Monday, 22 August 2011

Basics of Business - Networking

Networking is one of the elements of business that is sometimes taken for granted, but is actually still a source of discussion.  While salespeople, consultants and other snake oil sellers see networking as essential, there are still plenty of people in business who don’t see it as essential.

The arguments against networking are several – that it is time away from the office that should be spent on productive work, that it is expensive, that staff use is as an opportunity to promote themselves rather than the company, that it is entertainment rather than work, that there is no guaranteed benefit, and that it is full of salesmen rather than customers.

 All of these can have some validity  - but if you think that by stopping your staff from networking they will not meet other potential employers, then you are underestimating the work of recruitment consultants.  You are also missing out on a lot of potentially valuable information. 
A couple of anecdotal incidents from the past week or so.  A colleague I met at a networking lunch has just rung me up from the Middle East to tell me about a London based company looking for some training providers. 

Secondly, last week I was at an event where a colleague found out the top management of  a major competitor had resigned en masse to set up their own company.  This is not the sort of information  that  comes out quickly through formal channels, and it means that there are opportunities to take advantage of the distraction of the competition – at a least for a while.  And yes, a potential job vacancy to be considered too.  Without networking it is likely that much of the window of opportunity would have passed by unknown.

If you are going to use networking in your organisation, and I suggest that you should, you should consider a few key points;

-          Set a target number of days for networking – say 2 per month.

             -          Consider what you want out of it - sales leads, market info, ideas, contacts, a new job

-          Ensure information is shared back home - a quick note is enough

-          Practice your Elevator speech - if you have a chance to make a good impression be ready

-          Think about what organisations you want to link into - customers, competitors, suppliers, academia, media

-          Follow up on contacts made – and categorise them with bring forward actions

-          Share – be reciprocal.  People want you to give as well as take

-          Be prepared to cut events that are too full of the wrong sort of people

-          Recognise that events with the right sort of people are limited

-          Recognise that it is a numbers game – there is no guaranteed win on any one event

-          Recognise that it is a long term game - sometimes things take years to lead to business

-          Don’t limit it to your sales people – technical people need networks too

-          Practice networking skills if you are not a natural

-          Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as “who do you use for…?”

-          Be aware of any IP that you want to protect (e.g. who you use for…”

-          Make sure networkers are aware of the need to avoid any activities that could be considered collusion or market fixing (e.g. discussing prices).

-          If you are not getting what you want, then consider other networks rather than stopping networking altogether

-          LinkedIn is great – but it is not an alternative to physical networking.

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