Monday, January 7, 2008

Are You Networking, or Are You Relationship-Building?

I've been reading Bob Burg's Endless Referrals, an excellent book on how to use relationship-building principals to turn "casual contacts into solid sales opportunities." As Todd Cohen would say, everybody is in sales, so I think Bob Burg's core point speaks to all of us who are interested in professional networking and, more specifically, building a network of stronger, better, and more focused relationships.

All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.

Bob Burg shows you how. I've written before on how networking is not about getting business cards but about building relationships. Your network should comprise people who want to see you succeed and want to help you reach your objectives. (Burg would say "find new business," but you get the idea.)

Burg talks about how everyone is at the center of a "sphere of influence" of around 250 people. I know lots of people have several hundred or even several thousand connections on LinkedIn, but in Burg's mind your sphere of influence involves the people who know, like, and trust you --when you say something, they listen and take it to heart.

An important point for building trust in your relationships is to give selflessly, without thought of being paid back. Burg tells a story:

This is the grand paradox of giving and receiving. When you give purely out of the love of giving, you cannot help but receive. Yet when you give only in order to receive, it doesn't work out really as well.

When I was attending a meeting of an association to which I belong, I noticed a person standing around named Jim who looked like a lost soul. I engaged Jim in conversation and introduced him around to some of the other members. About a year later, I received a call from someone I didn't know, wanting to do business with me. I asked how he had heard of me, and he mentioned Jim.

I called Jim to thank him and asked him what made him think of referring me, since we had met only that one time and he had really no way of knowing whether or not I was even qualified to serve the person to whom he referred me. He explained that at the function where we had met, I was the only person who went out of his way to make him feel comfortable, and he had always wanted to do something for me in return. Wow!

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