Networking? Get Outta Here
Almost exactly five years ago, I was playing cards with some friends and talking about business school, careers, and how to be successful (according to one of its many definitions). One of the friends in attendance, already a successful businessman (or as Jay-Z would say, a successful business, man), decided to chime in when someone mentioned their plan to accomplish their business goals and land the job of their dreams by “networking”.
Having already made his first move toward the door, on his way to conduct a 12:00am conference call, his voice of reason exclaimed:
“No, no. Networking is nothing. It’s about building relationships. Networking will result in you possessing a network that’s an inch deep and a mile wide. Relationship-building, which takes more time and genuine interest in others, will give you a circle that’s an inch wide and a mile deep. And that’s where things happen.”
This simple explanation made sense to me and I knew it complied with what I truly believed. I was forced to eat some earlier words and was provided with a new perspective. Since then, I’ve swung almost completely to the relationship-building side of things to the point where uttering the word “networking” leaves a foul taste in my mouth. Now, five years later, it’s plain to see that the vast majority of valuable friendships, mutually-beneficial business deals, and progressive idea sharing partnerships have come from relationships built on trust and shared value rather than from shallow networking touch-points.
I don’t doubt that you have had a similar revelation; instantaneous or gradual. I think many people have and I think that this is great and a rite of passage of sorts.
But now there’s a problem.
The same businesses and careers that were built by relationships are now turning to social media and online strategies to create loosely connected networks and flimsy touch-points. A person sending an email to a business or business professional is met with a reply from the business or professional asking them to contact them via a website or preferred social networking platform. Requests to a small retail store for more information on the sizing of a clothing item are left unanswered. Words of thanks go unnoticed or simply feed a business’ ego.
The worst mistake a business or professional can make is taking the social media/online plunge and forgetting that everyone touched is a real person.
Instead of spreading yourself thin and neglecting real people in order to adopt an outside-in promotional/customer recruitment approach, blow those closest to you out of the water with your service, your level of care, and your product. Adopt on inside-out approach, wow those around you, and then look outward.
These are my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours.
I agree with both your analysis and Marc Kelly’s comments. I see networking as a first step but without follow-up it is very ineffective. I find it especially humorous with people gauging their networking prowess by the number of twitter followers or LinkedIn connections they have. Thats awesome, obviously you are doing/saying something to get folks interest – but unless you are actively engaging with these people, you will be all but forgotten when the next more interesting person comes around. Relationship building is a two step process, building the contact (networking) then establishing trust (relationship). Great when used together, then can also help positively separate a business/individual from it’s peers.
Great points, Richard. I agree. I especially like how you echoed Gary V’s tweet from earlier about making it less about numbers.
On the networking side, I agree with you, to a point.
I have a developed a close group of business contacts outside of my workplace, and those have deep relationship of trust and friendship. If I was thinking of going into another business venture or otherwise, it would likely be with those guys.
However, the way I met those individuals was with networking. It was by heading out to a number of social opportunities and connecting with like minded folks. It was allowing myself to be open to the opportunity of connecting with someone with whom I could build that relationship. Those connections wouldn’t have happened but through networking. I had to create a lot of loose acquaintance connections before finding a few people that I really clicked with.
People tend to associate networking with concept of a formalized business setting where hands are shook, and business cards exchanged. Those situations are great, but not the only manner in which networking occurs. I am sure that your close relationships could be found from school, or activities, or whatever.
I received a call from a friend recently that I met through a SYPE function, an organization that I am quite involved in. We talked about her career, and some people that I knew in organizations that she was interested in. While nothing has developed yet, the potential for a career changing move based on a weak connection is there.
I think though that your final point highlights that message however. You need to take the time to go through the loose connections and find ways to build relationships. You need to try to convert points of contact to customer loyalty. While the tools of social networking allow you to create a lot of new customer contact, the trick is to convert that contact into something meaningful.
Awesome comment, Marc. Much appreciated.
I had this discussion with Brandon immediately after posting this. He posed a similar thought; that networking was the first step in relationship building. I definitely agree but decided to pit the two against each other since people often view successful networking as making that business card exchange after a brief verbal exchange at a contrived event. That’s where taking a genuine interest in someone else’s life comes in, in my opinion. That can be the auger in the quest to go deeper (weird metaphor count: 1).
I think you summed it up perfectly by saying, “the trick is to convert that contact into something meaningful.”
Thanks for the comment!