Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sales Call Negative Networking, Part 1

This morning while taking care of my daughter, I got a call on my office line. I know I should have ignored it. After all, the caller ID said "Unknown". Since I don't know anyone by that name, it was probably a cold-call. I ignored my gut instinct.

I always regret doing that. It was a cold-call.

Since the very best cold-calls are really networking in microcosm, let's count up the broken rules of good networking that I was then subjected to.

It was a caller -- we'll call her "Kelly" -- who claimed to be from the University of Michigan Football sales office. She was selling advertising in their program. She then proceeded to read to me how much it would cost for each size of advertisement, from one-sixteenth of a page all the way up to a full page. She also told me about other tech companies who purchased the various sizes. I should note that she was contacting me because my company, Cyber Data Solutions, LLC, has done work with the University and still has some active projects there.

Broken Rule #1: Ask, Don't Tell. Kelly didn't waste any time talking with me to find out who I was or how I was doing. Heck, she didn't even ask if it was a good time to talk or not.

Broken Rule #2: Ask, Don't Sell. Bad enough that she didn't take an interest in me. She didn't even bother to tell me about her organization or why I should care about her. She went straight to quoting rates. At this point, she's not even human. She's just a talking catalog.

Now, she did ask if I followed U of M football. I told her truthfully that I didn't. I know it's rank heresy, but between having two businesses and raising a two-year-old, my wife and I don't have a lot of time to follow sporting events. I think the last time I actually caught a game was last year when I was visiting my parents. After that half-hearted attempt, she went back to her sales spiel.

Broken Rule #3: Find the Common Ground. Not following football is somewhat unusual in a college town. She had a perfect opening at that point to ask me what I did tend to do on Saturdays in the Autumn. Who knows? We might actually have had something in common.

We'll take a look at more of this story tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Cacophonous Chatterbox

This is the sixth in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Cacophonous Chatterbox

Environment: Anywhere they can find someone to talk to.

Behavior: The Chatterbox is an unintentionally deceptive specimen. At networking events, he first appears friendly and helpful. He is more than willing to answer any questions you might have -- discoursing on long personal anecdotes which illustrate the point at hand. The danger of this particular bird is that he uses networking events as a means of sating his desire for social interaction and, while not intending to harm, will feed from your precious time to the amount you allow him. If you aren't careful, he can back you into a corner and spend an entire Chamber lunch talking about his favorite topic -- himself.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Ask, don't tell and Events are for meeting, not for marrying. The main purpose of attending a large networking event is to meet new people or touch base with people you already know. These are relatively short interactions -- probably ten minutes or so, at most. It is not the right venue to have a long, in-depth conversation. Save that for the coffee or lunch you will schedule when you follow-up after the event. Also, the in-depth conversation should have two sides. If one person is doing ninety percent of the talking, then they aren't asking enough questions.  In fact, at that point it isn't so much a conversation as it is a monologue.

Counter-Measures: The Chatterbox will never leave of his own accord. He is getting what he wants from you -- a captive audience. Unless you are actively enjoying the conversation, it is completely up to you to save yourself. At this point I recommend you deploy your carefully practiced exit strategies. Be gentle and gracious, but firm. At the first opportunity (usually when they are drawing in a breath, but you may actually have to interrupt), simply say, "Bob, I have been really enjoying our conversation. Unfortunately, I promised myself that I would reach my networking goals before lunch was served, so I'm going to have to let you go for now. Thank you again for your advice." You can also use the "I need to go use the powder room" or even "I see John over there and I really need to have a private word with him.  Would you please excuse me?"

Unless you truly wish to extend the relationship, under no circumstances should you ask for their card. It's not nice to lead them on. Also remember that they will talk with everyone and you really don't want your faults being the topic of their next diatribe.

How We Can Help: The Chatterbox doesn't limit their behavior to large events. They will also show the same plumage during a one-to-one meeting. In this case, try to keep the conversation focused. While it's good to find out some aspects of who they are, you may need to interrupt them periodically to keep their responses to the point. If you can at least keep them focused on describing aspects of their business and the challenges they will be encountering in the coming year, you might have some chance of being able to find ways to help them. Unfortunately, unless your needs coincide with theirs, they are never likely to ask about how they can help you. As a result, you are unlikely to see reciprocal activity on their part. For that reason, you should be careful about expending a lot of your time with a Chatterbox. While we should always give for the purpose of giving, there are a lot of people out there who would appreciate what you have to offer. There is no harm on expending your time and effort on those who would be likely to take an interest in you in return.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Setting Goals

We've talked about setting networking goals for attending events. You know, the ones where you decide beforehand that you are going to meet to new people and get their business cards or connect two other people with each other. There are a few other networking goals you might want to consider.
  • Daily/weekly behavior. Especially if you are using a scorecard, you might set yourself a goal for a certain number of points. If you aren't using a scorecard, maybe it's the number of emails or phone calls.
  • Re-connections. We've all let people slip out of our professional lives. How much stronger could your network be if you set the goal to re-connect with one of these folks each week?
  • Reading. There are tons of books, articles, and blogs about networking out there. How much better would you be at the practice if you took even fifteen minutes a day to read something in the area?
  • Overall. Why are you networking? Are you growing your business? Making sales? Looking for a job? Looking for employees? Seeking contributions? These goals will inform where and when you will do your active networking.
No matter what goals you set remember one thing: When it actually comes time to do the actual networking, you will have to set aside your goals temporarily. Until you bring value to others' lives, they aren't going to care what your goals are, nor are they going to go out of their way to help you. Even afterwards they still might not be willing or able to help. Ideally, that shouldn't matter as you are giving to give, not giving to gain. The latter process is "transactional networking" and will only lead to a weak network.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Just Finished: Nonstop Networking

"Nonstop Networking" by Andrea Nierenberg is one of the rare books that I started reading some time ago and never got around to finishing. For whatever reason, something interrupted me and I never managed to pick it up again -- until recently, that is.

Nierenberg covers a lot of the networking basics that I write about and maybe that's why I allowed myself to wander away from reading this book. The first half felt like a review of a lot of the things I'd read before or had learned in several classes. For the new networker, though, these chapters would be invaluable.

