HOLDING THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Developing and cultivating an influential network is key to having a successful business. Many business opportunities, constructive feedback, ideas and breakthroughs come from our network.
Robert Kiyosaki, most known as the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, was once quoted saying, “The richest people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work."
This statement certainly rings true till this day. The impact of our network is greater than we think it to be. Research shows that we are able to exercise influence on our network, with up to three degrees of separation. The closer we are to the centre of our network, the greater is our influence.
In my years of experience of doing business development and organising fine wines and gastronomy events, I’ve learnt that sustaining a valuable network boils down to just five key components.
Choose quality over quantity
Developing a valuable network is not limited to collecting business cards or increasing connections on our social media platforms.
Social media has the great advantage of making us globally connected and allowing us to develop a virtual network. However, only a small percentage of this network has true value. Trust still needs to be built and a way to convert the contact into a business potential must be found.
The same principle applies to attending a conference and exchanging numerous business cards. You may have broken the ice but you have not established a concrete relationship yet. Regardless of whether they remember you from your first meeting, you have to follow up and develop a relationship.
While it takes time and effort to develop trustworthy relationships, it is also important to be able to read between the lines. Some may not have the capacity or ability to deliver what you need.
Competition for information is fierce as there are more skilled people having access to it. The quality of the information you get and how fast you get it are key. Therefore, the quality of your network is essential.
Give preference to face-to-face communication
With the rapid rise and popularity of new technologies, it has been more convenient and practical to go virtual in terms of networking.
However, face-to-face communication is necessary in building rapport and gaining trust. Scientists have identified three important elements to qualify rapport: mutual attentiveness, friendliness towards each other, and synchronisation.
American author Hilary Hinton “Zig" Ziglar put it succinctly when he said, “If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you."
Provide an intimate setting to network
Cocktails, receptions and conferences are not the most effective ways to develop valuable relationships as people usually try to make a positive impression and make small talks. Although some may be a bit more chatty after a few glasses of Champagne, it is rare to receive honest opinions or valuable insights. There is also the inevitable scenario where others will introduce themselves and potentially interrupt conversations.
A more effective way of networking is when you’re in a confined environment where uninterrupted conversations can take place, and mutually positive experience can be shared.
I personally enjoy intimate dinners that have a maximum of 20 attendees for several reasons: sharing food increases pro-social behaviour; gastronomic experiences evoke positive emotions which will be remembered; and people tend to be more relaxed.
Depending on the dynamics, bringing your spouse can be a good idea as he/she can help making the setting a bit less formal and break the ice.
Make a pitch only after establishing a relationship
The biggest mistake that some people make when they network is making a sales pitch immediately. Networking is not about closing a deal at that instant. You should always aim to play the long-term game.
Although the scene has to be set up, you need to be patient and wait for the appropriate time. With an influx of information nowadays, from emails and messages to alerts and phone calls, people tend to be more defensive and less focused. Some will sniff out a sales pitch from a mile away.
Look for common ground
You’ll have a better chance of progressing when common ground has been established. Does the other party enjoy a round of golf? Is he a family man? Research shows that we are more likely to trust people who are like us.
We often think that establishing a conversation is the best way to enter people’s space and get them open to our ideas. However, verbal conversations are only a small part of our communication skills. Mirroring and matching actions through body language and tone of voice, for instance, are equally important. I’ll leave you with a quote from Plato, the Greek philosopher, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."
This article was featured in Robb Report Thailand on 17 July 2016