What is Networking?

How do you know when you are doing it?

How can you use it as a new business development technique?

The word networking is used very freely these days and as a result the real meaning and value of networking can be missed. Some might argue that this does not matter as anything that helps you to meet others is all good. However, it seems to me that if you are going to spend say 10% to 20% of your time networking you really do need to know what you will get back for such a significant investment of time.

Networking has been going on for centuries although those who consider ‘events’ to be the epitome of networking often think it is an invention of the 21st century. While organised events can play a role in networking they are not the complete solution and typically only serve to provide very early introductions. The main problem with events is that most people are strangers to each other so this is only the first step, as you can only effectively network with people who you already know. I have heard this summarised as “know, like, trust” and, as well as being a necessity for effective networking, this formula is an essential foundation upon which to build new business relationships.

A well-documented example of formal networking is the coffee houses of 17th century Britain and perhaps the most famous example is Lloyd’s coffee house which morphed into Lloyd’s of London, the insurance market. The coffee houses were in effect clubs, some even required an entry fee, and the members knew and trusted each other so were willing to transact business together. It could be argued that the same atmosphere is created in a branded networking organisation such as BNI or iiB involving regular meetings with the same attendees; a community. The more randomly organised events, that are so common today, do not have the same organised structure so lack the continuity of the coffee house. On-line networking provides an equally fragile connection where it is impossible to “know” and therefore to “like or trust” the other participants so can be risky unless you can validate their on-line persona.

My brief answers to the original questions;

  • Networking requires one-to-one engagement with people, where you have an established relationship, who might be able to help you or who may have a need for something that you can do for them. I call this relationship reciprocity and if the relationship survives even when there is no specific need then the parties are genuinely in each other’s networks.
  • You know you are doing it when communication is interactive being triggered by both parties, not just one way, and it continues well beyond the first contact or the event.
  • Networking events can deliver a useful early stage in the process of new business development but will rarely be a complete business development solution. Read more on this

So, what is networking?

Let’s take an example; last week I was contacted by someone I had put into a job 5 years ago. He introduced me to someone who was looking to recruit a senior sales person, so I called another person I’ve known for 33 years who I know can do the job.

In another instance last week, I went through the LI contacts of someone I have known for 26 years and identified around 10 people of interest to me to whom he will happily effect introductions.

 That is networking!

Networking for new business development

Most people accept that business referrals and personal introductions are the best approach to new business development. However, to gain referrals and introductions you first need a relationship founded on the principles of “know, like, trust” and that cannot be achieved at a one-off networking event.

An event organised with the sole purpose of networking often disappoints as a medium for business development. At best, it can only deliver very early stage contacts rather than new people ready and willing to genuinely network with you and to have conversations that might lead to business opportunities for you. It can satisfy the early stage of name and number collection but in most cases a networking event is just one notch above talking to random people on the tube or taking a couple of pages out of the Yellow Pages.

If you wish to attend networking events as part of your new business development strategy, and there are other perfectly valid reasons for attending events, then what really matters is what happens before the event; your preparation and planning. The second most important thing is what actions you take after the event has finished.

Here are a few tips to help make networking events good for business development:

  • Don’t expect to gain business at an event. One possible exception being an event that you attend regularly where you have built up genuine relationships with others.
  • Always choose events carefully to ensure others who may be attending will have similar interests to you. This may involve clusters built around; location, business types, business sector, business size or some other parameters that are relevant to your target market.
  • Try to get the list of attendees a couple of days before the event and do some desk research to decide who you really want to meet. Plan what you want to say to each person, don’t just go with a generic message or elevator pitch.
  • If the event provides the facility to pre-book meetings this may be useful but beware that it might also warn people off – it all depends on the message you send them and whether meeting you will be valuable for them.
  • Have a plan for each conversation, just as you would when meeting a new contact in a more formal ‘office’ environment, including a call to action – what do you want them to do as a result of meeting you.
  • Follow your plan through, agree next actions with the other party and make sure you follow through. I understand that a high percentage of people do not follow up with contacts they make at networking events – what a total waste of time!
  • Review every event and calculate the RoI you get for the time invested. If it delivers what you are looking for do it again, if it does not then try something else. Having said that, as mentioned earlier, if the event was your first visit to a regular group, don’t expect results on your first visit, and if you’re a shy type just starting out on ‘networking’, try a few non-target sessions to build your confidence in approaching new contacts.