The second half of the book is where I found a lot of the meat for me. In particular, she has a whole chapter on the etiquette of various aspects of networking which I found to be fairly complete and a good reminder of some of the basics that we should always be keeping in mind when dealing with other people.

In general, if you are an experienced networker, I wouldn't bother purchasing this book. It really isn't targeted toward you.  If, however, you are new to the world of networking, you could do worse than picking this one up for a primer on the beginning concepts.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Flying Solo

Yesterday, Kaylie and I flew solo for the first time.

Well, what I mean is that ordinarily, when Kaylie gets on an airplane, either it's just Mommy or it's both Mommy and Daddy with her. This was the first time it was just Daddy. Rest assured, it wasn't an unmitigated disaster by any means. Taking after her mom, Kaylie fell asleep right before take-off and didn't wake up until everyone had left the plane after landing.

The trick was in just getting us there.

I don't know how Lisa does it, but she always remembers everything. That's one of the many things she brings to our marriage. For me, I was running around the house, trying to make sure that I had everything taken care of -- locating pacifiers, blankies, shoes, my own luggage, and a cat who got accidentally locked in a closet. By the time I got on the airplane, I was a nervous wreck. I will never again take for granted how much easier my life is when I have a partner I can call upon.

Strangely enough, this has a bearing on good networking.

In the community of entrepreneurs, we often have the view of ourselves as "John Wayne", rugged individualists. We are completely self-sufficient and don't need anyone else's help.  After all, we started our own businesses in part because we didn't want to be a part of someone else's story.

That may be all well and good in fantasyland, but in reality, it couldn't be further from the truth. We entrepreneurs depend on other people all the time. We have clients or customers, employees, vendors, local, state, and federal politicians. There are the people who take care of our homes -- the plumbers, electricians, and HVAC experts. We have the people who take care of our families -- doctors, dentists, teachers, and certainly don't forget about our childcare support.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Despite the fact that we want to see ourselves as the iconoclastic trailblazers, we are, in fact, at the center of a vast web of relationships. A web that we make stronger each time we take the time to focus and strengthen those connections which form its many strands.

So, the next time you think that networking isn't something you really need, remember that for the most part, the very measure of your success in life is dependent on the connections you choose to forge.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Clients or Ambassadors?

The next time you go to a networking event, keep the following in mind: As you survey all of the other attendees, would you rather have them as clients or as ambassadors?

If you want clients, get busy cornering each one, probing for needs, overcoming objections, and wrestling them to the ground in order to make the sale.
Advantages: It brings in the money over the short term. As long as new people keep showing up (or you keep moving to new venues) there will always be more sheep to shear.
Disadvantages: It destroys your reputation (unless you like the "snake oil salesman" reputation). You lose the respect of those around you (and yourself, truth be told). You will have no successful long-term relationships since everyone looks like a target to you.

If you want ambassadors, start asking questions and being interested in their needs.  Try to find ways to serve them and to bring value to their lives. Make an effort to continue to connect regularly.
Advantages: Mutually beneficial, long-term relationships. Each "ambassador" will be looking for opportunities to connect people to you. It's a heck of a lot more fun than "selling". Over the long-term, the business will be of a higher quality and require less effort to service.
Disadvantages: It takes time, patience, and a certain amount of faith that the process will work.

So, when you walk through the door to start engaging your ellow attendees, be sure your actions match up with your desired end results.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Working without a Net

There are a lot of people walking around out there who think they have wide-reaching and deep networks. Their position in their company places them in regular contact with a wide variety of people who know them and are always happy to say hello. What they don't realize is that their network is full of holes and if they should fall from the high-wire, that net is about as likely to hold as a spider's web.

But wait a minute! They know so many people. How can that be?

The problem is, they think they know those people and, worse, they think those other people know them.  In reality, the relationship is based almost completely on their position. Everyone knows Barb, the office manager, but no one knows Barb, the amateur photographer who caught some great shots of Denali last year. Everyone knows George, the accountant, but no one knows George, the grandfather of two bright boys, the elder of whom was the lead in the school play.

Until Barb and George make the effort to extend the relationship beyond their positions -- to make it a personal relationship, instead of a positional one, the strength of the relationship only lasts as long as the position does. Now in decades past, when people stayed in their jobs for their entire working life, positional relationships were really all you needed.  Today though, most people want a stronger net than that.

Because everyone's career is walking on the high-wire these days.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Forwarding Articles: The Good and the Bad

One of the best things you can do to help keep your network connections strong is to forward email messages. blog posts, and other articles to those you've met with in the past. It can also be one of the worst things you can do, depending on how you do it. Let's take a look at some of the behaviors, both good and bad.

Good: A single recipient
Bad: Multiple recipients
If you are sending to more than one person, then you haven't really taken the time to make sure that every single one of them really wants to see this message.

Good: A personalized note along with the forward.
Bad: The forward by itself
When you are forwarding an article, you should at least say why you are doing so. Even if the recipient ends up not caring about the article itself, they will still appreciate that you were thinking specifically of them.

Good: Useful information which provides value to the recipient's professional or personal life.
Bad: Jokes or "cute" messages
If you want to have your connections view any and all incoming messages from you as light-weight and easily ignored, feel free to forward any joke or treacly poetry that you would like. If you want them to view your messages as something to open immediately, make sure they are immediately relevant.

Good: Professional non-confrontational information
Bad: Politically or religiously oriented screeds
I'm not telling you to avoid strong opinions. Just be aware that not everyone holds these same opinions. If you choose to send out information of a political or religious nature, be prepared to have chunks of your network suddenly not responding to your calls.

Good: Factual, accurate information
Bad: Easily disproved misinformation
If you are tempted to send along that Amber alert information or that warning about the latest computer virus, please, please, please, check your information first. I highly recommend that you do a simple search on the Snopes site ( The folks who run that site spend a lot of effort tracking down urban legends, rumors, and other stories that might not have a close relation to actual reality. If you don't do this, I guarantee that someone (possibly me) will send a gentle (or not so gentle) correction.

