Should LinkedIn be our main networking tool ?

The short answer is no, but it’s a start

 

Limitations

Firstly, LinkedIn contains only information that a person is willing to reveal about her/himself. Secondly, there is no indication of the quality of the relationship between two people.

But what about the degree of separation that is shown on LinkedIn?

This only indicates the number of intermediates there are between you and your target. If you are linked to someone on second degree, all this means is that there is an intermediary person between you and your target. To reach someone on third degree you need to go through 2 intermediaries.

So, if you want to use the introduction functionality of LinkedIn, you are faced with the following question: which intermediary you are going to ask for an introduction to your target? Will you choose:

  • An intermediary who owes you a favor?
  • The intermediary you know best?

These two questions highlight that you need extra information to take a decision which is not stored in LinkedIn: the quality of your links. Very often though, people have not documented this information in whatever tool they use to keep track of their network, let alone on LinkedIn. Knowing the quality of the link between you and your intermediary and ideally also having an indication of the quality of the link between the intermediary and your target is crucial to judge the probability of success of your introduction request.

 

Alternative Functionality in LinkedIn

Alternatively you can choose the direct approach by asking for a connection. Depending on how your target has set up the LinkedIn account you need to know the target’s exact e-mail address to do so. What’s the use of LinkedIn then? Would it not be easier to write the e-mail directly? Using LinkedIn only makes sense if you hope to get access to the network of your target.

Other people have set up their account to accept connection requests based on commonalities such as:

  • You are former colleagues whom worked in the same organization
  • You were class mates
  • You have done business together
  • You both belong to at least one LinkedIn Group.

By using the direct approach, you eliminate the uncertainty about the quality of the relationships between you, your intermediaries and your target. However, good networkers know that the indirect access is more powerful than the direct access.

 

Conclusion

Good networkers know that they need an electronic tool to track their network. We only know one off-the-shelf system that allows you to track the quality of links : Powerscope.  The next best choice is to use a tool that allows you to add custom fields to track relationship quality. In any case, you will have to proactively assess and document the quality of these links.

Although LinkedIn cannot be your choice as a primary tool to track your network, it can be very useful to support your networking activities:

  • You can be reminded of people who fell off the radar
  • You can find potential routes to a target.

It will be much more effective if you call or use other offline methods to identify which of your potential intermediaries has the best quality relation to your target. By doing so, you can also test the value message you want to transmit to your target, which is the second fundamental element for success to expand your network. You can also use the telephone to establish the contact to your target.

If you do not like the phone, you can use the same process with e-mails. Yet remember, a network between people goes beyond having a list of names in the form of e-mail addresses or aliases in a social network. It consists of relations which are usually based on many differing and repeated interactions, using all kinds of communication media to convey messages. Communication media based on the written word use only 7% of the bandwidth available to humans communicating. Communication media that allow the transmission of tone (e.g. telephone or skype), add another 34% of bandwidth for your message to pass. The remaining communication bandwidth between humans and, incidentally, by far the fastest channel is the exchange of non-verbal signals (e.g. body language). This level can only be fully reached through face to face contacts.

LinkedIn can help you identify some possible routes to people, but without an indication of the strength of links between its members. To maximize the power of your network you will need, at some point, to fill in and track your relationship intelligence information.

Building Bridges: when less is more

Mark Granovetter is famous for his ideas on weak ties within social networks. Although his most famous work is over 40 years old, it’s still relevant nowadays. I’ll start with an outline of his main ideas, if you want more detail I recommend you read the original article in the American Journal of Sociology (1973).

Granovetter starts with the premise that within social networks there are different degrees of relationships. He suggests that intuitively we recognize our relationships as strong, weak or absent. Two people who share a strong tie are likely to spend time together and share interests as well as character traits. They are also likely to share friends and relationships. This leads to the development of a close network of people.

 

Enter the weak ties

Weak ties link people who do not know each other well , perhaps only in passing or as an acquaintance. These ties, according to Granovetter, can act as bridges from one close network to another. A bridge is a point in a network that provides the only path from one person to another. If you wish to learn more about this, you can read the Social Capital Blog. The basic idea presented by Granovetter is that “no strong tie is a bridge”. On the other hand, certain weak ties are bridges to other networks, other sources of information and other influencers.

