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Tag archives for building relationships

Do you know all the key players (companies) in your industry niche, in your city or region?  If not, you are NOT ready to look for a new job!

Part of “You, Inc.” is knowing your assets (talents, skills, connections and experience).  But another part is knowing which buyers are best for you.

With the Web at your fingertips, there’s no excuse for not knowing each of your potential employers better than you know the attributes of your favorite movie or sports star.  Here are some features of each company you should know… and can find off of the Web (their company website, directories, associations, etc.)

  1. Name and kind of company (Sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S, C or other corporation), and size (number of employees, divisions, or locations).  Where their headquarters is located — and how close you will be to it.  Remember — location, location, location!
  2. Number of employees, and what the name of your relevant department(s) would be.
  3. Key customers (Find in directories or association membership listings)
  4. Where the hub of your industry is.  Entertainment is not centered in Sante Fe, New Mexico — but the art world is!
  5. Key products and services … and where the money comes from!  Follow the money!  The departments that have the greatest impact on revenue get the most attention, resources and often, highest salaries.  Money talks in business.
  6. Job requirements.  Search for job descriptions on job websites to get a prioritized list of qualification they will look for.  Know how each term is defined, and relate it to your own training and experience.  Tell your story of qualification, successful experiences and networks that can help get the job done.
  7. Who do you know who works for the company?  Call, email or text them for insights about the company, industry trends, and the job or department.  Recognize that one personal opinion isn’t always complete or accurate.
  8. Check social media for relevant conversations about the industry and the company.  But DON’T make derogatory or inappropriate comments.  (And check your own social media postings and clean them up as much as possible.)  
  9. Visit a trade show booth or other public exhibit and check out the literature.  Annual reports tell a lot about the inner workings of a company.  Read it for at least two years, if possible.  Annual reports for public companies listed in the stock market are often posted on their website or linked to from Finance.Yahoo.com
  10. Drive by all the facilities within driving distance — check out their look and feel.  Are they clean or unkempt?  Are their parking lots full or sparsely filled. Are they heavily armoured against crime, or open to the public?  You can tell a lot about a person (or company) by how they dress!

Getting to know the best companies in your niche can mean up to millions of dollars over a lifetime of work — so it is important to know where the best companies are, who their key people are, their trends and best products.  It’s like getting to know a person with many fascinating personality traits!  Have fun, but open your eyes to the attributes that matter most!

Web technology makes it very easy to quickly communicate with so many people that it’s easy to forget the overriding purpose of creating a powerful web site.

It’s cool to be able to interact with customers who come to a web site. We can share a great deal of information, gather more profile data than we think we can use, and provide an entertaining, informative, and educational environment.

It’s so cool that we sometimes lose sight of what we’re trying to accomplish with this technology. Sure, we want to sell products with e-commerce or generate leads for salespeople.

But how does this impact the audience? I mean, really impact them.

Many people involved in Internet marketing feel that they’re helping members of their audience improve their lives through the information and products provided on the web.

Some time back a series of TV spots ran for iVillage. They talked about women with real problems finding real help from people like themselves. Because many ailments are shared by very small groups of people, these groups are so small that local support organizations aren’t always available to help. The Internet provides access to those communities of people who share common interests and needs, and are willing to help.

Speaking of TV commercials, another company is advancing the concept of one-to-one marketing and mass customization. Xerox periodically runs a campaign with the theme, “keep the conversation going.” This campaign shows that providing personalized information to customers appeals to people – on paper, of course. Xerox makes a good case that profile data can be used to personalize more than just web sites and e-mails.

Influence Decisions

But all of these – from communities of like-minded people to personalized web, e-mail, social media, and, yes, paper-based communications – are done for one reason, and that’s to influence decisions.

Communication is a give and take. Whether it’s an online community where people share their experiences or an e-commerce site where merchants provide products (and get paid). We communicate when we want to influence those around us to be like us, respect us, and sometimes buy from us.

Internet Interaction

But how do we actually use the web to provide the kind of interaction that touches people and influences their decisions? The slogan used in the Xerox TV commercial has the answer: Keep the conversation going.

The conversation we use in everyday life is also aimed at influencing the decisions people around us make. We know that we need to speak the language of the person we’re trying to communicate with and understand what they’re feeling.

Have you watched a couple of Internet techies talk to each other? At first they ask a few questions to learn about the other person’s experience level and background. Then they shift into a very different level of talking that uses a language of their own, sometimes called “technospeak” (and sometimes called “technobabble”). They don’t care if the non-technical people around them don’t understand their TLAs (three letter acronyms), because those conversation shortcuts help them communicate better.

Building Relationships with Conversation

They can quickly form a bond of trust and understanding that frequently allows them to learn from each other. That respect can lead to learning something new that influences their decisions.

So how can we use conversational techniques on the web to influence visitors? Portions of the Xerox web site are written in a conversational style, but there’s more to making a site conversational than the style of writing.

A truly conversational site learns about visitors, saves that information in profiles, and then uses that knowledge to react to different interests.

Here’s a quick test to see if your web site is conversational:

  • Does the site ask questions aimed at learning about each person?
  • Can the site determine if someone is just starting to learn about products like yours or has researched the market and is about to make a purchase decision?
  • Does the text on the site change to match the interest and knowledge level of the visitor?