Remember, the information you pass along (and the way you do it) could either make you look like a responsible, knowledgeable, and well-connected individual or a bothersome, silly, and confrontational light-weight. Please choose wisely.

My inbox is full enough.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cold-calling Failure

My wife, Lisa, used to work for a small start-up company. Having few other employees, the powers that be of that firm assigned her tasks which ranged over a wide spectrum, from helping with the financials to running the lab. They even had her making (shudder) cold calls -- fortunately, not for very long.

I still remember the day that she came home after an afternoon of "dialing for dollars". Needless to say she was feeling a little bit of frustration -- but not for the reasons you might think. The problem that she had with cold calling was that she couldn't get them to get off the phone. On average her calls lasted between five and fifteen minutes (yes, that's minutes not seconds) and several lasted much longer. Even when she tried to explain to them that the service she was selling couldn't help them, they still wouldn't leave her alone.

I can hear you scratching your head out there on this one. What was she doing?

Well, it turned out that she was calling academic research scientists to see if they were interested in her company's service. Before she called, she would look up their name on the Web to see what papers they had written recently. Then when she called, she introduced herself as "Dr. Elizabeth Peters" (which she is allowed to do, having earned a PhD in molecular biology) which made her a peer. She then did something that most cold-callers don't do.

She asked them what they were working on currently.

This is not something that scientists get asked often, just out of the blue, and they would go to town. They were the experts in their fields and had been given permission to talk about their true love -- their research.

So, what does this have to do with networking?

The same steps that she took for cold calling are the steps we can take to strengthen our network. If we know with whom we'll be speaking, then we can find out a little more about them.  Google them. Check out their public profiles on social media sites. Read their website and check out the most recent press releases. We can then present ourselves as peers -- business owners, or at least well-connected networkers. Finally, we can just show interest in that other person and what they are doing.

Now, unlike cold-calling, we won't just be hanging up the phone and moving on to the next person. We'll be taking all of this information we've gained to forge a strong relationship, one where we aren't asking for the sale, but rather looking for ways we can serve.

After that the sales will show up on their own.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Networking Though Speech, Part 2

Yesterday we talked about the networking benefits of giving speeches. Getting up in front of a group and sharing your knowledge is an amazingly powerful way to network and can increase your number of connections considerably faster than just meeting people one at a time. If you know what you're doing.

But what if you aren't the best speaker in the world? What if getting up in front of a group scares you down to your toes?

Well, first, get over it. Very few truly successful people work in a vacuum. As a part of that success, you will have to interact with and address other people both singly and in groups. The better you are at it, the more successful you will be.

That being said, while you are developing your crazy oratorical skills, what can speaking do to extend your network? Simple. Find opportunities for others to speak.

If you are a member of a group that has regular speakers, offer to help out. At its simplest you can recommend people you've already met to make a presentation. At a slightly higher level you can even offer to approach people you don't know about presenting for the group. What a great way to get to meet someone!

What this does is make you shine in everyones eyes. The organizers of the events love you because you've taken a task off their hands. The speakers love you because you are giving them the chance to get up in front of an audience. Heck, the audience might even begin love you because they will find out that you are a Person to Know.

Finding opportunities for others to present to an audience is a great "value adding" way to start or strengthen a relationship. Speakers and event organizers both will see you as someone who is willing to go out of their way to serve others without the expectation of getting something in return. If you are willing to look out for their best interests, you can bet they're going to be willing to look out for yours.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Networking Though Speech, Part 1

You've attended the Chamber lunches or the Rotary meetings and you've sat enraptured by the speaker (OK, so maybe sometimes it wasn't quite that fascinating). You may have noticed how many people wanted to talk with her afterward and thought "What a great way to network. I wish I could take advantage of that."

Well, you can -- and you don't necessarily have to be a great speaker.

There are actually two ways to make use of speaking engagements in networking. The first one is the obvious: Find a venue and make a presentation. Unfortunately, this one does require that you be a good speaker. Believe it or not, many groups are desperate to find speakers.  Remember, they often have monthly or even weekly meetings. Given that most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death, this can often lead to a "seller's market".

Now, to be clear, most of these speaking engagements will be unpaid, but that's not why you are doing it.  You are making the presentation to extend your network. That being the case, you not only should be comfortable speaking in front of a group, but should also have a plan in place to interact with the audience members either before or after. One timing issue to be aware of:  If you speak at the end of an event (quite often the case), you won't have much time to network after you wow them with your oratorical prowess. Can you prepare for your presentation and network at the same time beforehand?

If you are uncomfortable at public speaking, there are numerous groups which can help you prepare and refine your skills. I've heard many people tout the benefits of Toastmasters International. For me, the last seven years teaching Karate to small children has helped me to get over any nervousness.

One final caveat. This presentation is not an advertisement for your products or services. You are drawing on your knowledge and experience in order to provide value to your audience, not sell to a captive group. At the end, the main goal of your presentation is to get them to like you and want to continue the relationship. After that it's up to you to continue to develop that connection.

Tomorrow, the other way to make use of speech in networking.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Get Them to Ask

After reading some of my posts here, someone might get the mis-impression that I don't think you should ever talk about yourself in a networking situation. After all, it's always supposed to be about the other person, right?

Well, not quite.

What I have been trying to convey is that our focus should be on how we can help the other person. Leading with our life story is unlikely to achieve that goal. If they should ask us, though, it would be completely rude not to respond. So all you have to do is wait for them to ask.

I know, I know.  That doesn't sound like a particularly viable plan.  I mean, just waiting for them to ask could result in a lot of nothing. Here's the trick. If there's anything you want someone to ask you, ask them that same question first. Think about it. Doesn't this happen in conversation all the time?

"Hi, Bob. How are you?"
"Doing fine, Jim. How are you?"

"How's business lately?
"Doing well. How about you?"

"Doing anything exciting this summer?"
"We're heading north to do some camping. What about you?"

This is also why you should be prepared to answer any question you pose, because it will often be lobbed right back at you in a normal conversation.

Now, does this work every time? Nope. The person you may be speaking with just may not be a particularly social person. It's also possible that they are so excited about their answer to your question that they end up talking for hours. Still, for the most part, this works wonderfully.

So, get out there and get them to ask you about you...