 

The strength in the weak links

Closed networks have, according to Granovetter, only strong links and few or no links to other people in other networks. These networks run the risk of suffocating and, under the right circumstances can die out. Networks need weak links or bridges to expand and to grow. New blood, new contacts, new information, new insights, new sources of help are needed. This will help to spread ideas and messages more efficiently. Get out of your comfort zone and make the most of any weak links you have. Additionally, even though it is more challenging, you can start building links with people you don’t know yet. This process will be much more interesting and rewarding.

 

Bridges and Sales

How does this help those of us who work in sales?

  • No strong relationship is a bridge, the people you’ve known for years might not be able to help you expand your network and make new contacts.
  • You cannot only rely on your strong links if you want to extend the reach of your messages and ideas. Get out of comfort zone and meet new people.
  • Some weak relationships will act as bridges, so new professional contacts are potential gateways. Use your existing weak links to expand and reach new people. Always ask if they know other people who might be interested in what you do. If you have made a good impression, they will be happy to recommend you to their professional or personal contacts.
  • Some weak relationships will act as bridges, but how do I know which ones? For the moment, let’s keep it simple. Pretend you don’t know and you never will, but ask for recommendations all the same.

Right Topic, Right Moment, Right Person

It's been two decades since I read the following statement from a Swiss salesman : "I do not sell anything to people. I just talk to them until they want to buy".

At that time, he had already understood that selling is not about closing techniques and objection handling but about holding "value-adding-conversations" with potential clients. The major change since then is that salesman now have to engage these conversations with buyers that are extremely busy. They rather talk as little as possible and act as much as possible.

 

When is a conversation value adding ?

For a seller to add value to a sales conversation he/she should talk :

  1. about the right subject
  2. at the right moment
  3. to the right person

This powerful combination will enable the buyer to make an informed decision.

Th conundrum is to figure out who the right person to talk is, what the right subject to talk about is and when is the right moment to talk. The short answer is that relationship intelligence, among other things, in a key method to help you solve this enigma. However, relationship intelligence is not just desk research, it is to a great extent gained trhough interactions (conversations) with people. Therefore, we use the same vehicle (the conversation) for a dual purpose : to gather relationship intelligence as well as getting a person to make an informed decision. While the value of the conversation is usually obvious to the sellers, it is less so to the prospect. For conversations geared towards relationship intelligence gathering, the problem is even more acute.

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Solving the conundrum : make the most of value-adding conversations

A clear understanding of the intended purpose of a conversation is paramount. It is primarily focused on triggering decisions in order to get the sales campaign moving forward ? Or is it more about relationship intelligence gathering ? While we might enter a conversation with a particular purpose in mind, we also have to be prepared when the subject (and/or purpose) of the conversations shifts. 

Let’s assume a seller has found out about an event which is triggering an urgent need within a prospective customer organization. This increases the likelihood that the moment is right to talk about the trigger event. From the seller’s knowledge of the customer’s organization, he/she also can infer which person is most likely to be concerned about this event. The seller might be confident enough to expect, that the conversation held with this person will directly advance the sales campaign. However, in the early phases of a campaign, while dealing with a customer organization we do not know very well, there is a high chance that our assumption will not be correct. In that case, the purpose of the conversation has to shift from advancing the sales campaign to gathering relationship intelligence. During the conversation, the seller might come to the conclusion that although it is the right moment and the right subject for the organization, he/she is not talking to the right person. The objective then shifts to getting the prospect to come forward with the name of the person in the customer organization who might be more concerned by sales opportunity. By being agile and subtle, the seller can still get value out of the conversation. Yet there is an equally important question: Where is the added value for anyone helping us gather relationship intelligence? We will answer this in the following part.

 

Where is the added value for anyone helping us gather relationship intelligence ?

When looking at our current scenario, here are at least two thoughts on why the conversation might also be valuable for the person the seller is talking to :

  • Getting the right for first refusal to tackle the subject.
  • Fostering ones own image in the organization by referring a potential solution provider to someone more concerned about the subject.

A prerequisite for these possible outcomes is obviously that the seller was able to build trust with the prospect. These are the social skills that grease the wheels of a good sales conversation.

 

How to profit from this discussion ?

You can have more productive conversations with your customers if you :

  • Enter conversations with the right mindset;
  • Define a primary and a secondary objective for the conversation;
  • Remain vigilant and agile enough to switch objectives according how the conversation develops.

