My first sales mentor always emphasized that I needed to build, cultivate and manage my professional network. That was the foundation for sales and business success. Now at the ripe old age of let’s just say a whisker over 50 years old, I’m quite fortunate to have quite an expansive professional network.
My network consists of lots of very senior execs by virtue of the stage in our careers that we (my contemporary colleagues and I) find ourselves at. If you examine people that I have directly worked for over the years, people that I have worked with (my peers) or people that have directly worked for me, we gravitate towards Senior Director positions at a minimum but with much higher concentrations of VP titles or C-level titles. My professional network is diverse in the sense that I have colleagues that work in small start-ups all the way up to the largest companies in the world.
They span disparate industries, but given my background of B2B enterprise selling, there is a distinct distribution of high tech companies and the high tech industry. I originally grew up in Massachusetts, went to College in Boston and lived in Boston for the first 8 years of my professional career in enterprise technology sales. Then I moved to Silicon Valley some 20 years ago. Through my career and work I have traveled and worked extensively on an international basis. So geographically, my professional network is spread out all over the world.
LinkedIn has some really cool analytics tools that let you look at your professional network through different apertures and dimensions. LinkedIn tells me I have over 1,500 connections. I don’t lean towards the gratuitous approach of adding new connections to my LinkedIn network to appear better connected. Rather, I typically only try to add people that I am working with or people who were referred to me by someone I trust. I don’t happen to believe that just because we’re both members of the same group we need to be in each other’s network.
But I digress, back to the point of this post….I used to build, cultivate and manage my network in manual, primitive ways. Good old-fashioned letters, cards, thank you notes, phone calls and even an antiquated approach like an email. Then LinkedIn and social media came along and brought automation to the table. Some might even suggest that it brought an impersonal touch to the whole networking process. Which is ironic given that the very foundation of networking is building personal relationships, not sending automated “likes” or congrats on getting a new job.
I believe that you can marry the networking best practices of the old with the new and be perceived differently. So for the purposes of this post, I’ll focus just on the old networking best practices that still apply regardless of the new technology that you may employ:-)
- Be genuine– Ask how they are doing in their new engagement. Offer to provide assistance where you can. Don’t ask for something every time you reach out to someone in your network. Help them when you can because positive karma absolutely matters and people do pay it forward.
- Context matters– If you do reach out and ask for a favor, provide them with a clear understanding of why you think they are the right person to help them.
- Be polite– Thank them for their response and any help that they provide. Always close the loop with them if they broker an introduction on your behalf.
- Be realistic– Don’t ask them to do your job for you. Be realistic in what you are asking. It’s really offensive when someone sends a networking request that is outrageously time consuming as if you don’t have a job and a family and are just twiddling your thumbs wondering how you fill up all of your idle time.
- Personalize it– Tailor your networking and relationship to what works well for them and their personality type. Think of others before yourself and weave that into all of your networking efforts.
- Offer value– It’s always refreshing to proactively reach out to someone in your network and offer him or her value of some sort. Whether it’s a referral on a job that you think they would be a good fit for, an introduction to someone that they could benefit from knowing, or something else that provides real value.
That’s it for now, please share any networking best practices that you feel have been lost in this world of immediate gratification and social networking.