... and be ready to shine.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pruning the Tickler File

A few days ago I recommended setting up a simple tickler file to help keep track of your network. It's a simple but awesome tool that you can tweak to fit your specific needs.  Once you have one, though, the question arises: When do you remove someone from the list?

For me, the two main reason I would remove a networking contact are if they either, one, didn't value me and my reputation, or, two, if they devalue my reputation.

Not valuing: This behavior is best exemplified through a lack of willingness to stay in contact. If I've made an effort to stay in touch with someone, using a variety of mechanisms (email, phone, written note, etc) and I never hear back from them, I can only assume that they don't value me. Now, in this case, I don't make snap judgments.  Just because someone doesn't return my call doesn't mean I'm going to write them off.  This has to be behavior that I witness over the course of a year or more. If it ends up, though, feeling like all of my communications are slipping down a black hole, never to be seen nor heard from again, it behooves me to put my efforts into those relationships where I am valued.

Devaluing: This is a much more serious breech of the relationship. If I vouch for someone to a friend or colleague, they have to know that I am lending them my reputation. If the referral goes south, then it makes me look bad. In that case, I will try to work with the two parties to help get things resolved. If it should happen multiple times, or if the person I refer is unwilling to make some effort to clear up the problem, then they've damaged more than their own reputation. In that case, the only thing you can do is pull back from the contact and wish them well in their future pursuits.

Truthfully, you might have a variety of other reasons to remove a person from your regular contact schedule. The main caveat is: Never rush to judgment. So long as they aren't damaging your reputation, giving them the benefit of the doubt probably won't hurt you.  After all you've already spent a fair amount of time cultivating the relationship. Make sure you aren't throwing that investment away without good reason.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Business Cards -- What We Think They Think

Several years ago there was a Farside cartoon where in both panels, the owner is scolding his dog. In the first was what we say: "Bad dog, Ginger!  You stay out of the garbage! Do you hear me, Ginger?" or something to that effect.  In the second was what they hear "blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah blah Ginger".

Well, a similar effect occurs when someone asks for our business card.  What we think they are thinking is:

Oh, boy! I'm getting one of Greg Peters' business cards! I'm going to take it home right now and search through my contacts to find someone I can connect him with.  Maybe I can hire him! Oh, maybe he'll give me two cards.  That way I can frame one of them and hang it over my desk and then pass the other along to someone special in my network!

What they are actually thinking could be any of the following:

  • Seems like a nice guy. Maybe I'll call him.
  • I can't remember his name.
  • I'll put this on the stack on my desk and get to it as soon as I can.
  • If I take his card then I can give him one of mine.
  • If I take his card maybe he'll go away so I can go get some lunch.
Now, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit, but really, believe it or not, the percentage of people who ask for your card who then actually do something beneficial for you with it is probably around one percent. It's certainly not as high as ten percent.

So, what can you do to beat the odds?

Simple. If you want to talk with them again, ask them for their business card (whether or not they ask you for yours). Then, when you return to the office, you follow through. Send them an email.  Give them a call. Schedule a coffee. If you had a decent conversation, connect with them on your favorite social media site.

Just remember, someone asking you for your card does not mean that the connection has been made. At best it means that they are open to continuing the networking relationship. That means the next step is up to you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Gratitude List

I was reading a post the other night by Todd Smith in his "Little Things Matter" blog. The post was about showing appreciation -- having the "attitude of gratitude", if you will. He wrote about the importance and benefits of doing it, but also had some good concrete steps to take in order to act on it. After all, it's great to have appreciation in your heart, but with networking, it has its best effect when you show it.

You can read Todd's post for his ideas on how to show it. The first step, though, will be to bring to mind all those people to whom you should be grateful. Make a "Gratitude List".  We'll use it later. I started making mine tonight and within ten minutes had easily thirty people on the list. Here are some ideas that might help jumpstart yours.
  1. Spouse or significant other
  2. Parents (each or collectively)
  3. Spouse's parents (they must have done a good job!)
  4. Siblings
  5. Friends
  6. Doctor
  7. Dentist
  8. Veterinarian
  9. Boss
  10. First boss
  11. Clients
  12. First client
  13. Person who gave you your first referral
  14. Person who gives you any referrals.
  15. Vendors
  16. Speakers you've seen
  17. Organizers of events you've attended
  18. Officers of groups you belong to
  19. Mentors
  20. Anyone else who has made your life easier.
Now that you have that list, act upon it. Once a week (more if you want), grab a name off the list and write a specific, personal thank you note, telling that person exactly how your life is better for having known them. Then send it.

I guarantee that receiving such a note from you will make their day (and probably their week).  Even more, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they kept your note to read whenever they are feeling a bit down. Such is the power of a little appreciation. Do remember, though, that you are doing this not because you are expecting something in return. You are doing it because it is the Right Thing to Do.

So, go out and make someone's day.  You'll be surprised how much yours is brightened, too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Focusing on Everything

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm a volunteer instructor at a local Karate school. We teach forms (some schools refer to them as kata) to our students to allow them to practice different aspects of the martial arts. At different times we have them focus on tight hands, deep stances, eye contact, proper turning, full range of motion, good body alignment, foot position, timing, speed, intensity, targeting, and the list goes on and on.

When they practice, though, we tell them to focus on only one thing to improve at a time. Focusing on and improving just one thing is challenging enough. Trying to focus on improving multiple areas is pretty much impossible.  In fact, the saying at our school is "Focusing on everything is focusing on nothing".

So what does that have to do with networking?

In your networking practice you can pursue a variety of activities. One-to-ones, the INFER process, handwritten thank you notes, serving on a board, making presentations, using a tickler file, using a networking scorecard, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter -- they make up only a small part of all the things you can do. If you try to focus on all of them at once, you will burn out quickly and have nothing to show for your efforts.

As with the Karate students, the goal is just to focus on one aspect at a time.  Work on it until it becomes a habitual part of your day.  Then move on to the next skill you want to absorb. Try to be patient. Remember that it can take three weeks to a month of daily practice to make something a habit (longer if the behavior isn't consistent).

