How can I help you?

As 2010 comes to a close I have been thinking about the lessons learned since I began Cofebuz almost 3 years ago. You, my friends here on Cofebuz and throughout the world in the Design and Construction Network, have been such a great part of my life.  It has been during this time that I have realized that true success comes from relationships and that helping others is the best way to build great relationships.

As I look towards 2011, I realize that my network of relationships is stronger today than it ever has been. It is my desire to use this network to bring people together.  I want to help others build relationships where they did not previously exist and to create friendships that stretch far beyond business into the parts of our lives that truly matter. So, how can I help you? What can we do together in 2011 that will really matter on January 1, 2012 and beyond? Please post a comment here, or send me a note directly to tim-at-cofebuz.com. It is your turn… how can I help you?

Your approach matters

This morning I received an email from “Mark” (his real name will remain anonymous) requesting approval to join the Design and Construction Network (the 10,000+ person networking group I founded early last year). While I receive these emails all the time the content of this email had me taking a second look, it simply said “What benefit or contribution can I get out of joining?” 

In 10 words Mark proved that he does not understand real networking, and I don’t think that Mark is the only one. For the past 20 years we have been taught that networking is a means to generate sales, while in reality it is about building relationships. Imagine if Mark walked up to you and asked “What benefit or contribution can I get out of meeting you?” Instead of building a mutually beneficial relationship his approach would undermine any reasonable chance at building a true relationship.

How are you approaching networking? Do you proactively build relationships through your actions and interactions? The real secret to building great relationships is to help others first, the result is friends that enjoy being around you and know that you have their best interest in mind.

The Relationship Development Process

Success in business starts with successful relationships. Because of this, the relationship development process is often the guide that is used to govern the marketing and business development roles in companies. As you look at these stages of the relationship development process note that marketing plays the pivotal role of effectively laying the foundation for relationships, while business development facilitates the initiation of those relationships.

The Relationship Development Process

Name Recognition – During the name recognition phase of the relationship development process a company or an individual goes from being an unknown, to being known. This foundation sets the groundwork for a relationship as others are at least aware that you or your company exists. Name recognition is one of the primary objectives of a strong marketing department and it often takes the form of advertising, promotions, mailers, and press. It is also handled in business development and sales when a new relationship starts. A common introduction when you meet someone new for the first time often builds name recognition: for example: “I’m John Adams with ABC company.” Note: I have found that if your company is an unknown, prior to initiating a new relationship, your chances of turning the relationship into a sale are reduced significantly.

Develop Understanding – During this part of the relationship development process, a company or individual goes from just being a name, to being recognized for how they fit into the world. This stage establishes a thorough understanding of your company, the services you provide, and how others see you in the industry. Most importantly, it is during this stage that others will learn how your company can be of benefit to another individual or company. This stage should be handled by marketing at the company level and business development at the relationship level. In marketing, this often takes the form of websites, brochures, newsletters, and articles. In business development, it often happens during conversation and should include how the individual fits into the corporate structure.

Interactive Communication – During this part of the relationship development process you must begin to engage at the human level. This is no longer about facts or information, it is about building a personal relationship. Because of this, business development should take the lead at this stage with minimal marketing support.

Solidify Relationship – Relationships are solidified when you engage in mutually beneficial action. When you call someone that you have solidified a relationship with, communication is easy and most of the time you will be able to quickly find direct and indirect topics of conversation. This stage should be headed by your business development staff in conjunction with your project management staff. Often, this is the point at which new work or projects are begun with your new client.

How are you doing?

Looking at this process, you can see the importance of both business development and marketing in the sales process. Take a moment to identify the areas that you need to strengthen in order to improve the effectiveness of your sales process. Is your marketing department truly laying a foundation with name recognition and developing understanding, or are they just producing glossy brochures? Is your business development staff regularly initiating interactive communication with important potential relationships, or have you yet to identify who is responsible for business development at your company? As you think about these questions, I hope you can see the steps you need to make to improve your sales process.

Networking Secrets a Father Taught His Son

The following is a guest post is contributed by Maria Rainier, who regularly writes on the topic of online college education.

