June 26, 2010
In order for business networking to be successful, it must be put to the same tests as any other business activity. Before engaging in business networking, ask:
a) What are my objectives in business networking?
b) What strategies will I employ?
The answers given to these questions should be relatively simple to understand and easy to measure.
For instance, a business person’s objectives in networking might be to:
- Get clients.
- Build referral source relationships.
Or, for the job seeker, the goals of networking might be:
- To get in front of a person who can hire me for a job that I want.
- Build referral relationships with people who can get me in front of people who can hire me for a job that I want.
One Strategy for achieving this goal is to look at the process of getting:
From the point where we are now (certain number of clients) (unemployed) (in a job that we do not like)
To where we want to be (more clients) (employed in a job we want)
… as a process. This process is something I call a pipeline.
To visualize this pipeline, think of a big open funnel. At the top of the pipeline we have a) prospective clients and b) prospective referral sources. At the end of the pipeline we have clients. In between, we have qualified prospective clients, qualified referral sources, referral sources and, finally, clients.
Open networking is the process of meeting lots of people from which we can feed the front of the pipeline. How we qualify them and move them forward is how we are going to reach our goal. This requires that we network with purpose. Therefore, as people are met, we must make decisions along the way: how are we going to define a qualified referral source. This is going to be important, because if we spend all of our time talking to people that are not qualified prospective clients or qualified referral sources then we will not have time to talk to people that are qualified. The net result will be that our net result is random rather than what we want it to be.
Networking results, to be effective, need to be measured: Measured means with numbers. How many qualified referral sources and qualified prospects do I have? How many prospective client meetings or interviews have resulted? Is that ratio improving or declining? If it is improving, keep doing what we are doing, if it is declining … step back and evaluate. Going by feel is not good. It may have felt good to have three meetings with people at Starbucks today, but if it did not move the pipeline forward, that feeling will evaporate along with the caffeine buzz.
The front end of the pipeline, finding people to network with in order to find prospective clients and prospective referral sources in much easier today than it once was. Go to meetup.com or Linkedin and find out where groups are meeting that meet the general criteria of people that “could” meet your criteria. Go there. Meet them.
When you get home and you find that you have a stack of business cards, divide them into people that are prospective referral sources, prospective clients or neither. Enter them into your data base. I use Yahoo, but I’m not pushing them. Use any data base that allows you to create categories for your contacts. Have categories for each phase of your pipeline. This pipeline should be dynamic. No one should stay a prospective referral source forever. Most of us are much too eager to have people like us. What we want to find out from these people is: are they in a position to refer or hire us or not? “Maybe” is NOT the answer we want. “No” is infinitely better than “Maybe.” “Maybe” keeps us spinning our wheels. Come up with your strategy on how to touch base and qualify your prospective referral sources and prospective clients. Then follow through with your strategy. The pipeline keeps moving. Your data base changes. It is moving all the time. New people coming in. Old people going out. Interviews and new prospects, new clients and job offers. It is alive! This is when networking is working.
Networking, then, is like any other business process. It requires purpose, planning, strict definition, implementation, measurement of results and continual adjustments based upon outcome. This is a process I’ve designed for the purpose of achieving personalized business results.
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