If you are just starting out, I recommend just starting with a daily practice of calling or emailing one person from your past or present. Then, when that becomes a habit, start working with a networking scorecard.  Once you start doing that, you'll find that you start seeking out new networking opportunities in order to fill the scorecard.

Remember: One new activity at a time. Consistency, not intensity. Before you know it, people will know you as the networking superstar!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Push-Up Plan

I'm a volunteer instructor at an awesome martial arts school here in Ann Arbor, Keith Hafner's Karate. I'll often be put in charge of warming up the class. It's amusing, the chorus of moans and groans that I hear when I give the dreaded command "push-up position!"

One of our senior instructors, Master Jason, puts it this way:

Despite the fact that they know it will make them stronger, why do people hate doing push-ups?
Because they aren't good at it.
Why aren't they good at doing push-ups?
Because they don't practice.
Why don't they practice doing push-ups?
Because they hate it.

Of course, the way to break the cycle is just to choose to start doing push-ups.  Eventually, you will start getting better and as you start getting better, you will begin to enjoy it more, etc.

Now replace the words "doing push-ups" with "networking" above.

For reluctant networkers, the dilemma is the same.  They have to break the cycle of hating networking. How are they going to do that? By starting.

Now, if we have a student just starting out, we would never suggest that they go home and rack off 50 push-ups at a time. Even if they could do it, they would end up hating push-ups even worse than they did before. Instead we would recommend that they start with sets of 2 or 3. Maybe they are "knee" push-ups, or even ones against the wall.  At any rate, make the process very easy to start with and slowly build the muscles until they can eventually do 50 in one sitting.

Networking works the same way.  I certainly don't recommend that anyone go out first thing and try to organize a networking gathering for all of her clients, complete with a black-tie dinner and live orchestra for dancing afterward.  Start small.  How about sending out two or three email messages touching base with clients and colleagues?  Maybe after a week or so, throw in a phone call or a hand-written note. Then bump it up to attending an event or two and following up with an invitation to coffee or lunch.

Just because you don't have the networking "muscle" right now, doesn't mean you can't develop it.  Start light and easy. Make it a regular practice. Before you know it, people will think you've always loved networking. After all, you're so good at it!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Giving Generously

Sometimes the best way to give is just simply to acknowledge another person's efforts, or accomplishments, or struggles.

The other morning I received a phone call from my dear friend Kristin Mead. She had read one of the posts from this blog and decided to give me a call just to say she liked it. She also hoped that I was going to eventually do something more with my efforts -- maybe write a book or start doing presentations (which I do intend to do, by the way).

You can't imagine what a lift that gave me for the rest of the day.

I think we often get caught up in the idea that "giving" has to be something really substantial -- finding a job, giving a "signed contract" referral, giving a big donation. Sometimes, though, it's just the little gestures that make all the difference in someones day.

Did you read that an acquaintance won an award? Drop them a congratulatory email. Did someone do something for you two years ago? I know you thanked them then, but let them know now that you never forgot. Is someone struggling with their business? Give them a quick call and let them know you'd be happy to help.

Spend a moment or two in your networking time each day to find one or two people whom you can acknowledge for their journey and the good they've spread along the way. You'll find that two people will end up feeling good about themselves.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Breaking the Ice

OK, I think we agree, networking is a great way to find a job or grow your business or just about anything having to do with other people. Further we know networking is all about relationships. Every relationship, no matter how profound, had it's start when one person walked up to another and decided to break the ice.

This is where things get a little dicey for reluctant networkers. As soon as they consider such an act, they can hear their mom in the back of their heads saying "Never talk with strangers".

So, how can you break the ice without feeling like you are about to fall into the icy depths?
  1. Act like a host. This is especially good if you've been to this particular event or one like it before. Look for the folks who appear lost. Walk up, say hello, and ask them if they're new. If they are, you can offer to help them navigate the waters. If they are a veteran you can ask for their advice. 
  2. Ask the organizers for help. Many of these mixers will have "greeters". When you sign in or register, ask if someone is available to help you out. Of someone is, then they will quite often be able to connect you with the best networkers in the room. If you aren't sure, call or email the organizers and ask.
  3. Ask open-ended questions about them. Bob Burg has some really good ones in his book "Endless Referrals". Some of the ones that I like are the simple ones like "How did you get to where you are now?", "What have been the big changes in your profession?" and "What advice would you give someone who would like to get into your line of work?" All of them place the focus squarely on the other person, where you want it. 
  4. Something more fun. When you sign in, get two nametags. Put your name on the first. On the second put something that will make someone ask questions. I knew a guy who went to an event and put "Costa Rica" (his next vacation) on his nametag. He was surrounded for the rest of the evening by folks who wanted to know more. 
  5. You can always ask something really bizarre (as long as you tell them it will be really bizarre). Scott Ginsberg has a list of 55 ice breakers that are just designed to help you talk as if you were both human beings. Some of my favorites are "What was your favorite breakfast cereal when you were a kid?" and "What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon?" 
Just remember, good networking is always about the other person. You want to find out who they are and make a first connection. You aren't going to find a job or get a signed contract at the mixer. You goal is just to meet people with whom you can later develop a stronger relationship. When you do that, *they* will be the ones looking for the opportunities for you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Good Books: Go-Givers Sell More

As I wrote a few days ago, I've been reading Bob Burg and John David Mann's new book, "Go-Givers Sell More". In this volume, they spend quite some time applying the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success to the process of sales. Not ironically, what they end up with sounds like good networking.

And, speaking from personal experience, it works.

Unlike the previous book, they don't tell this one in parable form. It also is not the type of book which contains exercises at the end of each chapter.  Rather this time the authors have created a series of essays exploring various techniques and concepts having to do with the sales process and how the follower of the Go-Giver way would implement them.

What I like especially about this book is how the authors deal with the idea that this is indeed a sales process. The ultimate goal is to have someone purchase your goods or services. In order to achieve that goal, however, the Go-Giver must create a temporary suspension of self-interest. The act of creating value for others is what drives the process and underlies almost every aspect of how to approach "selling".

