Networking Strategies and Building Rapport for Relationships

The "old boy network"; "Working the system"; "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" - we all use these phrases regularly, often in jest, but also to point to the ways we take advantage of connections, developing useful relationships from vague beginnings or old associations.

Most of us, whether we recognise it or not, are informal "networkers". We tap into the "old boy network". Not before time, old boy networks are also including women. But we all use our connections to find things out, to get jobs done, to keep ourselves in touch with opportunities, to stay informed about worthwhile investments, or even horses to bet on!

Some of us are natural networkers; some have learned the game; others have, by necessity, adopted networking as a working practice.

Networking, and working the net, involve a great deal more than keeping a card index system up to date. Nevertheless, the system is as inseparable from networking as organisation is from strategy. So what are the key skills for successful networking?

The real communications art
Communication is an art as well as a skill. Effective communication is never a one-way process. Communication is not only about conveying verbal and written messages, or even about listening. It is also about interpreting and understanding. It's not what people say, it's what they mean or what they feel that the outstanding communicator can discern. If networking is all about striking up relationships and finding grounds for mutual interest; about gathering data, about unloading information from the minds of others; then empathy, understanding and the means to discern what motivates others are critical elements.

Information may be the answer - but what is the question? You may feel this is a familiar statement.

The effective networker knows the right questions to ask. He or she will already have thought out what is to be gained from meeting a specific contact, and will have a clear agenda for any meeting or telephone conversation.

Networkers have to be interrogators. They will often be required to tease out what their subject may not wish to reveal. Interrogation is the right word. Of course it must be kindly and courteous, and often the process must offer the person being interrogated something from the deal. "What's in it for me?" is a very pertinent question.

We can reach new customers through the networks we have built up, though dedicated large-scale approaches to relationship marketing require the establishment of what is essentially a formal process of networking.

Everyone in the company is trained to work single-mindedly towards the goal of moving customers from the dissatisfied into the satisfied category and swelling the ranks of the loyal customer group.

Telemarketing, networking and databases
Direct marketing techniques are an important element in the relationship marketing approach. Direct mail, customer letters and, increasingly, telemarketing carried out by skilled professionals, bring form and structure to the building of networks with varieties of people in and around customer organisations.

Expanding the customer base through use of the network
In the consumer field, we all know that the most effective form of promotion is referral or a good testimonial from a third party who has had prior experience of our service.

The twelve steps for success
Step 1: Have a set of goals and a plan. "Beware of what you want, for you shall surely get it!"

Step 2: "No" means not now - to the opportunity, not you! People don't mean "no", they mean "not now". What is important is that you are still there when it is the right time.

Step 3: Define the Prospect Client or Partner with whom you wish to build a relationship. Good new prospects can look very like your current excellent clients. Ask yourself:
- What is it about your current clients that you like, in terms of their personalities and how they deal with you?
- What do your existing clients think of our service?
Talk to them and find out what they think.
- Which of your existing clients are most profitable? Why are they profitable and how can you use this information to define similar prospects?
- What clients have you lost and why? This is an issue that you will want to face squarely and examine carefully. It's rare for people to hear what they don't want to hear. Have courage. Ask, listen and learn. Building relationships slowly with contact over a period of time creates trust and takes away the sense of "This is going to hurt".

Step 4: Make contact at least every 3 months.

Step 5: Know what you offer.

Step 6: Look like the business you want to be.

Step 7: Sound like the business you want to be.

Step 8: Be consistent. Do not confuse your clients and prospects with new sounds, new colours, new messages.

Step 9: Be effective by making special continuous offers to develop the relationship.

Step 10: Be organised.

Step 11: Persistence pays.

Step 12: Understand yourself.

Natural Partners - Who Are They?
They're like you. They work in service industries and may be white or blue collar, professional, self-employed or managers. Many of them will be self-employed, in which case their partners may be heavily involved in managing their businesses and finances.

An accountant may also be relied upon and may be looking for networking opportunities.

How We Can Help Each Other
Simply by understanding each other's needs, and responding accordingly. The majority of your potential partners will be short of time and cash - however, a significant proportion are likely to be "empty nesters". If so, they are more time "rich" and are able to really feel as if they can improve their situation.

They have the same expectations of service provider partners as do Clients and prospects. They will only wish to partner with those they perceive to share their values and approach to business.

Here are Some Business Relationship, Conversation Starters You Can Adapt and Draw From:

  • What are your plans for the (farm, business, future, etc..)?
  • Where are you hoping to take the business?
  • What efforts have you made to grow the business/personal wealth and what were the outcomes?
  • What investments do you prefer and feel most comfortable with?
  • What other investments have you heard about, that interest you?
  • Are there any areas in the share market that interest you?
  • Have you ever considered another direct investment in a business venture - your own or with a partner?