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Martin Wales

Customer Catcherâ„¢


[November 6, 2000]

Networking Power, Beyond Switches And Routers

Think a more powerful network will help you grow your company? Want your employees to have frequent and meaningful communication with your clients and prospects through a bigger network? Getting a more powerful network is often a recommendation in the technology industry to solve business challenges. I agree with this recommendation: You absolutely need a more powerful network -- a more powerful network of human beings. Networking is an under-utilized marketing skill. It wins a great deal of business, but actually requires little capital when compared with other customer acquisition techniques via traditional media. You have frequent opportunities to network throughout the year, even daily, but you must maximize these moments.

What are the benefits of networking?
The most obvious reasons for networking are directly acquiring customers, marketing your company to stay "top of mind," and community or industry involvement. Other benefits, generally overlooked, are:

Test marketing: Meeting with groups and individuals within your community gives you a chance to test out marketing headlines, sales pitches, and even collect research data to generate improvements and new product ideas. Ask your customers what they don't like about the client user interface on their help desk software -- that's networking.

Gaining access to other people's networks: Get the trust and confidence of someone who has a large, loyal, client database. If they believe that you have a product or service that would benefit their clients, they may allow you access via direct mail, e-mail, or other marketing means. Establishing a co-marketing relationship like this can be very profitable. You are getting a mailing list without paying for it; but, even better, you can get your associates to write a referral letter. It is one of the strongest methods of marketing when you include a testimonial or reference as proof of your product concept. Think of a voice card manufacturer that obtains favorable pricing for you on telephony headsets for use with your computer.

Cost savings: It is quite possible to get a great deal from someone who is a "friend" in your network of suppliers and colleagues. We've all referred someone, or been referred, and said, "Just tell Sally I sent you," to get a better deal because of our relationship. Every dollar you save goes to your bottom line. Why shouldn't you use networking to seek out the best deals for whatever you need to run or market your business?

Adding value to your relationships with existing clients: If you build a network properly, you can create a list of experts, technicians, generalists, and specialists for every business or personal need or problem. You then make this information available to your customers. This does two things for your image. First, this allows you to solidify your position as a resource for your clients, even outside the scope of your product solution. Second, you act as a filter for your customers. You save them the time and effort required to gain valuable information, like time taken to read through many books. Read them yourself and then inform clients what the best three are, so they don't invest time reading mediocre, or even questionable, information from a multitude of offerings.

Where can you network?
Networking happens in two places. The most prevalent method is at specific events. Specific events might include industry associations, chambers of commerce meetings, user conferences, and trade shows. At these organized events you mingle by design, yet I am always amazed at how this time is wasted. Individuals standing by themselves, sales teams talking with their own co-workers, and small closed circles of people are all indications of less effective networking time and lost business. Concentrate on meeting new contacts while solidifying your relationships with known clients, suppliers, and associates. Have a team strategy to "work the event" most effectively and save chatter with co-workers for back at the office.

The less-recognized and often poorly-practiced networking occurs in your daily routine. In your everyday schedule, you communicate with people in your office, on the telephone, and in meetings. How do you connect with them, rather than just communicate? How frequently do you ask them how you can help them outside of your own service or product offering? Do you refer them to your outsourced software developers or public relations firms specializing in telecommunications? Make an effort to find out new information about their life or business each time you talk. List whom they know and then ascertain if it's possible to access their circle of influence.

When should you network?
You should network constantly, of course. Here is one of my networking stories. I was standing at my local car dealer's service counter, waiting for my vehicle, when a gentleman I recognized joined the line. Maybe a year before, I had seen him at a meeting for telecommunications consultants. I made the effort to speak with him and confessed that I had forgotten his name and what he did. Turns out he had been the president of Lucent Technologies in Canada and was now the chief operating officer of a new broadband company. He is a great contact for my consulting firm. Certainly, our meeting at the car dealer was a coincidence. However, if there had been no formal networking event in the past, and if I had not made a personal effort to network at the car dealership, no relationship would have been created and the value would have not been recognized.

In closing, if you network properly, you develop a continual source of new business, and hopefully experience more pleasure doing your job. With the proper networking strategy, you create conversational energy around your enterprise's technology. The more people talk about you and your company, the more others will hear about you. This leads to greater confidence in you and your product, and a more favorable perception of your company as the source for solutions to their problems.

Martin Wales is the eFounder and Chief Catcher at Customer Catcher.com. He welcomes your e-mail at martin@customercatcher.com. He is a technology-marketing specialist, speaker, and facilitator focused on maximum results with minimal risk using your existing resources.

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