Business networking for IT is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting method you can use to grow your business. But if done incorrectly, it can be harmful to your business.
Business networking is a lot more than giving out business cards. It is about building trust. For IT the networking is a lot more than meeting people. It is about connecting with the right people.
Business networking is a lot more than collecting phone numbers. It is about staying in touch, about listening, addressing needs and looking for opportunities all at the same time.
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It is how as a IT we approach relevant business networking sessions that makes it work for us. Networking is about being authentic and genuine, building relationships and trust, and helping others. Although increased sales is the end goal, don’t participate in business networking to sell.
Build relationships and sales will follow naturally. People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. Relationship capital is an immensely valuable part of business success. Put your energy, intention and attention on business networking.
When Henrik Balmer became the production manager and a board member of a newly bought-out cosmetics firm, improving his network was the last thing on his mind. The main problem he faced was time: Where would he find the hours to guide his team through a major upgrade of the production process and then think about strategic issues like expanding the business? The only way he could carve out time and still get home to his family at a decent hour was to lock himself—literally—in his office. Meanwhile, there were day-to-day issues to resolve, like a recurring conflict with his sales director over custom orders that compromised production efficiency.
Networking, which Henrik defined as the unpleasant task of trading favors with strangers, was a luxury he could not afford. But when a new acquisition was presented at a board meeting without his input, he abruptly realized he was out of the loop—not just inside the company, but outside, too—at a moment when his future in the company was at stake.
Henrik’s case is not unusual. Over the past two years, we have been following a cohort of 30 managers making their way through what we call the leadership transition, an inflection point in their careers that challenges them to rethink both themselves and their roles. In the process, we’ve found that networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information—is simultaneously one of the most self-evident and one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that aspiring leaders must address.
Their discomfort is understandable. Typically, managers rise through the ranks by dint of a strong command of the technical elements of their jobs and a nose-to-the-grindstone focus on accomplishing their teams’ objectives. When challenged to move beyond their functional specialties and address strategic issues facing the overall business, many managers do not immediately grasp that this will involve relational—not analytical—tasks. Nor do they easily understand that exchanges and interactions with a diverse array of current and potential stakeholders are not distractions from their “real work” but are actually at the heart of their new leadership roles.
Like Henrik (whose identity we’ve disguised, along with all the other managers we describe here), a majority of the managers we work with say that they find networking insincere or manipulative—at best, an elegant way of using people. Not surprisingly, for every manager who instinctively constructs and maintains a useful network, we see several who struggle to overcome this innate resistance. Yet the alternative to networking is to fail—either in reaching for a leadership position or in succeeding at it.
Watching our emerging leaders approach this daunting task, we discovered that three distinct but interdependent forms of networking—operational, personal, and strategic—played a vital role in their transitions. The first helped them manage current internal responsibilities, the second boosted their personal development, and the third opened their eyes to new business directions and the stakeholders they would need to enlist. While our managers differed in how well they pursued operational and personal networking, we discovered that almost all of them underutilized strategic networking. In this article, we describe key features of each networking form (summarized in the exhibit “The Three Forms of Networking”) and, using our managers’ experiences, explain how a three-pronged networking strategy can become part and parcel of a new leader’s development plan.
Identify which networking events you should attend. Pick groups that’ll help you achieve your goals. Find venues that make sense for your business. When you register for an event, schedule it like a meeting.
Determine how often you should be networking. How many times in a week, month, or quarter? Visit as many groups as possible.
Attend events with a plan and always try to learn something new. Prepare yourself for the event. Develop open-ended questions to ignite a conversation. Bring business cards but don’t give your business card to everyone you meet. Give cards to those who ask you for it. Try to sit with strangers. Don’t forget to mingle.
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Keep track of people you meet. Keep in touch with them and deepen your emotional connection. Establish a mutual beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients/ customers. Meet with the group members individually so you get to know them better and try to build quality connections. Consider other group members as resources. focus on the group; listen and think about how you can help them. Focus on giving. Build trust within the group.
The importance of selecting the right executive search firm should never be underestimated. Choose a wrong one and your organization may suffer costly delays in filling in a crucial position or be saddled with a new hire who turns out to be unsuitable for the position. To better gauge the fitness of prospective search firms, make sure you answer these questions.
What executive job search experience do you have?
Asking this question will give you a good idea on whether the prospective search firm has established expertise in the areas which are critical to the successful completion of your search. Certainly, the more examples they can share, the better. You need to have full confidence in an executive search firm's ability to attract high quality candidates who have the requisite qualifications and skill set for your specific need. What are your search methodologies, and how can you apply them to my requirements? Discussions with prospective search firms should center on how they intend to go about filling your job requirements. Urge them to be as specific as possible in explaining their strategies in identifying and attracting candidates and to what extent they can offer recruitment guidance for your organization and the candidates.
How will my organization interface with your firm?
It will also be helpful to obtain a detailed account of the processes and mechanics of your partnership. This should include a clear designation of roles and responsibilities, appointment of a dedicated project or recruitment manager, setting up of project milestones, submission of progress reports and schedule of meetings and consultation. You will want an executive search firm that is willing to communicate with you and address the search in the manner which is most beneficial for you.
What is the expected time line?
Corollary to a detailed scope of responsibilities, is an assurance of sticking to a time line that works for both parties. The time-critical aspects of the recruitment activities should balance out with your schedule and that of the firm's. Good executive search firms will readily offer an honest assessment of the time necessary to conduct a thorough candidate search.
How involved will you be in candidate negotiations?
Search firms vary in willingness and expertise in liaising between the hiring organization and a candidate in the final negotiation stages. It's a tricky area to navigate, and you'll want a search firm that can represent and communicate the best interests of both your company and the candidate you wish to hire.
What are your fees?
You need to understand how the executive search firm will bill for its services. A retainer-based approach is often ideal as the expenses can be spread out over the course of the project, although some firms are known to accommodate charging a flat fee for certain projects. Billable items should be scrutinized and should amount to a compelling package of high value services.
A Few Things to Remember
The key thing to remember when evaluating prospective search firms is to be as clear as possible in explaining your requirements for the position, your own expectations and the kind of involvement you're capable of contributing to the process. Tailoring each question according to your organization's specific needs will also help you obtain the answers you need and from there make a well-informed decision.
Do not expect to receive benefits right away. Do volunteering work for network groups to stay visible and give back. As a responsible IT you must show up regularly and on time, show others how you deal with business meetings and associates. Give quality referrals and leads. If someone gives you a referral, follow up on it in a timely manner. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. Take a referral seriously.
Don’t spam on social networks. Use the platforms designed for IT to build relationships and expand your network.
Limit self-promotion. Don’t sell. Build relationships. Be as helpful as you can. Share relevant information with others as people love to learn new things. Participate in discussions. Let others know you’re real. Be approachable. Treat your online connections just as valuable as your offline connections.