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).