Business Networking Tip: Make a New Relationship Deposit
posted on May 27, 2008
New business relationships are one of the most exciting parts about networking. You never know where it is going to lead. Will your new friend open the door to huge untapped opportunities, or will it prove to be another learning experience?
I always take a 'give and see' approach. I'm not sure if I've always done this. It's likely that I have, but only recently have I noticed that I even have a strategy around new relationships like this. I tend to be a little different than what the traditional networking advice will tell you to do. I'll spend a lot less time than most learning about the personal side of the other person. Family, kids, hobbies, etc. Not that those things aren't important, I just tend to get to them a little later in the relationship.
In my very first meeting or two with a new connection I'm rediculously focused on how I can help them. If I met them in a business context then there's probably a business reason why they were out networking in the first place. So what is that reason? I'll look as hard as I can for some way to provide value. Sometimes this is a referral, other times it's just advice or an introduction to someone else who can be more helpful than me because of their own background, industry or connections.
Once I've figured out how to help I do it. This is the deposit or the 'give' that I mentioned earlier. If I've promised a referral or introduction I make it. Quite often there are a couple of follow-up items for me to execute based on our first meeting. Then... I wait and see.
There are several levels of response that give me a pretty good indication of how good or helpful my new networking friend is going to be.
Level 1 and sadly the most common level is nothing. Without my prompting I won't get anything back. They become a communication vacuum and I don't hear anything from them proactively. You can guess what kind of category I put these folks into. [This is only a mental category, it's not like I have a loser field in my contact manager or anything... Hmmm?]
Level 2 is a minimal response. They might send a real quick e-mail thank you, but that's where the buck stops. This is a satisfactory response as it's much better than nothing, but it's hardly what you're looking for especially if you've made a solid introduction or referral for them.
Level 3 is the beginning of good quality networking. They will communicate and keep me in the loop. If the referral I made didn't work out they'll give me the heads up and let me know why (so I can be of better help next time). If it did work out they give me the heads up and let me know why. They will typically show some level of appreciation. (Most times a thank you is enough, this isn't necessarily a monetary step).
Level 4 may or may not communicate as well as a Level 3. What they will do is make an effort to reciprocate. They'll make an introduction, referral, or provide some form of value within a reasonable amount of time. Sadly, too many Level 4 networkers then drop the ball and don't follow-up, or otherwise disappear in the early stages of the relationship when extra time and attention are typically necessary.
Level 5 is where you can almost instantly identify the great networkers. These folks either did the same thing that I did in the beginning and worked to understand how they could help me. If they didn't they work quickly to catch-up and make sure they know what they can do. Then they execute themselves. They do all of the things they promised to do and follow-up appropriately.
Without making a deposit, or finding some way to give to the other person in your new relationships it's really hard to identify what type of networker you're dealing with. Your networking efforts will be far less effective than they could be and you could end up spending months on a new relationship only to find out they're a Level 1 or 2 and aren't likely to help you in growing your business.
I always struggle with making this point and not having people take it the wrong way. It's important not to prejudge any relationship, and to be forgiving of those who don't perform the way you'd hoped. It doesn't mean you malign or mistreat the relationships that don't immediately bear fruit. Some relationships just take longer. However, you DO want to make sure you invest more of your time and energy into developing relationships with the Level 4 and 5 networkers. The more you value them, the more they'll value you.
Don't believe me? You probably already have a couple of good Level 4 or 5 networkers in your own circle. Find a way to help them out and watch what happens.
Author: Scott Ingram