Comfortable Networking Techniques That Will Make Your Career

June Event Review: “Comfortable Networking Techniques That Will Make Your Career” with Theresa Lina Stevens, founder and president, Lina Group Inc.

By Geoff Anderson

The June SVPMA monthly event was about 75 minutes of an engaging presentation and discussion on the topic of networking, something that is essential to helping you grow throughout your career, and to keep you engaged.  Yet the act of “networking” brings a wide range of emotions from those who are naturals, to those who are reluctant networkers at best.  Theresa brought clarity and some common sense advice that will be useful regardless of your proclivities.

Theresa began with a useful definition:

Networking is not meeting as many people as possible, but to define a path to where you want to be.

She started with an anecdote about how her “network” led to her adopted children, a demonstration that networking isn’t solely about work and professional life, but if done effectively, it can help you at all stages of life.

The Three Stages of Networking

Theresa laid out a clear delineation of the networking, analogous to the “sales funnel”.

  • Making Connections
  • Deepen Connections
  • Leverage Connections

In each of these stages there are some key attributes that define the stages.

Making Connections:

  • Barely know each other
  • Little or no trust
  • May get “low risk” Intros
  • May or may not go anywhere.

Following in the sales funnel analogy, this is a lot like the top of the funnel, where leads are shoveled in. Low quality, un-qualified, and corresponding low probability of becoming an order.

Deepen Connections:

  • Getting to know each other
  • Some trust
  • May get “low/med-risk” referrals
  • May or may not be reciprocal

Clearly, at this stage, the relationship becomes more solid, but still not into that high trust / high value state that is desirable.  However, if all goes well, some of these connections will move into the next stage…

Leverage Connections:

  • Strong relationship
  • High trust
  • Strong, “high-risk” referrals
  • Reciprocal

In this smaller group, you have formed a true bond, and a lasting relationship.  Both parties realize value from the relationship, and (unless one party does something awful) the bond will last a long time.

So, how does one proceed?

Making Connections

Clearly, the start of the process is to make the connection. The goal shouldn’t be to meet as many people as possible, but instead to build quality connections.

  • Meet people whenever and wherever possible
    • Seek opportunities for interaction
    • Have a goal (meet 3 people?)
  • Engage
  • Aim for friendship
    • Don’t be transactional
    • Show genuine interest and affection
    • Ask questions / be curious. Try to really get to know the person
  • Be real or natural. (people can tell “fake-ness”)
  • Personalize
  • Do what works for you
    • Experiment, and try different things until it feels natural
  • Let the network lead you
    • Don’t force it, follow it

Of course, there are some things to avoid:

  • Don’t assume you are a friend
  • Don’t expect indirect referrals (their reputation is more important to them than your “need”)
  • Don’t immediately “ask”

Deepening Connections

Here is where the real work begins.  After making the initial connection, it is time to begin nurturing the relationship.  Perhaps it will grow to something mutually beneficial, perhaps not. However, without an input of your time and effort, it will certainly not ever go anywhere.

Your goals should include:

  • Build lifetime relationships
  • Find out what they are seeking
  • Aim to “give” not get
  • Be proactive (make contact, and keep the thread alive)
  • Be a connector
  • Realize that relationships will get hot and cold. That is okay.
  • Stay in touch
  • Really care
  • Be appropriate

In this day and age of social media, there are many vehicles to build upon this relationship.  LinkedIn for the professional world is masterful at reminding you about the milestones in a connection.  It takes merely moments to recognize an anniversary, a birthday, a new job, or similar.  But do it beyond the confines of social media too.

How to deepen the connection?  Fortunately, there are ample opportunities:

  • Congratulate / compliment them on a recent accomplishment. If they are mentioned in a press article, forward it to them with some kind words.  It is amazing how well this works.
  • Mail (or even, for that personal touch, snail mail) them
  • Proactively introducing them to people who might be of interest
  • LinkedIn – enough said
  • Send a card: holiday, major event, birthday, condolences
  • Invite them to give a talk
  • Recommend them to someone else
  • (use cautiously) invite them to your mailing list (caution, as this might be considered spam, and off-putting)

Most importantly, keep it real.

Naturally there are some pitfalls to avoid:

  • Don’t develop a relationship to get something out of them
  • Don’t be a pain
  • Don’t be self serving
  • Don’t make empty contacts
  • Don’t pursue before you are ready

That leaves us with the main point, or …

Leverage Connections

Here is where value of networking begins to be realized.  After making the connection and deepening it, you are finally in a position to begin to leverage your network.  However, as before, there are some rough guidelines, and practical tips that help you keep your network healthy and strong.

  • Be clear on what you need. With the level of trust and reciprocity, don’t be afraid to ask, but keep it reasonable, and make it clear
    • Be “easy” to help
  • Make sure that others are clear as to what you need
  • Decide what sort of relationship makes the most sense for both parties:
    • Mentor
    • Potential employer or customer
    • Information sharing
    • Access to their mailing list
  • Be direct – –ASK
  • Be indirect – keep your values in front of them
  • It should feel natural – if it feels forced on your side, imagine what they see

There are many vehicles for doing this.

  • Start with a simple or easy request
    • Ask for an introduction
    • Ask to forward something to their lists
    • Make it low-risk for them
  • Requests via twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook
  • Ask for advice (show some vulnerability)
  • Draw on their expertise
  • Ask for referrals or ideas
  • Pitch them an idea
  • Let things happen naturally.

And most important of all, Give Give Give.  Be sure that you are giving more value than you are receiving.

Of course, with the leveraging phase, there are plenty of don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Don’t only get in touch when you want or need something (so very true)
  • Don’t be a user
  • Don’t expect direct payback
    • It may come from somewhere else

Sidebar – A coaching lesson from Jim

At this point, one of the SVPMA members, Jim Schibler, offered a lesson that he often uses while coaching executives to better build relationships, a path to more productive conversations.  In the “Making Connections” realm, use a little more details than the name and title at the introduction, establish some value, don’t be afraid to ask (these are executives, they are busy, and used to such interactions), and be sure to reciprocate.

The idea is to ensure that even early in the making connections stage that there is some specific value exchanged.

Explain what you can offer, what the situation is, and what you are looking for.

Summary and final tips

While the 75 minutes went remarkably quick, there was a significant volume of useful information. Theresa left us with some final thoughts:

  • Use LinkedIn and Facebook, appropriately – If appropriate, keep a firm delineation between business and personal spheres
  • Believe in, and be prepared for serendipity – it does happen
  • Do invest time and energy in your network. It does take effort
  • Put some soul into it
  • Be open
  • Never (ever) burn a bridge
  • Be sensitive to context and situation
  • Acknowledge and work on your weaknesses
  • Set your radar for opportunities
  • Be Strategic

Theresa also mentioned that there are some super networkers who have some rare traits, including:

  • Connector
  • Initiator
  • Giver
  • Tracker

Become a student of the process.  Her advice was to organize a small get together and practice your connecting skills.

Geoff Anderson – a practicing product manager with over 20 years of experience, in a variety of industries from semiconductor manufacturing equipment, networking technology, industrial measurement and test, enterprise communications software, nanotechnology, and educational services.  He has a degree in Physics from SJSU, volunteers in the rescue of retired racing greyhounds, mentors high school kids interested in science and physics, and loves to read science fiction novels.

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