We're all logging extraordinary hours doing business networking. All too often there is a general sense that "there must be more." As a long-time business networker, please indulge me these thoughts on how to make it better!
Leads: It’s Not (Just) in the Cards
One of the most enjoyable professional experiences is the “aha” moment that erupts when you’re able to provide a business contact with a lead. It’s a tremendously enjoyable, productive, and effective way to network. That is, it’s all of these things when it actually occurs.
The thing is, these peak “aha” moments are quite infrequent; and, apparently, much less common than most people think. In truth, because these experiences can be so memorable (for all of the reasons noted above), that it’s easy to think that they happen every other week. But upon closer look, it’s probably more like once every few months; maybe a handful of times a year, if you’re lucky.
Paradoxically, while the “aha” lead link experience is in itself a very efficient thing – because you’re tangibly and measurably helping solve a business problem through your referral – the approach to generating leads is woefully inefficient.
From Bartering to Stores of Value: A Trip Down Economic Lane
To understand the dynamics of the “aha I know someone who can do that” experience in all of its well intentioned but inefficient glory, let’s take a quick glance at one of the greatest inventions in the history of our species: money. Not all that long ago, if you wanted something – say, a pair of shoes – you had to have something to trade for them. And furthermore, the person selling you the shoes had to need what you had to trade. In other words, if you and your shoe salesman didn’t have mutually aligned “aha” moments, then there was no immediate deal – he was stuck with a pair of shoes that he could have sold, and you were stuck wanting a pair of shoes, and not having them. It was very depressing. Many people went shoeless. What had to take place, was that you had to trade your stuff to someone else in order to obtain something that the shoe salesperson wanted. Then, and only then, could you make the deal. It could take months; or just shelved entirely.
And then, cheerfully, money started circulating. And this money was nothing but a store of value. It was a piece of paper (or a piece of metal) that held a certain value, and could be traded with ridiculous ease between multiple buyers and sellers. Need some shoes? No problem! Send in some of that money (and add a little bit extra, the service was great) and get a pair. It brought people together, and enabled them to do business because they had money. They had something in their pocket that enabled an “aha” moment to occur.
How? Simple: when you network, don’t limit yourself to looking for aha moments. There’s no need! Rather, learn about what your business contacts do; even if you don’t immediately need them, and they don’t immediately need you. When you develop relationships with quality partners and learn about what they do, how they do it, why they do it, and with whom they do it, you are in essence acquiring a store of value. You are increasing your capacity to be proactive, and to generate exponentially more aha moments in the future if and when an opportunity to work together (or make a referral) happens.
Generating leads through your business network can take the same path, and benefit in much the same way, as the economic system did in its evolution from bartering goods to exchanging money. The thing to remember here – and it’s important, because it’s a new way of thinking – is that you don’t need to need anything from a potential networking partner in order to proactively find out all you can about them. Nor do you need to be trying to find a fit for someone who asked you if you “knew someone” who did this or that. As you develop relationships and generate leads, you are adding to your “bank account” of quality partners; both for yourself, for your partners, and for your clients. And at the same time, you’re investing into someone else’s account; they, too, now know what you do, how you do it, why you do it, and with whom you do it. And when they need you, for themselves or for a contact, they’ll be in touch.
In a nutshell, the introduction of money allowed people to be very proactive. They didn’t have to wait for infrequent aha moments in order to do business. Thanks to the money in their pocket, they could be prepared for an unforeseeable future. They could, in essence, experience aha moments all of the time. Several times a day, in fact. This increases your bank account of potential partners down the road, and at the same time, increases your exposure to quality professions in various walks of workforce life. Indeed, even if a business deal is never struck with a proactively generated lead, the cross-dialogue with quality, excellence-driven professionals can be incredibly rewarding and totally profitable. After all, as we all know, innovations in how business is done is not limited to any particular field or type of professional; knowing how an automotive manufacturer is successfully anticipating customer demand can help you sell your hotel rooms. Learning how a marketing firm is branding itself can help you increase market share for your law firm.
It’s Not Just About the Cards
“Aha” moments will still pop up from time to time, and they’ll still be very enjoyable experiences. But remember: networking these days, and in the future, isn’t merely about trading cards and seeking that rare “oh yes, I know someone who can do that” moment. It’s about proactively building your business bank account with stores of value; with information that you have learned from actively generating leads.
In this way, your access to new business professionals will increase as your circle widens and opens outside of its conventional framework. The results? More “aha” experiences. A high quality network of diverse professionals who can provide answers and insight. And, of course, our old favorite: more money!