Build your network before you need it
A few months back I caught up with a friend and colleague who had recently been made redundant.
She’d been in the role for a few years and couldn’t foresee the events that led to a few people in her department being let go when a new Managing Director started making changes.
She was the proverbial deer in headlights.
Now, she’ll say that she kind of saw the writing on the wall so while the redundancy itself wasn’t a complete shock, she was behind the eight ball in figuring out her next move. Because she worked within a large organization, she hadn’t built, grown or cultivated a wider network outside of that. And she’s playing catch up now. It’s hurting.
And it’s exactly the same thing with sales.
It’s too easy for us as sales people to become complacent with the clients we have: in retaining and growing those accounts without also planting seeds for our future sales. We get distracted. It’s safer, more comfortable and frankly easier to look after what we have.
Growing our network before we need it is a discipline everybody who works or sells needs to develop. And it doesn’t need to be arduous, overly time consuming or invade your private life too much. But, it is an investment in your future, so surely you’re worth enough to set aside a few hours a week? When you do, here are a few tips to help you build your network, nurture that network and deepen your connections within that network:
ONE: Build an ecosystem
One of my clients has a business development person who is EXCEPTIONAL at doing this. His brain works this way.
He and I use a plumbing analogy to describe what he spent his first year in the role doing: laying and connecting the pipes. He also won a significant amount of business as a side effect of doing this, but he intuitively understood that if he built around him an ecosystem and became an integral part of the way that ecosystem defined itself and functioned, he would be able to simply “turn on the taps” and capture the flow of opportunities. He just needed to set it up well, and then ensure he had the right receptacle.
He became an influencer in his ecosystem by understanding the problems end customers had, where they went to have those problems addressed and then ensuring he became part of the solution. He spoke at conferences. He became an advisor and mentor to start ups alongside the institutions that incubated these embryonic businesses.
He developed collaborative advisory relationships with people who would refer him (because they understood the value he brought), and he continued to deepen his understanding of the people and direction of his ecosystem. He’s seen as integral in that world. He’s the go to person.
He’s written over $500k worth of business this quarter which is the result of the previous year’s hard work setting it up that way and will continue to flow.
TWO: Categorise your contacts
Not everyone in your ecosystem will be prospective clients.
Some will be referrers.
Some will be people to whom you can refer others that compliment your business or service.
Others may be suppliers that enable you to have greater reach to a market you couldn’t reach on your own.
Within those categories, there’ll be gradings of value to you that will form the basis of the type and frequency of contact going forward.
Whether you use a CRM to help you do this and to set reminders or a spreadsheet or outlook…well, just use something that works for you. But use something to enable you to systemize your contact with each category and grade.
THREE: Dedicate time every week to contacting your network
This is not a one size fits all approach. There should ideally be a variety of contact like:
Broad brand building contact such as an email or post in your chosen online community
Face to face time spent building insight
Face to face time spent deepening your connection
Face to face time with people/persons you haven’t met with yet
Phone conversations to stay connected and across your networks’ world
Written communication specific to individuals within your network
You are important.
It’s irrelevant whether the business is yours or you work in someone else’s. Networks matter. Like beautiful gardens, it takes constant tending to your network to keep it flourishing, relevant and alive. Find time. Get up earlier or stay up later. Or both.
But do it.
You’ll need it one day.