Imagine this: you are a successful real estate agent; you run into a client you haven’t seen in a few years, and as you ask how the house is working out, you find out they just moved last season. It turns out that while 88% of buyers say they would use their agent again, when it comes time to sell five or even 10 years from now, only around 12% do. Why? It’s not personal; they’ve simply forgotten who they used. A widespread phenomenon, this isn’t specific to real estate; business is frequently lost as people find new connections, or just slide in and out of networks.
While this was once a primary concern for entrepreneurs and independent contractors, today’s jobs change frequently, so it really impacts all of us. Think back to all the jobs you’ve held in your career; can you name all your old bosses? How many of them would give you a reference today?
In today’s hyper-connected world of social media and networking, you become only as good as your last connection. At any moment, anyone considering you for an opportunity might look at Facebook, LinkedIn, or another online network to see who you have in common and may reach out to that person. If you are just a contact, just a name and a face, you may miss out.
Good networking rarely happens by accident
You know you need to get better at connecting, but what you may lack is a strategy. Building a strong network is much like any good habit; it takes effort over time. If we believe relationships are our most valuable asset, do we treat them in that way? Do we grow and aggregate them over time the way we do with our other assets? Do we check in on them and measure their growth?
What we don’t measure, we can’t maintain. The first step in understanding the value of relationships is to know that what we don’t watch tends to get away from us. The problem in networking is that we tend to rate success based on the number of contacts rather than their value. We tend not to tie our goals to the people in our lives when really in life, we succeed far more through who we know that what we know. Prior to starting my own consulting firm, I received the best piece of advice from a public relations veteran: your business is formed just as much by the people you don’t work with as the people you do work with. It can sound counterintuitive, but we often add by subtracting.
Who do you really know?
A first step in getting smarter about your network is to simply bring all your contacts together in one place. As you do this you will probably see some names that you may not even remember at all. That’s okay. What is important is to just bring everyone together. Then as you go through the list, start sorting them by how they relate to your current goals and by how well you know them. Are you looking for a new job? Trying to get more recommendations? Build a new business or a side hustle? You may want to prioritize your network by who may be most helpful to you.
Some relationships can take years to take off. That’s a challenge in our on-demand culture. We tend to want the quick fix but relationship building is a little like investing in the stock market; we want a portfolio of different people across the companies and paths we are more engaged in.
Getting past the “ick” factor
One of the reasons we don’t reach out when we know we should is that we feel can feel uncomfortable about what to say. It’s far easier to post something on social media than it is to initiate a one-on-one connection. We may feel that we are using people but really, what we are trying to do is build better connections. What is the core motivation guiding you? Once you know what your true “why” is, it’s easier to make that connection.
If we want to gain value from our relationships, we have to think about the value we are giving the other person. Sometimes this can be just the value of checking in and asking how someone is and genuinely wanting to hear the answer. At other times it can go deeper into how we can help someone or maybe make an introduction or connection. We have so many ways of reaching out from texting, calling, social media, or a handwritten note. The key thing to focus on is making the connection meaningful, valuable, and relevant to something they care about.
As a young CEO, one of the most daunting tasks I faced was reaching out and following up with potential investors. I was so worried about saying the wrong thing, of them saying no, of being rejected. One of my earliest mentors coached me on focusing my mind on just writing the best message possible. To quote Babe Ruth: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
To some degree, the actual work that we do is table stakes. While we may be great at it, so are others. Since people aren’t just looking past you at the product or service you’re selling, who you are in their eyes matters even more. People work with people they like. Your ability to build a deeper and more genuine relationship is your competitive advantage, differentiating yourself from others around you and allowing you to close more business, faster.
About the Guest Post Author
ZVI BAND is the cofounder and CEO of Contactually, a leading CRM platform for relationship-oriented businesses. He is an engineer, developer, startup advisor, relationship marketing strategist, and author of SUCCESS IS IN YOUR SPHERE: Leverage the Power of Relationships to Achieve Your Business Goals (McGraw-Hill, May 21). He lives in the Washington, DC area.