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The Evolution of Business Networking Triage


The Old Networking

Networking is very different from when I began my career. My initial sales training included pleas from my boss to ‘get out into community and build your network’. In my case that meant going to countless Chamber of Commerce meetings where I would dutifully introduce myself to complete strangers at cocktail parties in the vague hope that there would be some business purpose achieved. The screening process was random at best as I didn’t know anything about these people other than their outward appearance. It was hit or miss or worse…I’d meet a particularly chatty person with whom I had absolutely nothing in common – business or otherwise and then spent the better part of the evening trying to politely extricate myself from the conversation.

Networking Today

Networking today is more of a social networking affair on LinkedIn. Sure I still go to conferences but during the breaks everyone is glued to their smart phones and don’t appear to have any particular interest in meeting new people. I sometimes wonder why these people even venture out of their offices in the first place but I digress. Social networking is more based on context and content. People can review my profile, see our common contacts and read any content that I’ve shared recently. This is a lot better system in that people can network with me if they perceive some common interests. The best networkers of course are mindful about both sides getting something useful out of an introduction.

Networking Triage

I get a lot of ‘hit or miss’ connections from people on LinkedIn but it’s very easy to sort through these. I take calls and emails from virtually anyone who reaches out. If there is not a mutual benefit in continuing the conversation, one side or the other quickly figures that out and the conversation politely ends. I call this vetting process ‘networking triage’ – figure out if the conversation is valuable and if not, end it quickly but only after you’ve figured out what the other person does so you can reconnect when the time is right. Of course not all friction has been removed from the networking process – people still want to meet ‘over coffee.”

Some Pitfalls

Invariably in one of these coffee clutches, people feel compelled to introduce one another to mutually beneficial contacts. Sometimes these are valuable and sometimes not. Again, the networking triage process is pretty smooth. Of course some of the people who are involuntarily brought into the networking cycle don’t always see the benefit of the introduction. The telltale sign is when someone hits the ‘reply all’ button asking their assistant to set up a time to speak. Sometime they feign forgetting to even copy their assistant in the email. At that point I should let the trail die but I just can’t summon the common sense to do it. I hit the reply button and remind them to copy their assistant – it’s sort of the same instinct that makes one look at a car crash. The assistant typically schedules a telephone conference call 2 – 3 weeks in advance and then cancels at the last minute. This process often repeats itself at least one more time. I’m not referring to cancellations for genuine reasons – we’ve all had that happen. I’m referring to people who are trying to seem polite but haven’t quite mastered the skills of networking triage or in some cases manners.

Some takeaways:

1. If you work at an emerging growth company and you’ve got an executive assistant, you might want to look at your cost structure unless your revenues exceed $50M and you are printing money. It takes me 30 seconds to send a calendar invite. I book my own travel too. Sometimes there is a legitimate need for an executive assistant – I’m not here to judge.

2. If you’re really busy and don’t want to talk, just say so in as polite a manner as you can. It’s far better than dragging the process out.

3. After you’ve cancelled the first time, the only way to retain any credibility at all is to pick up the phone and apologize for needing to reschedule. If you lack these basic manners, please don’t have your assistant apologize on your behalf.

If I’ve ever made any of you feel that my time is more valuable than yours, I sincerely apologize. Entrepreneurs do all the hard work and I’m here to help when I can.

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About venturedebt

venture debt firm providing growth capital for emerging growth companies

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Tim O’Loughlin

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