Networking 101 Expanded

Josh Kerbel wrote me with a good question to my Networking 101 post and my follow up post to that one Here’s how you do it that I thought I’d post along with my response (with his permission).

Josh Writes:
A while back you wrote a post about networking and you referenced Ben Casnocha as an example of a great network, the type of guy who writes people letters and goes out and meets them.

Being that I depend on networking for most of my deal flow and just to build up a network of contacts, I am always looking to talk with people, new people and old. So I tried a little experiement, I mailed letters of congratulations (I also included a small gift certificate to starbucks as small congratulations present)to people who people who recently landed big promotions that were announced in the newspaper, CEO and director types, but all corporate suits. Funny enough, I did not get one response. My letters were completely non sales orientated, just hi, congratulations type of thing . . . So I guess what I am asking is that do you see a difference between the entrepreneurs and the corporate types you know in there attitude to networking? Or am I just a lunatic for going out and trying to start relationships with absolute strangers. Here’s how I responded: I think it comes down to context, Josh. The difference in what you are describing and what Ben did is that I knew Ben. He reached out to me in a way that was relevant, direct and responsive to something (in this case my blog). I’ve e-mailed with Ben a few times and even talked with him on the phone once. Your postcard was marketing (a  initial introduction aimed at getting the attention of the recipient by offering them something). Ben’s was networking – reaching out in a unique and fun way to a group (he later told me he sent 50 postcards out) that he wanted to stay in touch with but that he had already had some contact with.   Interestingly, I think that your Starbucks gift certificate – while an interesting idea – may have even worked against you. I don’t want to overstep my undergrad psychology degree, but my hunch is that the gift was received by some as a sign that you were going to follow up to ask for something (there’s a chapter on this phenomenon in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cianldini – ironically recommended to me by Ben a few months back). I think you may have inadvertently created a situation where people perceived your gift as an entry into something they didn’t want because the communication lacked context. I think you’d be better off looking for real entry  points with people you’d like to have in your network. If they blog, its easy – post a thoughtful comment to a few blog posts, send an article that you know they might find interesting, etc. If they don’t blog try searching for articles they might have either authored or been quoted in. Look for conference presentations they might have given on the web. Check for organizations they might be involved with other than their work. Now contact them with a thoughtful note that’s relevant to them and offers something (a link to an article they might find interesting, etc). I’d also be upfront about what you’re looking for. If you leave them to guess about your intentions I fear that most people will assume that you’re going to want something down the road.Does that make sense? I can tell you from my own experience that I’d be much more likely to respond well to a response to a blog post than to a more random attempt to get in touch with me or get my attention (this note as an example – you tracked back a few posts of mine and then wrote me this note. I read your blog so I have plenty of context all of which makes me more likely to respond to you).

  • Abby

    How funny, I’m absolutely terrible at this, because I’m worried that people will think that I’m trying to use them in some way, and, in a sense one is. At some point, you’ll want something even if it’s just contact or friendship.
    I’ve seen people offer to do nice things for others out of the kindness of their hearts and seen it misinterpreted. Someone in church once offered to help someone with her garden, and the woman took me aside to ask if I thought he wanted money. He had a full-time job at a bank in a management position So, I said that I didn’t think so. The woman was well off. Some might call her rich, and it was clear that she thought that everyone had to be on the take in some way.

  • Context is so important. Josh’s gift certificate implies a quid pro quo.
    Great suggestion to connect with people where they live, i.e. articles they’ve written, blogposts … etc.
    That being said … I’m always up for a coffee with someone with something to say.
    BTW – good series

  • Josh – while i’m not sure exactly what you do, I think you need to be more targeted in your outreach. Saying that you’re always looking to talk to people to “build up a network of contacts” doesn’t on the face of it seem to be very targeted. Looking at a local newspaper for announcements of promotions – how many of these guys are potential clients/references/whatever? For me, I don’t just go out and “meet with people” – I try to meet folks in local government, since that’s who I sell to, and then folks who are tapped in to entrepreneurship and software. The third group of people I meet with/talk to are just amazing thinkers: intellectuals, writers, etc. While not directly related to what I am doing now, surrounding yourself with people smarter than you never hurts. But meeting someone for the hell of it so one’s address book can be one name longer isn’t a good use of time.
    Everything Seth and the other commenters said about the implied quid pro quo nature of the Starbucks certificate is right on. Think about it if someone just sent you a Starbucks gift certificate out of the blue with a “congrats” note on it…