My brother is a wildly successful person. He literally has thousands of business cards in this gigantic blue 3 ring binder he keeps with him at all times. Ask my brother do you know a good handyman, he says “I know several”; ask him if he knows a good Cardiologist he replies “of course, I know the best in the city”. Ask him if knows anybody to do anything, he always says yes. It seems his binder is almost like a magician’s magic hat. You ask it to produce something and presto, it appears. A few weeks ago when we got together for Mothers Day at moms I decided to inquire. I asked him, how did you have time to meet and talk to all these people? How do you know them? He said. “I met 99% of them through networking”. I have to admit I was shocked.

Not to worry. I learned networkers are made, not born.

Growing up, my brother kept to himself. In high school he was not what I would call outgoing. He was not very talkative for a boy and he was not by any means a natural born salesman. So I asked him, “How did you get so good at networking?” He didn’t hesitate and replied “Practice”. I was puzzled. I always thought you can either network or you can’t. You are either a networker or you’re not. So I asked him, “what do you mean, you where never really a people person, you have always kept to yourself, why this new networking you?” He said “dad taught me how to network, go ask him” and then he laughed. So I pressed on and asked my brother “what do you mean dad taught you?” He said dad taught him the 3 cardinal rules of networking when he was in college taking a business course. Now I thought this is getting ridiculous, the 3 cardinal rules and a business course, he has to be pulling my leg. Maybe this goes deeper and I better not dig further. But of course, I had to. My dad never taught me to network. I needed answers.

I asked my brother if he would mind sharing with me how a quiet shy kid can turn into a networking expert. He quickly snapped, “I am no expert, but I can hold my own” “I told you sis, practice” I said “I know all that, but tell me exactly how you do it”. He said it would take him an hour and a half to teach me the 3 cardinal rules of networking dad taught to him and I should call him one night this week. I reluctantly agreed.

Get it from the source.

The next evening I called him and I said “OK so what are the 3 cardinal rules to networking?” he replied, “Do you have a pen?” I said, “Yes” and like it had been rehearsed and practiced dozens of times, he recited these cardinal rules to me: “Practice, Practice, Practice”. I said “c’mon now, I really want to know”. He said “OK”. He went on to tell me for over an hour that knowing people from all walks of life was essential to being successful. He told me that you did not have to make friends or even have anything in common, just that you were to create real business relationships. He said “this is the first cardinal rule, build solid relationships”. He further explained that he was taught by our dad to let the other person talk about their business and magically, in some metaphysical way, they would remember you and what you do through your silence. This was rule two. He then went on to tell me that common sense, when a networking opportunity presents itself, was the 3rd and final rule. He explained that carefully presenting your services when appropriate and only when appropriate, was key crucial to networking.  He told me that sometimes it took him two or three meetings to form a working relationship or even say a word about what he did. He was careful to point out not to pressure or rush a contact into a relationship, and better to stay low key and not seem desperate. He said that part of the common sense in cardinal rule three was to act like you don’t need the contact, but that you want it. He said this was a fine line and it took practice. He finished by telling me that no one wants to buy from, or do business with a desperate person. People want to buy from and do business with a successful person, so act like a successful person and you will never have a problem networking.

I don’t like networking events

I don’t really like networking events. To be honest, I have been struggling with this over the past several months because no matter what I do it seems that networking has become, and is becoming, a bigger part of my life. I write about networking, speak about networking, coach others on networking, I founded a massively successful commercial network, I have even been a conference keynote speaker presenting on the topic of networking! So how is it then do I not like networking events?

I’m normal. That’s right; most people do not like attending networking events. According to Susan RoAne (Author of Face to Face) 93% of people self identify themselves as “shy,” and networking events are not a happy place for a shy person to be. I have finally come to the conclusion that the reason I have been successful speaking, writing, and building networks is that so many people struggle with the same things I struggled with. I had to work hard to figure out how to succeed at networking by building great friendships (something that anyone can do even without attending networking events). As a result it is really easy for me to explain to other people how to succeed at networking, because I have struggled with the same things.