Now, one misconception about the Go-Giver model is that you must give everything away for free. Bob actually addresses this in the Go-Giver blog. This is most certainly not the case and, if you read these books all the way through, you will see that it never actually says that.  It does say to provide more value than compensation, but it never says that you should give up all of your worldly goods.  In fact, both books go to great lengths to show that there is no dichotomy between doing good for others and reaping benefits for yourself.

If you enjoyed the first book and the concepts it espoused, be sure to pick up this sequel. Its application of the Laws in what many perceived as the ultimate "go-taker" pursuit, sales, can be both thought-provoking and inspiring. Perhaps you can find some wisdom to make your own pursuits (both personal and professional) more profitable and more enjoyable in every way.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Bio-Mechanical Borg Bird

This is the fifth in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Bio-Mechanical Borg Bird

Environment: In their own little world.

Behavior: This oddly marked specimen is a close relative of the Googly-Eyed Star Spotter. The main difference is that while the Star Spotter is always looking for a better person to talk with, the Borg Bird is waiting for them to contact him -- at any moment.  The distinguishing mark for this species is a small growth appearing as some sort of mechanical object on their waist, ear, or both. This growth, permanently bonded to the Borg Bird occasionally emits strange noises which cause the Borg Bird to ignore anyone else in his vicinity.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Be with the one you're with. OK, just in case anyone is wondering, walking around with a Bluetooth earpiece stuck on the side of your head is not cool.  The Borg Bird conveys only the impression that they are willing to interrupt the current conversation at a moment's notice -- that in fact the person in front of them is less important that anyone who might be calling.  Even the Star Spotter won't leave the current conversation until they actually see someone better.  The Borg Bird doesn't even accord his victims that much respect.

Counter-Measures: The only good thing about the Borg Bird is that they are easily distracted. You are unlikely ever to be "trapped" in a conversation with them. While you are speaking with them, do the best you can to ignore their prominently displayed communications technology.  If they should get a call, just silently wave to them before you walk away.

How We Can Help: Remember that some members of the species are inadvertent offenders.  Perhaps they just forgot to remove their Bluetooth headset or maybe they are expecting an important (urgent) phone call. Still, if you would like to help them out, you can try a few subtle hints to let them know that their plumage is showing.  You might ask politely if they are expecting an urgent call. You could gently let them know that they accidentally left their headset on and tell them that you forget all the time, too. Another option, especially useful in a one-to-one situation, is to take your own phone out and make it obvious you are turning it off, because "you don't want your conversation to be interrupted".  If they possess the capacity to take any kind of hint, that should force them to either turn off the technology or at least tell you why they are leaving it on.

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Networking: What's the Score?, Part 2

Yesterday we talked about the benefits of using some form of a networking scorecard.  Basically, this tool allows you to track how well you are doing with your networking and what you can do if you want to increase it.

So, let's supposed that I've convinced you of the value of such a beast. How would you go about creating a system for yourself?

Step 1. Make a list of all of the networking activities you currently do. These might include short phone calls, long phone calls, email messages, attending events, etc. Now add those you have considered doing. How about inviting someone to an event, passing along an article to someone, or writing a testimonial for someone? Heck, throw in a few that you think are really out there, but might be worth investigating.  Some of the items that might fall under this category would be speaking at an event, finding someone else a speaking opportunity, throwing a party for your friends and clients, or starting a Mastermind Group.

Step 2. Assign each item on the list a point value.  For me, the base score is one point for an email or short phone call.  Now, in general, I recommend assigning higher points to activities which benefit others more.  In fact, any activity which benefits you directly (whether through contracts signed or income achieved) I wouldn't give any points at all.  These are "results" which we will deal with below.

Step 3. Create a spreadsheet using your favorite program.  Set up a number of fields, something like name, date, activity, points, notes.  Nothing complicated.

Step 4. Pick a time each day when you can record your networking activities and total up your networking score for the day.  At the end of the week, total it up for the week.

Step 5. Track whatever results you are trying to achieve through your networking.  Whether you are trying to get more sales calls, more contracts signed, or more dollars coming in, whatever, just come up with a number that you can track.

Step 6. After you've been doing this for a couple of weeks, look at your results scores.  Are they where you want them to be? Now look at your weekly networking scores. If you want to improve your results, you'll need to raise your average weekly networking score.  Take a look at your activities list.  Could you add something to your repertoire that would bump up your score a notch?

Now, do remember that nothing in networking is going to be immediate. Depending on your industry and your goals, the results could take weeks, months, even up to a year to come about.  Also, while you are definitely tracking your results, when you are actually performing your networking activities, you must temporarily suspend your self-interest. Your goal is to serve the interests of your network. They will take care of the reciprocity.

Try this out for even a few weeks and you will be surprised at how much your score changes.  As with most things, that which is measured, gets improved. Start scoring your network today so you can start reaping the benefits of a stronger network tomorrow.

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Networking: What's the Score?, Part 1

So, two questions: How good is your networking? and...

How do you know?

I know when I first started trying to grow my business through networking, I thought I was doing a great job.  I attended events.  I called people. I sent emails. Wasn't that what I was supposed to do?  The problem was, I had no real clue at what level I was performing and whether my efforts were meeting my needs.  Then I took a great networking class called "Certified Networker" where one of the tools they taught was the "networking scorecard".

Now, since then, I've seen a number of these systems, but they all had the basics in common.  You set up a scorecard of point values for different networking activities.  Each day you record your score.  Suddenly you have a tool which tells you exactly how well you are doing with your networking.  If you can somehow record some metrics about the results you are seeking -- sales calls, number of contracts signed, value of those contracts, etc -- then you've got some real power.

When I started actually tracking my behaviors and results like this, I was amazed.  First of all, I discovered that I wasn't doing nearly as well as I thought I was.  Then as I increased my level of networking activity, I could see how each increase would increase the frequency of getting a signed contract and how the values of those contracts also increased.  I could also see the delay factor which told me how long it took for an increase in activity to show up in my bottom line.

Is it a perfect science? Not a bit.  But I'll tell you, when it comes to networking, a close approximation is way better than wandering around in the dark. It's also such a small amount of effort for such a big return of information, not doing it didn't make any sense.

