Overcoming Key Challenges in Professional Networking

We all know networking is important due to the business-growth opportunities that come out of the resulting referrals. But what, specifically, makes networking challenging? Even though you’re actively connecting with people on LinkedIn, going to networking events, and exchanging business cards with hundreds of people, what are you missing that results in not getting your return on investment?

In my brief time working with members at Quickskill, I’ve already been able to narrow it down to the following:

  1. You know, and have connected with, lots of people – but do you know who to reach out to? I get it, you have over 2,000 connections on LinkedIn. Does that mean you send a mass email to all of them? Not exactly.
  2. You’ve pared your list down, but how often do you reach out? For some people, weekly or bi-weekly is enough. Conversely, for others, quarterly outreach is too often. And how do you know who falls into which category?
  3. You finally have their attention – but what should you say? These days there are so many things battling for our attention that it makes memorable first impressions that much more vital. How memorable is your re-introduction message? Did you remember to send that meeting follow up email?

These are what I’ve identified as the tough aspects of networking. Now let’s analyze and create a clear thought process around each area.

The Who

As Patrick Ewars, the founder of MindMaven put it, “Focus your time on the people that matter most to you.” And, be clear on why they matter. Are they an influencer in your industry? In your local community? Ask yourself, “How could a strong relationship with this person help my ecosystem?” and “How does this align with my goals?” Knowing the answers to these questions can help you better prioritize who is worth reaching out to and who isn’t. It’s important to note that not everyone automatically makes your list. Your time and energy are finite – use it efficiently by nurturing the contacts that have the greatest potential.

The How (Often)

Contactually, a relationship management-focused CRM, introduces this idea in their “Bucket Game”: a gamified way to group your contacts together by outreach frequency. Similarly, you can do this with your own contacts by asking yourself “How often do I want to be on this person’s radar without being a nuisance?” For influencers and upper-echelon executives, semi-annually or annually may be more than enough. For peers, bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly should suffice, depending on your current relationship.

Contacts will typically fall into any one of the following 5 frequency categories: bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, and annually. Finally, you needn’t worry if you are unsure how often to reach out to someone – it’s normal to move contacts from one frequency bucket to another, depending on your current relationship or any other circumstances. 

The What

What you say is directly related to when you’re sending the email over. Did you just meet this person this morning or at the event last night? Did you last meet this person over 6 months ago? There are two main categories that outreaches fall into:

  • A Re-Introduction Email – You haven’t seen this person in a significant amount of time and are trying to bridge that gap and rebuild your relationship. Think back to the last time you interacted with this person: When and where was it? What did you talk about? Make sure to mention these specific tidbits in your message to help jog their memory. That said, it’s alright if you can’t remember specific details. Finally, I suggest you set up a meeting – whether a phone chat or face-to-face – to catch up.
  • A Follow Up Email – You’ve very recently seen this person and you are following up on your most recent interaction.. A great spinoff of that practice is to record post-meeting thoughts immediately after on your smartphone (or if you have an assistant, ask him to help you capture the information by calling you after the meeting). Include details such as:
    • The value of the relationship (on a scale)
    • The strength of the relationship (on a scale)
    • What was discussed
      • What are the other party’s follow up actions
      • What are your follow up actions
        • Including Introductions to be made, materials to be sent, and/or other details
    • Did you learn anything about his/her personal or professional interests, lives?
    • The next contact date

 With these details, your follow up will be more precise and you’ll be able to better connect with the individual on both a professional and personal basis for future meetings to come.

Tools to Succeed

While there are many CRMs specifically built for networking, like ContactuallySalesforceIQ, and Nimble, you may also customize most any current CRM you are using to support your networking process. Regardless of the tool, it is only as good as the data consistently entered. You must relentlessly maintain your networking process. If you play many roles, you should delegate any key task possible to someone with a more consistent schedule – a subordinate or assistant – who can then be your accountability partner and help not only support you but also keep you consistent.