You are an expert

One amazing thing about life is that our successes are the greatest in areas where we struggle the most. I have read a lot about networking and have come to realize that many of the “experts” are wrong. When I hear someone using “elevator pitch” and “networking” in the same sentence I run (if you are in sales you don’t need to run, these are great sales tools, they are just NOT networking tools). If networking hadn’t been so hard for me, I never would have understood why these things don’t make sense.

Your Turn

What are the areas of your life that you struggled with for years? Did you have to learn management, leadership, or graphics through the school of hard knocks? If so you are probably more of an expert than you ever imagined. If you are open to sharing, there millions of people that need to hear and learn from you, not from someone that was a “natural.” You many never be able to (or desire to) connect with millions, but can you start this week by sharing some of what you have learned with at least one person.

Networking: Make certain you are heard

tree_fallingWhen I first started networking I clearly remember referring ten potential clients to a friend in my network. Several weeks later I received a phone call from him thanking me for one of the referrals, it hadn’t turned into a job, but he really appreciated that I was thinking of him. As we spoke I asked him about how things were going with the other nine referrals… he had no idea what I was talking about. As we spoke it turned out that two had become clients, a couple he was still waiting to hear back from, and a handful he had never heard from. I had learned my lesson: the people you are networking with need to know when you help them, and it is your responsibility to communicate it.

Do you make a sound?
We’ve all heard the saying “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” We can ask the same question as it relates to networking.

The foundation for networking is helping other people, but if others don’t know that you are helping them, you are failing to be heard.

Make Some Noise
Two easy options to be heard include:

  1. Send your contact an e-mail with a note about the referral. It is easy to start with a statement like “I just wanted to let you know that you may receive a phone call from…”
  2. Call the person you referred, everyone likes receiving a call about a potential lead.

Remember that your objective is to build mutually beneficial relationships. If you were curious, here is the answer to if a tree falling in the forest makes a sound.

9 Tough Networking Questions

This past week I had the privilege of hosting a training session for David M. Schwarz Architects in Washington DC. After the presentation I offered to answer any and every question about networking that they could throw at me over the following weeks. Needless to say they asked some great questions that I am certain you can relate to:

Q:
When I first moved to DC (almost five years ago now) I was meeting a lot of really great people at all the events that I went to (I had more “spare time” in those days). I lost touch with many of those people as the years have passed, but for many of them, I remember their stories and still have their business cards. Is there a tactful way in which I could contact them now, or is it better to let it be?

A:
There are two foundation stones for a relationship 1) knowing that someone else exists (name recognition) and 2) understanding how they fit into the world around you (develop understanding). If your goal is to expand your relationships then the best place to start is always with people that already know (or have known) you. The goal isn’t to necessarily have lunch with everyone you meet five years ago, but rather to keep these two foundational stones in place. That is one of the goals of this blog, but I also send articles out every once in awhile to people I have met previously. By doing this I am keeping a foundation for our relationship in place, and it is rewarding when I see someone after 5 years and we can “pick up where we left off” because these foundation stones for our relationship are still in place.

Q:
If I walk into an event not knowing anyone, and all people there are already chatting, can I walk up to a small group of people who are already having a conversation and just say hello without coming across as being disruptive/rude? [This is a follow-up to the “I Don’t Know Anyone Survival Basics”]

A.
Look for an excuse to break into the conversation. Do you know the company someone works for? Is anyone wearing a pin on their jacket indicating an Alumni or other affiliation? To “break in” engage one individual in the group with a simple question. Once you are accepted into the group (a split will develop as people open their shoulders to accept you) engage the rest of the group preferably by making a comment on the topic they were previously discussing before you entered.

Q:
If I slip into a conversation like the one mentioned above, and find the subject matter to be from somewhere outside my plane of existence, how long should I just listen without  having anything to add to the conversation? For instance, I often find myself amid conversations about television shows, pop culture icons, or sports. These are all things which I know very little about (and generally also don’t have a whole lot of interest in knowing about).