  • This topic is very timely for me because I’ve been doing a lot of focused networking of late. (Seth can attest because he’s one of the people I reached out to. 🙂
    I’ve found that I get the best traction when I:
    1) contact someone in relation to something specific like a blog post or newspaper article
    2) tell people up front what I’m up to and why I’m interested in talking about (lately I’ve been trying to launch something in China, so that’s usually what I bring up)
    3) mention that I’m always looking to meet new entrepreneurs in the area (most of the people I contact are either entrepreneurs or people who work with them)
    4) if I think it’s necessary, tell the target that I’m *not* going to try to sell him something
    If/when I get the meeting, I try to spend a lot of time getting the contact to talk about what they’re up and even what their dreams and goals are, and I ask how I can help them acheive them. And I genuinely look for ways to help, most often by introducing them to other people (assuming they pass the “not a bozo” test).
    If I think there’s an actual sales opportunity, I use a technique known to people who study the David Sandler sales system as “reversing.” Basically, I suggest to the person that they probably *don’t* need my services and in fact probably have everything covered in-house or through existing contractors. Example: “My business is XXX and my typical client has YYY characteristics, but I’m sure that’s not a fit for you.”
    It sounds hokey, but this is an incredibly powerful technique. People tend to open the kimono and tell you their real concerns if they think you’re *not* trying to sell them something. A succesful salesperson does not look and act like every other poor and mediocre salesperson. Reversing makes you stand out from the rest in a way that’s modest.
    I’v babbled enough and probably given away too many secrets, but I’ve found that being open in networking is more likely to produce positive results than holding your cards too close to the chest.

  • Seth…much thanks for devoting some space to this. I was expecting to see……….Wow, that guy josh is a lunatic!
    I’ll buy you a coffee anytime!
    Having had piles of experience networking, I have done all of the things mentioned above, just wanted to shake the tree a little bit.
    Since Seth and I last talked, I actually got one response from the CEO of a company.
    As far as how I would react if someone sent me a letter with a gift certificate, I would (and have) call them and thank them. My approach is that I will give anyone who bothers to learn my name a few minutes of my time. I have gotten many calls from people who just grabbed my card at an networking event and called me up in order to introduce themselves to me or sell me something. Basically, I am not the type to who is concerned about being pressured in to buying something, but I know that by sitting down with someone new, I can keep my ear to the ground to learn about new opportunities, trends, etc.
    There have been many a time when people who I have considered blowing off initially have been great sources of deal flow, then there are those people I meet who seem to be well connected, but turn out to be absolute duds.
    I’ll make a quick example here (I’ll take Ben’s post as an example) and then shut up. I have 2 contacts who are well connected lobbyist in Toronto, deal with all levels of government in Canada, but I don’t go around wearing a sign on my forehead saying I know person X or person Y. Spend a few minutes chatting with me, tell me what you do and what you look for and I may be able to help you out with a few contacts that you didn’t have before.
    Yes, I will pretty much talk to anyone.

  • Seth, I’ve enjoyed following this little series about networking as it’s vastly important to what I do for a living. Josh, let me add one more thing. I sent two congratulatory notes over the weekend. One to a former co-worker who had a big write-up in the local paper and another to someone I serve on a board with who was just promoted. Neither note asked for anything. Both were meant to keep in touch with influential people in my community–people I already knew. If you’re asking these questions, you’re on the right track. Keep it up. BTW, I’m seeing a lot about coffee in this string of comments, if it’s possible to have virtual coffee, count me in!

  • Terrific post – I’ll be tracking back to it. Liked it so much I think I’m going to send all of those LinkedIn requests I get to you to read this first…

  • Seth,
    An excellent post and discussion, as usual. I agree with Derek Scruggs, and have used few of his tricks myself. In one case, I started talking to an alumna of a BSchool I was intersted in, and never asked for help in beginning. After about three months of continuous interest I showed in school, her firm, and sent some article links etc, she and I got on a good wavelength. Eventually she reviewed few of my essays and then wrote to the school too on my behalf. Had I asked for review in the beginning, I’m sure it wouldn’t have worked this way. At the same time, one shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help either… the question is ‘when’ to ask.
    Finally, I can relate to a proverb which is something like:
    “Never ask for money. Ask for advice instead, and you are more likely to get money.
    Never ask for free advice. Ask for money instead, and you’ll get free advice”.
    Enough said, time to shut up!

  • Some great comments. Let me share some of my experiences, which is admittedly a lot different from most of your readers.
    I’m somewhat of an unusual academic – I’m a flaming extrovert. So, one of the few comparative advantages I have is that I hook up with people more easily than most of my pointy-headed tribe (quick question – How can you tell an extroverted academic? A: He looks at YOUR shoes when he’s talking to you). I also have the advantage of having been raised by a salesman for a father.
    If you want to make connections, first find out where the poeple you want to mee are. This sounds painfully obvious, but it’s amazing how much easier is is to network at a conference or association meeting, and many times we miss the obvious things.
    One of the easiest ways to make connections (as leoptimiste pointed out) is to ask for advice. It’s incredibly flattering to be asked your opinion. If you’ve met someone at a conference, make sure you get their card, and then make sure to drop a quick thank you note in the mail. It has a much bigger impact than an email.
    In general, you want to spend a lot more time asking questions and listening than you do talking. The best kind are the open ended questions – particularly the “why” type. You’ll find out a lot that way (BTW – if you want to see an example of a great questioner, watch Larry King).
    Once you’re out of sight, WRITE THINGS down on their business card. If you’re at a conference or other group setting, you will forget things.
    Finally, the next time you meet them, thank them for their time, and refer back to your previous conversation. Even better, if you made small talk the previous meeting, refer back to non-business things – it’s amazing how much of an impact remembering small detials has on people.
    A lot of this is pretty much plain vanilla “Dale Carnegie” type stuff. However, it works. The reason it works is that these things signal to the other person that you value THEM. Nothing is more flattering.
    It takes time. But, most of us plan on being around for a loooong time, so it’s worth it.