Tomorrow we'll talk about how to set up a scorecard of your own.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Simple Tools: The Tickler File

One of the simplest and most effective tools you can create for networking is a tickler file.  If you don't have one, you are making a lot of extra work for yourself.

What is a tickler file? Simply put, it is a mechanism which will remind you to do a particular activity on a particular day. Back in the analog days, you would have a cabinet with thirty-one files. If there was something you needed to do on the ninth, you would put a reminder in the folder marked "9".  Each day, you would take out the folder corresponding to that day and do the activities within. Simple.

I use a tickler file in my networking so that I can make sure that none of my networking contacts slip through the cracks.  You know how it is.  You meet someone, maybe do coffee or lunch, then agree to keep each other up to date.  Two years later, you happen to see that person mentioned briefly and, if you remember them at all, it is with a twinge of guilt.

To avoid this situation, I set up a simple spreadsheet using Google Spreadsheets (convenient because I always have access to it).  In it I have ten or so columns of information -- name, company name, phone number, email, etc.  The important fields, though, are "last contacted" and "next contact".  When I first meet someone and we decide that it makes sense to be in each others network, I add a line in the tickler file for them, including the date when I am next going to contact them.  Then I sort the whole thing by the "next contact" field.

Now I have a list of my networking contacts and at the top of the list will be the people I will be contacting next (and when).  Is it a perfect system? No. But it certainly is good enough for now and has the added benefit of being essentially free.

So stop making excuses for letting your networking contacts slip through the cracks.  It only takes a moment or two to set up a tickler and start adding those people whom you want to stay in touch with.  It's a simple move which will lead to a stronger network.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Break the Stranger Pattern

My sales coach, Joe Marr, does this fun bit with his introductory seminar.  He has the crowd complete the following sentence: "Never talk to..." and almost without fail, everyone in the class will respond "...strangers". It's a pattern that we have absorbed to the point that we don't even have to think about it.

And that's the danger.

While that particular pattern kept us safe when we were five, it does nothing to help us now that we are adults. In fact, it works contrary to our goals when it come to networking.  Imagine you've just shown up at a Chamber lunch and in the back of your head a little audio player has your mother's voice on a loop saying "Never talk to strangers. Never talk to strangers. Never..."  How are you going to feel about your prospects of success at completing your networking goals?

Since meeting strangers is sort of the first step in the development of a good network, you need to crush this pattern and get it out of your head (at least for the time you are at your event).

One of the easiest techniques I've found for that is to stop thinking of yourself as an attendee at the event and instead pretend you are the host of a party in your home.  If you did that, then the people you would be meeting would no longer be strangers, but rather friends, acquaintances, and even friends of friends. You would never think of ignoring a guest in your home.  Use those same skills now, to greet and make welcome every person who walks in the door. Suddenly you've made everyone else's life a lot easier (after all, they probably have that same message playing in the backs of their heads).

Patterns might have been  a great help to us when we were growing up.  For the most part they kept us safe from harm. Be sure though, that the patterns we've brought with us from our childhood are still benefiting us in our adult lives.  If necessary, take out your mental hammer and smash those that limit you.  That way you'll get to see that all of those so-called strangers are in reality, just friends you haven't met yet.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Good Books: The Go-Giver

I actually read "The Go-Giver" by Bob Burg and John David Mann when it first came out about two years ago. I enjoyed it thoroughly then and when I picked it up again to review before I started on their newest book, "Go-Givers Sell More", I found myself captured once again.

"The Go-Giver" tells the story of Joe, a real go-getter who is starting to find that life isn't always working out the way he plans. A co-worker connects him with a local businessman who helps him to understand that there is a better path to follow.

The "Laws" that the authors reveal underscore my own approach to networking (so I guess it's not particularly surprising that the story appeals to me). It always has to be about the other person and in order to be ultimately successful, you have to be willing to give of yourself without expectation of getting anything in return. If you can do that, then almost magically, good things begin to happen to you.

Now, the authors convey the concepts through parable.  There are some who don't care for this kind of book as it doesn't have a list of action steps at each chapter to apply in order to achieve mastery.  Instead, it leaves the reader with the concepts and forces you to decide how to apply them in your own life.  Personally, that works for me. Your mileage may vary.

If you are looking for an enjoyably written primer on the basic concepts of good networking, you really can't go wrong with "The Go-Giver".  Get a copy for yourself and just spend a few hours following Joe and his transformation from go-getter to go-giver. You won't regret it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

RSVPs Continued

Yesterday I wrote about some of the behaviors we must exhibit with respect to the convention of RSVPs.  Once again, I know that you already do what you are supposed to, but you may know someone who might benefit from this information.

RSVPs come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Some require more attention than others.  Whatever the situation, good networking behavior dictates that you must deal with each on a case by case basis.  Remember, an invitation is not intended as an imposition, but rather as an acknowledgment of your value as a person.
  1. Paper Response Card with Stamped, Addressed Envelope. These are the ultra-formal, traditional RSVPs usually associated with wedding receptions and other formal occasions.  They will sometimes have a meal selection associated with them. You absolutely must return these as soon as you know that you are available.  Do not wait until the "respond by" date (or a week after, or never).  An event of this type requires a lot of planning and you will make good points with the organizers if you respond immediately.  If something should come up which prevents your being able to attend after you have responded in the positive, you must let the organizers know immediately.  Don't be casual about this kind of RSVP.  They are inviting you to a Big Event in their lives and you should be treating it accordingly.
  2. Paper Invitation with "RSVP" Phone Number or Email Address. Often used for more casual affairs, including children's birthday parties, showers, or holiday events.  While not as formal as #1 above, respond to this one as soon as you know your availability (you're probably starting to notice a pattern here).  Again, if something disturbs the plans at the last minute, it's polite and expected that you will let the organizer know.  They won't yell at you. They will understand.
  3. Electronic Invitation. There are a number of online services now, such as Evite, which allow the organizers to email out the invitations and provide a very convenient service for RSVPing. All you have to do is "Click" and you are done.  You can even specify a "Maybe" response, though if you do choose this option, you should add a short explanatory note.  As soon as you know for sure, you should change your response to either "yes" or "no".
  4. Event Notice with Pre-Registration Required. While this isn't specifically an "RSVP", it still functions the same way.  In this case you are securing a spot for yourself at the event, perhaps one with limited seating. Letting the organizers know that you have to cancel your reservation will allow someone else to go.
  5. Event Notice with Pre-Registration Optional. This is often the case with a variety of networking events such as a Chamber of Commerce lunch or breakfast.  You don't have to pre-register, since they will allow you to register/pay at the door.  By doing so, however, you make their jobs easier and also may gain some benefits such as a discount on admission or access to the list of other pre-registered guests before the event.
  6. Event with "Regrets Only". Technically, this means that you only have to respond if you aren't coming, but it never hurts to let the organizers know your plans.
Remember, it only takes a moment or two to respond to an RSVP.  Those few moments, though, will make a big difference to the planners and they will remember your courtesy. Yes, sometimes you need to check with your spouse, or need to make sure you have a babysitter, or need to make sure that you've got the DVR set up to record your television programs while you are gone.  Do whatever you have to, though, to make sure that it doesn't slip through the cracks.

