Technology today is not what it used to be 10-15 years back. Neither is how business is conducted. And neither is the world. Then how can a core function of your business, sales, be done in the same fashion as it was done 10-15 years back?
Times have changed and you need to evolve too. It’s no longer about transactional selling, but more about relationships. And a lot about networking. Now, a lot of people get squeamish about networking picturing the typical overambitious, schmoozer kind of people. The good news is, networking if far from that.
You would be surprised to learn (by the end of this article), how easy it is to get better at networking and in turn drive more sales for your business.
So what is networking about? It is about building a genuine relationship by seeing the world from the other person’s perspective and by thinking about how you can collaborate with and help the other person rather than thinking about what you can get.
Your first move should always be to help. Start with a friendly gesture and mean it.
There are three networking groups, which are part of your natural network, but hugely ignored in the way you interact with them. Your network is bigger than you think and harnessing the power of this network is far simpler than you can imagine. So lets explore these three networking opportunities.
Work on your allies
An ally would be someone that you consult with on a regular basis. List down about five to ten such people that you interact with, who you turn to for advice and who provide you with key insights in business. These allies will most often be influential people, in their own right.
Keep your radar on to spot situations where you can proactively promote their brand and stand up for them when they’re in trouble. And when you do this unselfishly, they would do the same for you.
Let them know that you’re there, be in touch with them so you come to know of such situations. Think of one who needs an urgent presentation done and you offer to help even though you’ve got enough on your plate. But this small gesture will go a long way when you realize that this person will think of you first when the opportunity comes to recommend a business, product or a professional to a prospective client.
Work on your network
Your allies may not be more than five to ten. But you’d have a huge network of acquaintances that you would know through your career (ex-colleagues), college or schoolmates, people you meet at conferences or just people you’ve met throughout your life who you found interesting. These are people that you are friendly with but not in constant or regular touch. You may be touching base with them once in a few months.
Because these people are outside your natural circle and would be a far diverse group of professionals as compared to your inner circle, they can bring more opportunities for you. All you need to do is to touch base with them every once in a while without an agenda, but subtly letting them know what you do.
Email them something you found interesting and relevant to them, meet them once in a while for a coffee and catch-up and in conversation, let them know what you do.
At Arkenea, we’ve driven a lot of business through our acquaintances that are far and wide and spread out across the globe. By being in touch with them just once in a while has brought us at least 10-20% of our business. When these people get the opportunity to recommend a developer to their network, they think of us.
Work on your extended network
This is where Linkedin steps in. Lets say, you have 100 connections, and assume each of your connections have at least 50 connections of their own. And each of those friends of friends has 75 connections in their network. You don’t need to be good at math to learn that you’ve got a database of 375,000 (100x50x75) people you can reach out to.
So how do you tap into this huge pool of people you have just discovered? Get to know them through introductions. Get introduced to them through your immediate network of connections and give them a reason to extend your introduction. Don’t take them for granted.
When you’re connecting with friends of friends, do not make the mistake of sending out generic mailers or messages that most people typically do. These usually go unnoticed and will just waste your time.
Instead, before you send out the introduction request, research for 15 minutes about the person and write a personalized message that will get their attention. Simply use Google to find out more about the person and their interests.
Just five successful introductions each month can go a long way in taking your business forward.
Here’s a step-by-step plan that will get you started on identifying the right networking groups and how to connect with them.
- Look back in the last six months and list down five to ten people you have interacted the most. Assess whether that interaction has had any positive influence on you. If not, you need to seek such people.
- To find such people, think for a moment that if you’re in deep trouble, who are those five to ten people that you will get in touch with for help.
- Get in touch with these people and fix a casual meeting. The idea is to get to know their challenges better and how you can help them.
- Look for instances through their network or through your conversations with them on areas that you can help and simply go ahead and do it.
- Be in constant touch with your immediate group of these five to ten people so you always know where you can make a difference.
- List down all of your direct connections, people you’ve known over the years and find out their email addresses.
- Offer something of value to them. This could just be forwarding a job posting or an interesting article.
- Identify what challenges you are currently facing in your business that you need help with.
- List down your target segment for doing business with.
- Seek out professionals from friends of friends on Linkedin who you feel can help you find solutions to your problems or who could be potential business partners.
- Spend at least 15 minutes on each identified person researching on their life and interests and pick on areas where you have common interests or you can connect with.
- Write to them with a customized message bringing the common interest at the forefront to grab their attention.
This is it. Don’t rush by trying to do it all in the first month itself. Building relationships takes time and you need to be careful about what you say to whom. So spend the first three months building it up and then follow up with the connections through the rest of the year.
A word of caution: do not plug promotional content of messaging to any of these contacts or that will take you back to the transaction selling of the yesteryears with the potential of it falling on deaf ears.
At the end of the year, you will see remarkable difference in the contribution these people would have made in your business. Just as it worked for me at Arkenea.
Rahul Varshneya has spent his entire career either working for startups or starting businesses. He now spends his time between coaching aspiring entrepreneurs in launching their Internet and Mobile App ventures, and building Arkenea Technologies. Rahul is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). Follow him on Twitter @rahulvarshneya.
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