How to Network the Right Way

Published: Apr 15, 2022  |  

As an effective and knowledgeable executive with enviable skills in tax accounting, Rachel was on the fastrack to stardom. All she needed to do was present her business plan to the panel of bosses. But it didn’t go to plan. Rachel crumbled. What was the winning plan, the strategy for success? How would she identify these new clients and build a book of business? It was all very well when she was presenting charts and plans. But who did she know and what would she do?

Rachel didn’t have the answers to these questions, so unsurprisingly she was rejected for promotion. Rachel’s strategy had been to contact likely clients with a well-crafted email to introduce herself and her company. Mostly no one took any notice, despite her gentle offer to discuss further if they would like to get in touch. Rachel hated the thought of more of this and had already consigned activity to when she wasn’t too busy—which meant not much took place because she always found other things to do, other than ping out cold emails.

Looking around her company, she wondered how others managed to successfully market themselves and what they did to win new clients. Her impression was they were mostly characters who always spoke first in meetings (Rachel didn’t like group meetings). Brash, outgoing personalities who could charm and cajole others into agreement. Persuasive talk and hero behaviour ruled.

But Rachel wasn’t like this. She hated loud, aggressive, overconfident characters, yet her boss told her to be successful this is what she needed to be, and she should think about how to change her approach. Rachel decided that, although promotion would be a great thing, the price was one she couldn’t pay. Rachel withdrew her application from the next round and kept her head down, hoping her lack of ambition would be forgotten in time.

Contrast this with a remarkable success story. Alex took himself from London to the USA with nothing more than his computer and mobile phone. In fact, he’d never been there before, had nowhere to stay, and knew absolutely no one. Yet in a matter of months, he’d started to win clients. The dollars went from hundreds to thousands, in spite of the fact that he was selling a tech product that no one knew they needed, from a company they’d never heard of, by a guy they didn’t know.

Alex, like Rachel, had learnt the hard way. After long periods of rejection, he decided that a very different approach was needed if he was to succeed. And as a business owner, he had no choice. He knew the stats: most new companies don’t make it. 

He identified the buyers of his company’s products, but he didn’t know anybody in those organisations. Having diligently researched his prospective clients, he pulled the trigger on his successful strategy. Knowing no one in the USA, he approached his UK contacts and explained he wanted to meet Walgreens in Illinois. Could they help? Of course, they didn’t know anybody, but they knew someone who might. They helpfully passed him on and eventually he was in contact with a Walgreens executive who willingly made the introduction to the decision maker, who Alex met with and secured a sale.

Really? That easy? No, of course not. But when you’ve landed your first deal, your confidence soars and every day gets better. Once Alex’s USA contact book started to build, it became so much easier. The challenge moved from who to contact to how big the contract.

Why did this work so well? There are some fundamentals to understand. People are generally helpful—rarely will they refuse to assist. They might require a few clues as to what you’re looking for, but they will make the introductions. Many people understand the value of doing this because they’ve benefitted themselves in similar circumstances. The same is true for the person you haven’t yet met—they’ve received a request from someone they trust, and “sure, feel free to put him in touch.” That’s how it worked in this true story. From nothing to something by gently talking to people you already know.

And Rachel? She’s started to do the same, on her own terms, by being herself, asking for introductions, and building contacts from people she already knows. She’s starting to make sales to people she didn’t know six months ago. Promotion is imminent.

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