It's the little things, after all, that build the strongest relationships.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Networking RSVPs

I know that you already know about the etiquette of RSVPs, so just pass this along to someone who needs to hear it.

So, the story goes that not long ago I gave a small party where I had invited a number of friends.  I made use of the Evite service, so responding to my RSVP was a matter of two or three clicks.  Of those who were invited, eight said they would make it.

Three showed up.

Now one of the absentees was ill and sent me a message to that effect. He's excused from the following Rules of Networking RSVPs.
  1. If you receive an invitation to a party, reception, lunch, coffee, soiree, breakfast, round table, seminar, conference, confab, meeting, etc and the invitation says something to the effect of "RSVP", you must respond. Please note that the RSVP might also look like "regrets only", "pre-register", "registration required", etc.
  2. The only time that would possibly be acceptable not to respond would be if you receive the invitation after the event.  In that case it would behoove you to contact the event planner anyway to apologize for not responding.
  3. If you respond in the positive, you have created a covenant with the event planner.  At this point you have one of two choices.  You can attend or you can contact the planner to apologize to them that you cannot make it before the event occurs.
  4. If you responded in the positive and neglect to go either intentionally or accidentally, you must contact the event organizer and apologize profusely.
Remember, good networking is largely about follow-through. The other person wants to see if you will do what you say you are going to do. Let's look at what happens if you break any of the Rules above:
  1. If you do not respond, the planner has the choice to contact you in person to ask, wasting their time, or they just assume that you aren't coming. Either way, the message you are conveying is that you don't care about their time and effort. If you do then show up without responding, you may cause a lack of food or seating.  This will not endear you to the event organizer.
  2. If you don't let the planner know that you didn't receive the invitation in a timely manner, then they may assume that you did and then all of the issues associated with #1 apply.
  3. If you say you are going to be there and don't show, then you are telling the planner that they can't trust you to follow through on what you say.  You may also waste their money if they have to pay for a meal or seating for you.  Now, of course, the organizer will understand if it is something serious like illness, but that will be the exception, not the rule.
  4. Finally, if you don't apologize after the fact, then the organizer will assume that you blew them off and all of the downsides from #3 will come into effect, but tripled.
Every event organizer understands that sometimes we mess up and forget.  Still, the better we are at the simple task of responding to an invitation, the higher we rise in their estimation and the more likely it is that we will be included in future events.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Snowflake Principle

The other morning I was watching out our front window as another several inches of snow fell softly through the air. As the gentle flakes began to stick to the driveway, I reflected on the nature of networking and how it mirrored the snowfall in its deepest essence.

OK, what I was really thinking was, "Aw, jeez!  Now I've got to shovel... again!"

But I know if I hadn't been thinking about my aching back, I would have been thinking much more profound thoughts about the nature of networking.

Think about it. Each snowflake is tiny. A miniscule spec that can disappear in the slightest breeze. Put enough of them together, though, and you have drifts and piles in which a small child could build a castle.

Networking is similar. Each individual activity doesn't add up to much. A phone call or an email, while appreciated, are easily forgotten. Build up enough of them, though, and over time your network will grow to support you in whatever goals you might have.

So many people make the mistake of thinking that they can start networking and suddenly have "drifts" of contacts who are ready to pass them business.  Unfortunately, that just isn't the case. Instead they need to focus on how they can build and strengthen their network one "touch" at a time.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Limited Networker Field Guide: The Introverted Company Clumper

This is the fourth in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: The Introverted Company Clumper

Environment: In large groups of similarly plumaged individuals

Behavior: When you attend a sit-down networking event, such as a lunch or a breakfast, you may sit down at an almost-full table only to discover that every single person there is from the same office.  You have just wandered into a flock of Introverted Company Clumpers. These strange birds attend networking events (usually at the behest of their supervisor) and then spend the entire time "networking" with their own co-workers.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: Your company is the wrong company. (Thank you, Scott Ginsberg) By sitting with the people from the office, the Clumper is not only denying himself the benefits of a good networking experience, but also denying the other participants who might want to meet him and start a new beneficial relationship.  Their worst offense, though, is to the poor person who happens to sit with them.  At best, they will lose the variety of potential networking contacts that should be available to them at one of these events.  At worst, they will be lefty wholly out of the conversation as Clumpers often spend their time speaking only with each other.

Counter-Measures:  In order to spare yourself from these uncomfortable situations, you may want to do a casual sweep of the table before sitting down.  Clumpers will often wear the same type of name badge, often with the company logo on it.  Another option that I use is to make sure that I reach my networking goal before I sit down.  That way any new people I meet are a bonus and not too much is lost in getting trapped with a bunch of Clumpers.

How We Can Help:  Of course, you should always be willing to engage those around you in conversation.  Just because they are all from the same office doesn't mean that they all have the same interests, goals, etc. Use the INFER process to find out more about the person not the job.

If you are an event organizer, you can use several mechanisms to break up the Clumpers.  Use assigned seating if possible.  You can also use randomized seating.  At an event I attended not long ago we were each handed a playing card on entry and were told to sit at one of tables which corresponded to the suit on our playing card.