Even a million Linkedin contacts is not enough!

Have a look on LinkedIn or trawl through your company’s CRM and you’ll see there are a lot of people who feature on your contact list . There are people with over 30 000 LinkedIn contacts and last time I looked, there were 430 million people using Linkedin.  However, does knowing a lot of people automatically mean you have a large network?  How can you best sort out who you could consider a real contact and who not? Who do you know and who knows who you are ?

5 signs you have a useful contact

Ask yourself these simple questions to identify which contacts really matter. Mark your answers to get a realistic overview of your contact list.

 

1. Do I know my contact's’ job title and what he/she really does ? (without going online)

This is a minimum.  Being vague at this point is an indication that your contact probably doesn’t know what you do either.  Score 2 if you know both job title and responsibilities.  Score 1 for knowing only 1.  Score 0 for being vague.

 

2. Does my contact appreciate the work I do or did for her/him.

Be honest.  If you think you did a bad job, this is obviously not the right person to use for networking.  If you are proud of what you did and you think your contact is happy, make a note. Score 2 for a good job, and minus 2 for a bad job.

 

3. On top of being a professional contact, is this person a friend?

A well connected/established friend remains a friend however, if this friendship is public knowledge you may get stuck with the label of nepotism.  Crossing the professional contact – friendship line has rewards (a new friend) and risks (loss of face when using that contact for professional purposes).  Score 2 for friends and minus 1 for very close friends that might get you labeled as engaging in nepotism.

 

4. How many contacts from our own networks do we share?

Sharing contacts is positive, as it means you are likely to get help when needed as you both belong to a common group.  However, if you share a lot of contacts (more than 50% overlap) then you won’t bring extra networking help to each other.  You are more likely to increase the exclusivity of the group you both belong to.  It’s a good time to look for fresh air outside the group.  Score 2 for between 20 and 30% network overlap.  Score minus 1 for over 50% overlap and minus 2 for over 80% overlap.

 

5. When did I last see my contact?

I have a contact who only ever gets in touch because he needs something.  Although I am usually happy and able to help, the relationship is definitely a one-way street.  Bit by bit, I have taken the power to decide what happens next in our relationship.  Skewed or unbalanced relationships are not reliable.  Score 2 for regular meetings and a balanced relationship.  Score 0 for once a year contact and minus 2 for imbalanced relationships.

 

Simple tips to improve my relationships

 

1. Total up your points

High scorers are your immediate useful contacts. These people will help you to connect to new people.

  • Choose one high scoring contact and pick a date next week to go out for lunch to celebrate.

 

2. Take a look at the low scoring contacts.  

Within this group you’ll find the people you could easily work with more efficiently.  

  • Choose a low scoring contact, for whom you consider it worthwhile to improve the relationship and pick a date next week to get together and kick-start the relationship.

 

3. Do not hesitate to repeat these steps indefinitely !

 

The four questions you need to answer through Relationship Intelligence

I ask myself the question: Why should I invest time and energy into the subject of Relationship Management when Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in their book “Challenger Sale”, make a convincing case that Relationship Builders are not top performers ? Particularly in complex sales, my primary focus of interest. The answer is : because I have read the book and this is what I took from it :

 

How Challengers Use Relationship Management

There are numerous hints throughout the text that Challengers need to build and maintain relationships to be the top performers they are. They need a better understanding of how networks operate than Relationship Builders. Challengers are not satisfied with having relationships. They actively use knowledge about their contacts to initiate the right conversations and eventually get purchasing decisions from their customers.

Challengers consider knowledge about their contacts as working capital. They know that they continuously need to invest time and effort in order to learn more about their existing contacts. They are ager to get to know better their new contacts to keep this relationship capital productive.

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So, here are this four questions 

In a nutshell, this is what Mastering Relationship Management means to me. I hope this blog will help you with enriching your understanding of Relationship Intelligence by answering questions such as:

  • What do we need to understand about contacts ?
  • What new relationships do we need to build ?

And Influence Management which is to know :

  • Who can help us build the necessary new relations ?
  • Who can help us with conveying the right message to the right person ?

I am looking forward to rich discussions about these topics which I consider essential for success not only in Sales, my primary focus, but also other domains we have already mentioned.