I learned the value of having a strong network early in my career. It opened the door to the right job opportunities, helped me help friends and business associates, close accounts back when I was in EMS sales, start and grow my consulting business, and get my first book publishing contract. One of the reasons my network has been helpful is that I’ve always viewed networking as a two-way street. The person helped today should be prepared to return the favor when asked, or better yet, return the favor unasked.
That isn’t always the case in our exit strategy-driven, social networking, twittering society. I have two examples to make the point. When a former client contact lost his job, he contacted me and other people in his Linked In network to let us know he was looking and pass along his resume. He offered to make recommendations on our Linked In sites and asked for recommendations on his in return. He had a job in a less than month. I’ve seen that phenomenon with several other friends who approach networking in that positive a fashion, and while not always able to point someone to a job opening, I do make an effort to try.
Comparatively, I had a recruiter contact me via email requesting that I call her about an operations position she was trying to fill. Given that I didn’t know her, I ignored the email. When she called a few days after looking for names I wasn’t very helpful. When she asked me to email her if a name came to mind; I was pretty clear in telling her that wasn’t going to happen. Why? The reason is because over the years when I’ve been helpful in providing recruiters names I’ve never gotten so much as a thank you note in follow-up. Yes, I know some recruiters do provide consultants with finder’s fees if they place a candidate based on recommendation, but in my experience most are trying to get names for free. They only network when they need something. Since I see far more value in sharing candidate names directly with my client base with no fees involved, I’m not very helpful when unknown recruiters call. If I were still in corporate life, I’d take a different perspective because maintaining recruiter relationships can be good if looking for work. But as a consultant, I’m a professional who is paid for services rendered. Therefore, if I’m asked to help a consultant in another field earn a commission, I’d like to understand what benefit I receive in return.
As you network, don’t just think about what you need today. Those who network best instead think about maintaining relationships which may be beneficial to both parties over time. This is true in job hunting, but it is even more true in sales relationships. Do you only call customer contacts when you are trying to sell them something? In the OEM world, most outsourcing decision teams are pretty overworked right now. They are more likely to talk to salespeople with whom they have a relationship that provides value beyond services sold, than to those who are only interested in closing a new deal. One of the best salespeople I know actually calls every contact in his database twice a year just to touch base and see what is going on. Sometimes it is just a casual call, other times it opens the door to new opportunities that grow out of the conversation. Still other times, what he learns in one conversation allows him to introduce an opportunity to another member of his network. In short, two-way networking builds synergistic relationships that create outstanding opportunities. One way networking leads to closed doors.
Don’t forget my free PCB Chat: Effective EMS Program Management and Strategies for Growing Accounts. It will be held online this coming Wed., March 28th, from 2-3 pm ET.
March 25, 2012