These are just a few of the ways that profiles about people can be used to make a Web site more conversational, but the real focus should be on getting in step with each visitor and matching what the site says with what people are thinking and feeling. The art of conversation is taught in books, classes, and seminars, so there is a procedure for doing it. Why not use the same procedure on the Web?

Intuitive navigation and great design help people find the right document. But taking advantage of meaningful profile data allows dynamic Web and e-mail to make an impact on members of the target market and influence their purchase decisions

Cliff Allen, cofounder of SureToMeet, president of Coravue

Are you always on the lookout for a good book or article on networking techniques? Here’s one we spotted: Never Eat Alone by well-known networker Keith Ferrazzi,  a “how to network” book — tips and techniques on how to grow your contact network.

It’s a pleasant surprise to find that it’s really about growing relationships — mostly business relationships.

Networks vs. Relationships

You might wonder why there’s a distinction between networking and building relationships.

If you’ve ever been to a networking event and exchanged business cards with someone, only to never talk with that person again, then you were networking.

However, if you’ve had continuing interaction with that person — perhaps working on a project together or referring business to each other — then you have developed a networking contact into a relationship that will hopefully continue to grow and be valuable to both of you.

In Never Eat Alone Ferrazzi explains the value of having access to people who can help you succeed. One of the keys to obtaining access to influential people is “reciprocity” — making sure that over time the relationship benefits both people. Sometimes you’ll need the other person for assistance, and sometime later the other person may ask you for help. The key is that neither person “keeps score” trying to equalize the amount of help each person gives the other.

Check Your Compass

A key aspect to developing a mutually beneficial connection is knowing how you and the other person can help each other.

This requires that you have a clearly defined mission, or general direction, that you’re heading. Those of us who work independently sometimes think we need to be very specialized and focus on doing one thing so we can have one “brand image.” However, networking only within a specialized area limits the range of people you meet.

Although I’ve worked in technology, advertising, media, sales, and other areas, there is a common thread to what I do: help business people communicate with customers better.

So, instead of being concerned about people thinking I lack career focus, I prefer to look at my overall “mission” or “purpose” that guides me in a general direction.

In other words, you don’t need a AAA road map with the complete route highlighted. But it does mean you need to check your career compass frequently to make sure the relationships you create will help move you in the right general direction.

Build It Before You Need It

Relationships take time to nurture. You need experience in dealing with another person so you’ll know how you can help and support each other.

This is why it’s important to build your network of contacts before you need to ask a contact for help or a referral.

It may be years before you need (or can help) someone in your network. This means it’s important to take good notes so you can later find a person’s information when you need it.

You may have heard a person described as having a “Golden Rolodex,” meaning they’ve collected contact information on a large number of valuable contacts. The use of paper-based Rolodex cards has declined in favor of contact management software (such as the contact manager in SureToMeet), but the objective is the same — you need to be able to quickly and easily retrieve contact data about the people in your network.

Food Builds Relationships

The title of Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, might lead you to believe that taking customers to lunch is the key to networking. Yes, lunch with prospects and customers is great. But he actually focuses part of the book on a different meal — dinner.

He tells several stories about how dinner parties became a key part of his networking strategy. He explains exactly how to have a dinner party that’s not only fun for everyone, but helps you accomplish your networking goals.

This is one of the techniques I’ve gleaned from his book and put into practice. I’ve hosted a number of small dinner gatherings recently, usually at restaurants convenient for everybody in the group.

One of the purposes of the gatherings has been to introduce people who don’t know each other. It’s amazing how often people are interested in meeting new people over dinner.

Online Networking vs. Face-to-Face Networking

In the past few years a number of social networking Web sites have sprung up. LinkedIn and Ryze are probably the two best sites for online business networking. The challenge in using these sites is what to do after you’ve identified a potential contact. Do you use that Web site’s messaging system to introduce yourself? Do you contact them directly? Unfortunately for many people, these connection sites don’t work as well as users expect.

I’ve met many people online in discussion groups and forums, and have enjoyed those conversations. However, the most beneficial of those relationships included meeting them later face-to-face.

While face-to-face networking usually produces greater results than just interacting with someone online, the ease of online networking makes it a terrific technique, too.

In fact, for most people, face-to-face networking is easier to do and has greater (and more lasting) results than online networking. I’m confident that over time we’ll see more people benefit from online networking. But for now the question is how to meet people face-to-face who can become a valuable part of your contact network. This usually means attending events where you are sure to meet like-minded people — people who share your interests and passions.

In Never Eat Alone Ferrazzi details the strategies he uses to meet the people he wants to meet at events and conferences. For face-to-face networking like this, the event calendar sites (such as SureToMeet, of course) can help you find events where you can meet the people you want to meet.

Food for Thought

If you’ve gotten tired of networking because it didn’t seem to work, or if you’re looking for ways to turn your contact network into a valuable resource, pick up a copy of Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone.

It’ll provide the “why” of networking that’ll help you make better use of those “how to” networking books and articles that we’ve all collected.


Cliff Allen is the co-founder of SureToMeet.com. He is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons.

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