refining your critical relationships through more specialized contact such as face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and so on.”
Here are six suggestions:
- Identify your “critical few” and cultivate them. Make a list – carefully. Then create a tailored stay-in-touch plan for them. Your critical few should include clients or customers, prospects, colleagues, personal mentors, collaborators —firms or individuals you may trade leads with and work with to serve a client. Plan to personally connect two or three times a year with each of them. Think of things you can do for them that will add value.
- Build your network BEFORE you need it. You have to invest in other people before you ask them for anything. Otherwise, you’ll be seen as a freeloader. Cultivate your relationships over time. Then, when you do need help, you’ll find the people around you are more eager to provide it.
- Follow the person, not the position. Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, and ambitious people over time, even if they’re not in an important job right now. Follow them throughout their careers. Before you know it, you’ll know some very important, powerful individuals who can buy your products and services.
- Stretch yourself by building relationships with people different from you. Research shows that our natural tendency is to choose others to work with who are similar to us. But the most creative teams, the teams that solve problems the fastest, are eclectic and combine people with very different backgrounds and personalities.
- Make them curious. When someone is curious, they reach toward you. They want to learn more. When you evoke curiosity, you create a gravitational pull that is irresistible. Curiosity helps you get more of everything: more inquiries, more sales, more clients, more RSVPs for your events. “Tell people what they need to know, not everything you know,” Sobel suggests. Give brief answers to questions. Hint at things. Don’t lecture a prospective customer for 10 minutes when they ask you to describe your firm. Develop provocative points of view. Be seen as someone who has refreshing observations. Say the unexpected and surprise the other person.
- Know the other person’s agenda and help them accomplish it. Super networkers know that the key to connecting with others is an understanding of what’s important to them. When you know what the other person’s priorities, needs, or goals are, you can figure out how to help them. If you don’t know their agenda, you’re shooting in the dark or relying on some nebulous concept of charisma.
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