A:
Never “slip away.” If you want to get out of a conversation have an excuse ready. I often carry around a drink only 25% full, and then if needed one more sip and I need to get a refill “excuse me as I get a refill.” Better yet, is someone else just as bored with the conversation? Invite them to join you or simply split the conversation by asking them a direct question.

Q:
I usually try to plan ahead to avoid this, but I often find myself in an outfit that has no pockets. I generally feel like it would be better not to carry a stack of business cards around in my hand. Would you agree?

A:
It is official, I have been stumped. I can’t remember the last pair of dress pants I bought that didn’t have pockets. Given that you are carrying a purse (or “man bag” for any guys that have found pants without pockets) I would recommend purchasing a business card holder in your purse. Perhaps someone more qualified on this topic can make a better recommendation in the comments section.

Q:
As a young woman, I am fairly attune to who is safe to give my contact information out to, and to whom it is questionable. If I have been giving cards out at an event and then encounter someone to which I would rather not give my business card to, do you have any advice on the best way to decline?

A:
Great question! The key is to bring a relatively limited supply of cards and only hand them out to people you really want to connect with. If you are uncomfortable with someone when they hand you a card simply tell them that “I didn’t bring a lot of cards tonight but I can follow-up with you, thanks.” Another note here is that if this happens often make certain that your cards don’t contain personal information such as your cell phone number. Main business phone numbers are acceptable and expected on business cards.

Q:
My name is unusual. I know this can be good or bad. Will it be insulting for me to write a phonetic spelling on my card when I give it to someone? I feel as though, similar to the days of sending out my resume, people are less likely to call someone if they know they are going to “butcher” the pronunciation of their name.

A:
I am a firm believer in making nametags and business cards easy for others to read, but giving someone the phonetic spelling is probably going too far. Instead of Timothy M. Klabunde, MBA on my cards they simply say Tim Klabunde. You have several options with a unique name, of which my favorite is using a “short” for your professional relationships. For example, if your name is Rhiannon you could use Ann on your cards and nametag. As an added benefit you’ll always know where you stand when someone calls you as your friends will still call you your preferred name.

Q:
Similarly, if I get a business card from someone else, can I write a phonetic spelling or notes on it, or is that considered rude as well? I know in Japanese culture defacing a business card is somewhat likened to a direct personal insult.

A:
Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to use the back of the business card to add notes or other information. Unless you have told them you will follow-up on something however it is not acceptable to do so while you are still talking to them.

Q:
In your talk you mentioned the importance of being able to recommend others. This is easy once you know a few people worth recommending, but what if you are just starting out? If someone keeps sending contacts my way and I don’t know anyone that I can recommend to help them with what they do, they might quickly decide that I’m not useful enough to be on their “hot list”.

A:
It is easy to recommend people on your hotlist because they typically start as people you have worked with previously and they are people you enjoy and respect. If you don’t feel that you can recommend anyone, and thus don’t yet have a hotlist, start by working on developing friends in your industry. Get involved on a committee at a local association, invite someone out for coffee, but generally speaking actively seek out new relationships.

Q:
Last year our firm celebrated its 30th anniversary. There were a lot of people a our celebration, but I chose not to talk to very many people for fear that I would say something to the effect of, “So how do you know our firm?” and the answer would be, “I’m David’s brother” or other special honored guest or relative. I don’t mean to be ignorant, but there is some information in my office that just doesn’t reach everyone’s experience. Although I know that I can not avoid being in a situation where I might be expected to know more than I do, my question to you is: was I right or wrong in this particular instance to save my company the embarrassment of me asking questions that clients might expect me to know the answer to?

A:
Nametags. As of today Scott Ginsberg has worn a nametag for the past 3,376 days (not kidding check him out here http://www.hellomynameisscott.com). Scott is a well known author and speaker on approachability, the one thing that has stuck with me after reading many of his articles is that name tags are not intended to help the person wearing them; their entire purpose is to help the other people you meet. (aka: you already know your name) You and many others at the same venue were experiencing a relationship barrier that could have been easily fixed with some simple Avery nametags. Next time have some fun and be the first person to put on a nametag, I guarantee you’d be one of the most popular people at the event because I’m certain you were not the only person that felt that way.