You need to treat networking events as you would any other early stage marketing activity; it is a numbers game and you need to constantly review how effective it is being. You would not continue with mail campaigns if the results were progressively getting worse so you must do the same for networking which is an even more expensive use of your time.

shorter sales cycles, new customers, more business, increased profilts, better cashflow
SAM Learning, business growth, sales recruitment, sales training

SAM Learning

The Outcome:

The CEO was able to confidently transition to the US leaving a well-run UK operation with a good sales team that was maintaining market share in an increasingly competitive environment.

“Having Performative involved in crucial sales appointments gave me peace of mind to leave the UK and build our US operation. Subsequently, they have delivered a number of training interventions for the UK sales staff.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating; two years on and the business is going from strength to strength.”   David Jaffa, CEO, SAM Learning Ltd

The Challenge

SAM Learning is a leader in cross-curricular on-line revision and exam practice, providing students with imaginative and interactive ways to learn.

Performative was initially engaged due to the pending move of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to the US to start SAM Learning over there.  This situation meant that the UK required a senior executive to run the business in the UK.  There was also recognition that the UK required some support for the sales teams who were facing increasing competition in the market.

The Performative Solution

The first task for Performative was to use its sales experience to recruit a UK Sales Director.  Performative used a multi-step interview process and candidate profiling.  The chosen candidate was a success and has since become to UK Managing Director.

Performative did multiple projects thereafter including:

  • Delivering custom designed selling skills workshops for the UK field sales team to help the existing team of account managers to develop new business hunting skills.  This has paid off in the form of new customers being created and more accurate sales forecasts being produced.
  • Providing support in the final selection of a new business sales person for the US operation.
  • Providing sales skills training for the internal telesales team to enhance the skills of the team in three main areas:
    • Making new business appointments for the field sales team.  This included work on improving the profiling of potential customers to increase the effectiveness of the calling.
    • Increasing their skills to more effectively close small new business opportunities on the telephone.
    • Increasing their skills when “farming” existing accounts to get extension business.

ERA Technology

The Outcome:

The end result was a fully integrated end-to-end Lead Generation process that focused on target customers and ensured valuable sales resource was engaged appropriately and at the correct time in the sales cycle.  This process delivered in excess of 10 fully qualified new customer opportunities against which in excess of £330,000 additional business was secured.

As a result of Performative developing and executing the Performance Initiative Programme we have benefited from the potential of more leads in 4 months than we would have been able to generate ourselves in 12 months.”    Divisional Head, ERA Technology

The Challenge

ERA Technology provides specialist engineering consultancy to owners and operators of large-value capital assets and systems; helping clients to reduce risk, improve operational performance and comply with functional safety and regulatory requirements.  The division of ERA focused on the Telco sector was finding it increasingly difficult to find and win new business.  A very large customer was also planning to move to off-shore operations thereby threatening the loss of a major revenue stream.  The management team recognised the need to rapidly gear up to proactively acquire and develop new customers, but there was a lack of internal sales staff to focus on this as they were fully engaged in protecting the existing revenue.

The Performative Solution

ERA engaged Performative to assist in the drive to increase new business.  An initial Sales Maturity Assessment (SMA) confirmed a number of potential improvement areas, which led to a two phase Lead Generation programme.

Phase 1 involved a series of preparation steps, tailored to the divisional objectives, to establish a solid and reliable base for generating new contacts.  This included:

  • Crystallising the value proposition and defining Service Lines and associated benefits.
  • Conducting structured “sales focus” workshops, resulting in a re-definition of the ERA product proposition and the market segments to be targeted.
  • Developing and implementing processes to separate new customer creation and development from the identification and pursuit of individual sales opportunities.
  • Creating a fully populated database of potential new customer contacts.

Phase 2 involved:

  • Creating an effective telephone-based Lead Generation process.
  • Undertaking the Lead Generation process designed to generate qualified meetings for the ERA sales team with a view to creating 8-10 new customers.
  • Handing over structured information packs to the sales team for the arranged meetings.
  • Assisting with the transition of this approach, and the associated knowledge, in house.