Having been in the work world for almost two decades, my business network is a tangled web. Sometimes when a name pops up on the radar, it is difficult to place the person in the right original context. Are they from my boot camp CPA firm days? A classmate from grad school? An intern that took part in a program I organized on Wall Street? If you are involved in social networks and business groups, you have probably faced the same quandary. Though sometimes frustrating, it’s really a good problem to have.
Business people today spend a lot of time “networking,” but by networking, they usually mean meeting NEW people. At a few trade shows last quarter, I heard more than one person lament, “This is just the same group of people over and over; I don’t know why I bother coming.” While it is indeed stimulating to meet new people, it is important to put as much, if not more, stock in shoring up existing relationships.
If a new client wants a reference before availing herself of one of your company’s products or services, you can certainly give her the name of a current and satisfied client. However, if you are able offer a connection with someone who knows both your company’s product AND your history, she is much more likely to come away feeling comfortable about the engagement. I have a client who has been a customer of three of the four companies for which I’ve worked over the past 15 years. He knows me well enough to know that if I stand behind something and recommend it to him as being a good fit for his business, there is a good chance that it is.
A new client can breathe fresh life into an organization but a mature client will support you with a history of traction with your company. Longtime relations are also more likely to ride out temporary bumps in the road and to hold steady through organizational challenges or changes. Relationships from your “former professional life” can also be very helpful if your company chooses to take on a new endeavor or move in a different direction. Having respected and longstanding business contacts outside of your current mission can offer perspective and assist in growth. They may be able to suggest possible applications or to open relevant sales channels for a new product.
New relationships are easy to try to amass. Sit next to someone you don’t know at a trade show. Post on social networking forums and solicit ideas. Basically, go against what your mother told you and talk to strangers! But never forsake your existing relationships, and the easiest way to do that is to add value. A majority of your old acquaintances will be NEW acquaintances to each other; connect them. Be a go-to person in terms of resources. Treat your existing relationships with as much energy and vigor as you would your potential new ones.
If you are focused on NEW relationships, existing associates can help with that, too. Who can better refer you new business than someone who trusts and understands your company? A glance around my current business network reflects several examples of this premise. One of our best recent hires was referred by a colleague of mine from over ten years ago. My first boss out of college is assisting a family friend in starting up a new company.
Don’t get me wrong; new relationships are GREAT. But you don’t have to be a good scout to embrace the age-old adage: Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other is gold.
Author: Gina Mackenzie brings more than 18 years of experience to her role as vice president of Business Development for Fora Financial. In her role, Gina is responsible for formulating and managing strategic partnerships. Previously, Gina served in senior business development positions for Affinion Benefits Group and DoubleRock Corporation, and formerly as a lender for Bridger Commercial Funding, CIBC World Markets and Credit Suisse First Boston. Gina earned her Bachelor’s degree of Science from Lehigh University and her Masters of Finance from New York University.