How effective is your business networking strategy?


It is likely you have a marketing and business development plan or strategy in place which will include titles such as corporate events and entertainment, work, direct mail, cold calling, advertising, Public Relations, sponsorship, seminars, pens with the company’s name embossed plus further headings. Do the words ‘networking activities’ feature? You will quite rightly argue that corporate events and entertainment and seminars could be included in this heading. That is fine but do your team understand their roles at these and other functions? Do they know how to “work the rooms” professionally? Do you know what return you get from these costly investments? Not just the expense of cash but the valuable time expended in terms of lost chargeable hours. How quickly after an event such as a golf day or dinner do the team meet to review what was learnt, who met who, who is following up which guest? It is after the event that really matters if you want to get a return on your investment. From my experience networking is often left to personal choice and not quite as well organised as other business development activities. Why is it? After all, one of the definitions of networking is ‘word-of-mouth marketing’ so why doesn’t it take an important place in firms marketing strategy? South African companies are spending millions on conferences and functions but it is more likely that few of these companies consider the return on investments.
Business networking is simply having a conversation, yet most business people miss out on valuable new business leads by not utilising business networking techniques effectively.

NETWORKING…just what is it?
It is simply building relationships. And how do you build any meaningful, worthwhile and long term relationship? Through trust. That is how good business is conducted, not just through a quick sale and conducting transactions. But to get to the trust you have to get to know the person first then there has to be mutual liking.
People buy people before they buy the service or the company name. When people go networking effectively and represent the firm in a professional and proficient manner it can be the most successful method of creating new business opportunities. To incorporate a networking mindset during business strategy sessions the focus should the value of “social capital” as oppose to focusing on “financial capital” only. Social capital is, in fact, very similar to its monetary sibling. It, too, is accumulated by an individual or a business and used, or is available for use, in the production of wealth. Put more simply, it is the accumulation of resources developed through personal and professional networks. These resources include ideas, knowledge, information, opportunities, contacts and, of course, referrals. Just what do you need to keep in mind when thinking about building your social capital?
Social capital is built by design, not chance. According to Wayne Baker, author of Achieving Success Through Social Capital, “Studies show that lucky people increase their chances of being in the right place at the right time by building a ‘spider web structure’ of relationships that catch information.” Furthermore, according to Baker, “Success is social; all the ingredients of success that we customarily think of as individual-talent, intelligence, education, effort and luck-are intertwined with networks.” Thus, a key way that social capital is acquired is through networking because successful networking is all about building and maintaining solid, professional relationships. The procedures and results of word-to-mouth- marketing are not as easy to measure as cold-calling. Therefore, big companies stick to the old ways when training their sales staff

Smith, cautions that networking should be underpinned by key principles such as sincerity, trust, character and competence. This is a long term project. Countless times I have observed people actually run from person to person, with the expectations of first giving away their card and hoping to gather the other person’s. How can you possibly build a relationship with a person when your objective is to get out there, and distribute cards? People know when you are not sincere and when your focus is on the “what is in it for me attitude’. Networking is very much an acquired ability which, with proper training, can be learned, developed and mastered. So, maybe it’s time for senior people involved with business development to consider placing networking strategy more prominently on the agenda.

Copyright 2007 by Karl Smith
This article may be copied or republished with the following credit:
“By Karl Smith, South Africa’s Business Networking and Referral Coach, Cape Town, South Africa. +27 (0) 71 444 2210, www.businessnetworkingsouthafrica.co.za,karl@businessnetworkingsouthafrica.co.za

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