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The modern day networker: What skills do they really need?

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12th Mar 2014
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In this article, Heather Townsend, author of ‘the Go-To Expert’ and the award-winning and best-selling book on networking ‘The FT Guide to Business Networking’ explores the skills that the modern day networker really needs.

Gaining business by referral is still seen as the best way to generate new business. However, there are many myths, particularly around networking and referral generation, which are preventing trainers and professionals from winning business. Let’s look at these myths:

You can only win big-ticket work by networking face-to-face

Time and time again, I hear people say things like 'you can only win big ticket work by networking face-to-face' or 'You are wasting your time by tweeting'. Actually, it’s pretty tough to win any big-ticket work, regardless of your networking preferences. It normally takes a strong established relationship before any professional is invited to tender for a big-ticket piece of work.

Relationships take time to establish and effort to maintain. By perpetuating the myth that you can win big pieces of work just by working the room, the hard work of establishing and maintaining these relationships tends to get pushed to one side. The modern day networker needs to focus more time on building and maintaining relationships to generate big-ticket pieces of work. This can be done very effectively via a mixture of communication methods, e.g. social media, email, phone, face-to-face time.

In fact, Hinge found that buyers of professional services turn to friends and colleagues for suggestions of suppliers to consider. (Over 85% of the time). However, in their research, they found that the second most frequent place people look for suppliers is online.

Let’s dig a little deeper into how these friends and colleagues make these recommendations. Of course, it may be based on you already working with them and what you have done for them. Or this recommendation could come from them interacting with you online. This could be via twitter, reading your blog, seeing an article on LinkedIn.

As the maturity and pace of online communications grow, the modern day networker needs to be able to use both online and offline networking tools. Even if you can be certain that your client’s decision makers don’t use online communication tools, you can guarantee that their staff and influencers will.

It’s all about relationships

Before social media became a major business development tool, it was all about the contents of your little black book. If you knew enough of the right type of people you would never need to worry about where your next piece of work was coming from. Consequently most professionals (and trainers) marketing activity consisted of turning up at the right events, having lunches with the right people and running the occasional seminar.

That was then, and this is now. Yes, it is still all about relationships for the modern day networker. However, the access which social media has given to buyers of professional services has meant far more choice than ever before. Consequently, buyers of professional services, will favour better expertise or specialisation when considering who to hire. In fact, the FT effective client adviser report of 2012, showed that over 67% of buyers of professional services want to work with an adviser who has a deep understanding of their business and the marketplace in which they operate.

Therefore, before you send your people out networking, help them build a strong personal brand as a specialist. This will help them open more doors than just the contents of their little black book alone.

All you need to be able to do is ‘work the room’

If I mention the word ‘networking’ to you, what comes into your mind? I’m guessing you are thinking about going out to an event where you meet and greet strangers and exchange small talk over canapés and drinks? Have you noticed how much harder it is to get people to attend networking events? Time is now very precious to people, and as a result attendance at networking events is dropping.

The modern day networker needs to be able to use all the networking tools in order to generate business from their network, without making networking their day job. This means using tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networking sites to save time to easily find the right people to talk to. Any face-to-face networking time needs to be used to talk to the right people, rather than hoping the right people will turn up.

It’s all about what happens in the room

Actually, it’s really not now about what happens in the room. It’s what happens before you get in the room and what you do after you have been in the room. For example, are you making sure that your employees have their own personal networking strategy and plan? Or are they still just turning up and hoping they will meet the right people in the room? Have you helped them build a strong and credible online footprint, which will help them get the right introductions to the right people? Or have you left it up to them to sort out their LinkedIn profile? Do they have relationship plans, which they are actively working on to make sure they are building and maintaining relationships with the right people? Or are they left hoping that just one cup of coffee will be all it takes to win business from their network?

Conclusion

Helping your employees win business from their network is far more than just working the room. If they don’t have the skills to use online networking tools, establish a credible online footprint, and establish and maintain relationships, you and they could be leaving a huge amount of business on the table.

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the Go-To-Expert. She is the author of ‘The Go-To Expert’ and the award-winning and best seller, ‘The FT Guide To Business Networking’. Click here to receive a weekly email from me to help you become the Go-To Expert and enjoy the luxury of clients coming to you

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