Friday, May 13, 2011

The Value of Networking

Formal business networking to increase our connections and find new opportunities is becoming an increasingly popular and accepted practice.  Many of us who are responsible for driving business for our employers or ourselves understand the value associated with every connection we make.  Others may take a more reserved approach, where they feel uncomfortable reaching out to people and asking for help.  But what is business networking really about?  It’s not about taking, but giving.

In Never Eat Alone the author Keith Ferrazzi writes that in his career, he learned that “real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful.”  He learned this early in his youth, working as a caddie at a country club.  He came from a meager background and in his work as a caddie, he observed how the golfers constantly helped each other, from business to personal life to children.  Keith took the approach of helping the golfers he worked with to be highly successful on the course, and in turn, they helped him pave the way to private school and Ivy League college.  And this launched a highly successful career.

For those of you both comfortable as well as timid with networking, I would like to share some recent personal stories of business networking involving Facebook, an association event and a personal business relationship that had very positive outcomes.

The Facebook Story
A couple of years ago I thought Facebook was stupid.  We had an upcoming college reunion and I joined Facebook merely to reconnect with a long-lost college friend.  I found my friend, so spending the time on Facebook was worth it; however I was in a high-stress job receiving 100+ emails each day, so the last thing I wanted to do when I wasn’t working was spend more time at the computer on a social media tool.  When I left my job, I took the time to reconnect with people on Facebook and build my social network.  I began enjoying communicating with friends I hadn’t seen in many years.  During this time, I started my own business and reconnected with a friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years who was now a Senior Vice President for a growing software company.  We decided to meet for lunch, he then introduced me to a business colleague who was the Vice President of Sales at another software company, and this firm became my first client in my new business.
Even though the original intention of Facebook was for social networking, it has now evolved into a dynamic business networking tool as well.  Many companies have Facebook pages and refer to them on their websites.

The Luncheon
This winter I was snow birding in South Florida and during this time, decided to try local networking to grow my business.  Knowing that Florida is not a high technology hub and that it would be very challenging to find new clients in this region, I gave it a go.  While in Florida, I was competing in tennis in my spare time and found myself needing regular deep tissue massages to stay on the court, so I scheduled massages at a chiropractic office.  I became friendly with one of the owners who was a board member of a Women’s Executive Club.  She invited me to a luncheon so that I could network.  I went into this with a defeatist attitude thinking, “I am not going to meet anyone in high tech here,” however, there was a member from IBM at the luncheon.  I told my chiropractor friend that I wanted to meet the IBMer and she introduced us.  We followed up with a phone call and the IBMer introduced me to a competitor that was in the same line of work – building sales channels.  However, this competitor was headquartered in London.  I met with the competitor a couple of times and we have recently formed a partnership which will help both our businesses expand our global reach.

Personal Business Relationship
A few years ago, I was working for a software company where I was responsible for building strategic partnerships with leading IT outsourcers.  I was trying to develop a partnership with one company and it wasn’t moving forward – this company had built a home-grown solution that was similar to ours, and there were large incumbent vendors in place that were serious competition for us.  My main contact, a director at the company, liked our product but was in a difficult position politically where he felt as though his hands were tied.  Then he was laid off.  He approached me asking for a job and introductions to business connections.  I willingly helped him and as he was leaving the company, he promoted our solution internally.  Eventually I found him a great job through my business network and the IT outsourcer entered into a multi-million dollar, multi-year global agreement with my company.  This was very rewarding experience because it was win-win and I always believed that the single turning point in the sales process was when the director promoted our solution internally just before he left the firm.

Let’s revisit the theme of focusing on giving more than receiving when it comes to networking.  In the story of the luncheon, I was a regular client of the chiropractor and she in turn helped me by inviting me as her guest to the luncheon and making an important introduction for me.  In the story of the personal business relationship, I helped the director find a new job and he in turn promoted us internally.  In the story of my Facebook connection, he has helped me but I haven’t yet found a business opportunity to return the favor.  But I will.