I saw this tweet today…
If you’ve spent the last several years becoming an amazing product developer, first let me just say that you're awesome. There are very few people on the planet (by percentage) that can make a computer do what they want it to do.
The lesson Louis is highlighting is critical! I talk about it as the power of networking.
Of course I replied. And if you know me, you've likely heard me say this, over and over, forever.
All things being equal, people like to buy from their friends. So do everything you can to make things equal. Then start making friends.
Great programming doesn't equal great sales
I'm going to tell you something you likely already know. Years ago I wrote that we focus more on could questions instead of should questions. In it, I mentioned that timing is one of the critical dynamics we need to pay attention to.
Timing comes into things again, when we think about audience / customer developement.
After all, being amazing at product development (and I'm talking specifically about software development) doesn't turn you into a sales or marketing machine.
It doesn't even guarantee that you'll know how to pitch your product or how to close sales. The skills to shape the message aren't the same skills needed to create the product.
And it doesn't suggest that there's an audience waiting to buy from you.
That's where the power of networking comes in….
Great sales aren't a result of asking all your friends to buy your product
To be clear, by networking I don't mean getting your product in front of friends and family. I don't even mean selling to your newsletter audience (though that's a fantastic way to get going because they already trust you).
I'm talking about selling to strangers.
And here's the issue – we were all taught, from an early age, not to talk to strangers. But that rule doesn't apply in every context. And when it comes to producing and selling products, you have to learn to get good at selling to strangers.
Ten Ways to Leverage the Power of Networking
1. Develop your capacity for curiosity
The most important thing I have learned about networking is that I need a greater capacity for being curious. When people would tell me they worked for a company that pharmaceuticals outsource their critical trials to, I used to have nothing to ask about that. I just looked at them with a blank and dumb look.
These days I think I can sit next to anyone in a cafe (as things open up) or plane (soon) and if they tell me what they do, I can develop a question or two about it. But the trick isn't having a set of questions ready to go. The trick is to be genuinely interested in the answers I'm about to hear. And that has taken some work.
2. Become generous
People will tell you that the first rule of networking is to give before you ask. I agree except it's my second rule (after curiosity).
Be someone who gives. Be faster at giving. Not because you plan to make a big ask, but simply because you want to develop your “brand” around being someone who is generous and can be called on for help.
I'm not saying you have to pay for everything. Be generous with what you have. If you know a lot about a topic, be generous with it.
Now I'm not saying you have to give away all your services for free. I pay my friends when I hire them for work. But being known as someone who is generous will help you far more than being known as a stingy expert.
3. Be fantastic at follow-ups
I bet, like me, you get a lot of email. And in those emails, you get a lot of “asks.” But hey, I get hundreds of emails a day and that can mean that by evening I may have forgotten the good intentions I had that morning.
The best folks at networking get that. They understand I'm busy. As I understand it about others I'm networking with. So what we all need to get good at is not taking the silence as a statement and instead, just follow up.
The power of networking is the power of persistence.
Become a wizard at knowing when, and how much, to follow up. Too much and you'll become annoying. But too little and opportunities will be missed.
4. Meet people way outside your circle
One of the challenges we face is that all our friends know all our friends. We create these networks of friends who know each other—because we like our friends. We like them to know each other. But as a result, if you need something and your friends can't find it, their networks (matching yours) may not do better.
So get good at meeting people from way outside your smaller circles of influence. That will significantly raise the potential of a more powerful network.
5. Get good at introductions
When I meet people, and I can't recall who I stole this from, my goal for our first encounter is to learn enough about them to brag on them as I introduce them to someone else. This can sometimes take a few minutes of me asking questions. But man, when I get the right info, I can introduce them like no other.
Be generous with your introductions. Be a connector.
I may not be the smartest guy in the room (and that happens a lot), but being someone who knows someone that can answer your question is a really nice skill to have. Develop it.
6. Develop your transparency
Now I'm not suggesting that you open up your first conversation with someone with a story about your bladder or back problems. But one of the things we often forget is that we're human beings, not human doings. What you do for a living is only part of who you are. And the same is true for who you're meeting.
Get to know other people beyond their job title, and make sure you're sharing the other parts of your life that are interesting to you. People know I like books, hats, cigars, and vacations. Oh and other nice things (watches, pens, fine meals, etc). We connect on those things more often than we do on work sometimes and it helps us with “chit chat.”
So share about your life as you meet people. But don't overshare.
7. Ask for advice but not a meal
It's fantastic to ask for advice. It puts the other person in a position of authority which is a compliment (even when it's true) and also acknowledges that you value their insights and opinions. And just because you ask for it doesn't mean you need to follow it. But you should understand it.
If you don't understand it, conversations get even better when you probe further. It says you're actually interested, not just using some networking trick. And please, don't ask a question you already know the answer to, just so you can talk more. It's the fastest way to get me to move on.
But, unless you know them very, very, super very well, don't ask to meet for a meal. Those meals take time. Not just mealtime. Driving time. Disengaging from work time. And the honest truth is that if the engagement is all going to be one-sided, there's not a lot of incentive to burn that much time.
So instead of creating an awkward situation where someone has to spell out that they don't want to carve off that much time for you, instead ask them for a quick chat (time-boxed), or for coffee.
When people ask me to join them for a meal (when I don't know them), so they can, “pick my brain,” I'm always more than happy to send them to my Clarity account. It highlights that there's value in talking, and scopes my generosity.
But I prefer to simply suggest you ask people for lots of other things beyond meeting for a meal.
I'll admit it—I love LinkedIn. I also use Facebook groups more than Facebook. And my favorite network is twitter—for short and quick conversations. That short text is awesome because people have to get to the point. 🙂
But my core recommendation here is to use these networks as places for networking. Not just publishing photos or links. Use them for research, relationship building, and making introductions or connections. They're powerful solutions for that, and can really help make your networking easier.
9. Your networking doesn't require automation
If you're going to a conference, use their website to find the attendees and see if you can determine who you want to meet. You might even be able to use their site to reach out to folks.
If you're coming back from a conference, use your own CRM to remind you for follow-ups.
But don't turn them into automations at the start….
Trust me, “It was great meeting you at (conference name), and I think many of the things we're doing here at (company name) would be really interesting to you and (company name)” doesn't sound authentic.
So even though it doesn't scale, write personal notes, personal emails. Just resist the urge to automate all your networking.
10. Create events to connect people
And the last piece of advice I would give you about networking will only work when the country opens up again.
But here it is.
Create your own events where you can connect people. In normal times I speak at more than 10 conferences each year. In whatever city I'm in, I call around to find a good restaurant, find how many people we can seat (anywhere from 8-25), and then invite people (both old and new friends) from the event to join me one evening for dinner.
This approach allows me to see friends and enjoy a meal, but it also allows me to introduce some folks to each other who may not know each other. And if the introductions are done well, they can pay off down the road (simply because people are thankful for your help in making the right connections).
The Power of Networking is that it's Powerful
I know, it's a silly way to end this post. But I wouldn't have spent this time with you going on about networking if it wasn't as powerful as it is. The power of networking is that it's not the same as learning a programming language. As you see above, there are tons of ways to network, and my hope is that a few of them are close enough to your wheelhouse that you can adopt them. Once you do, you might be surprised at how wide your network becomes.
And all things being equal, a larger network is a better network, because people like buying from their friends.
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