Knowing how to successfully network within a senior executive context is something that many people find difficult or intimidating. Professional networking is an important investment in your career development. When you advance into senior management roles, professional development becomes a different game. It’s no longer about your technical ability, it’s no longer about qualifications, it’s about how you manage your team within top level business requirements. To progress at this level, you need to spend more time building relationships with other senior managers and the people that you’re reporting to, not with the team that you’re leading.
Andrew Hennigan, author of ‘Payforward Networking’ describes networking as “a deliberate activity to build, reinforce and maintain relationships of trust with other people to further your goals. Professional networking is simply networking focused on professional goals.”
Networking in a business context is vastly different than social interactions, it’s not about drinking and having a good time; don’t get me wrong, good networking events should include a social element, however it’s not a party. So how do you successfully network and build professional relations? Over my years in senior executive roles, I have learned that to achieve maximum results from networking, you need to approach it as you would any other aspect in business development, strategically.
If you are currently a senior executive looking to strengthen your position or you’re looking for tips to help you progress into a senior executive role, here are my key recommendations to help you.
Invest Your Time Wisely
Before committing your valuable time to networking, you need to be very clear about the objective you’re looking to achieve by doing it. There is a plethora of potential networking events to attend but your time is limited, so you need to research and determine which options will present the best return for your investment of time. Catriona Pollard author of ‘From Unknown To Expert’ states that “networking has been incredibly powerful and instrumental in creating the business I have today. But just turning up to networking events isn’t enough. And it isn’t just about getting new business either.”
When I created Behind Closed Doors, this was one of my key motivations. I wanted to create a female focused peer coaching & mentoring, networking and professional development experience that delivers tangible career advancement support. I wanted to create an organisation that allowed senior women in business to invest wisely in their development.
To understand what are the right events for you to attend, consider who are your target influencers, who are the people you want to connect with and what events are they attending? If you’re unsure how to determine this, ask for referrals from your current business contacts who know your targets.
How To Interact at Networking Functions
Meeting new business contacts to build professional relationships is built on similar foundations to how you develop relationships in any area of your life, through trust built on shared experiences and mutual interests. Remember, the aim is not to sell at this point, it’s about marketing, branding and promotion. You are working towards building rapport, so if and when selling is appropriate, you have already established a relationship with this person. Like any skill, regular and committed practice will improve your performance – the more networking functions you attend, the more comfortable you’ll feel.
It’s important to prepare and practice your elevator speech, so you can feel comfortable and confident when you deliver it. According to the Australian Institute of Business, your elevator speech “is a concise, compelling introduction that can be communicated in the amount of time it takes someone to ride the elevator to their floor. People are busy, and being able to communicate who you are and what you do quickly and effectively will ensure that you get your most important points across, no matter how short the conversation.” My top tips for creating your elevator speech is to keep it short, concise, factual and to the point – avoid hype and be you.
Stephen Covey, author of widely acclaimed book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was famously quoted as saying “Stop listening to reply and start listening to understand.” Understanding the difference and truly listening, is incredibly important to build relationships from your networking. If you’re just listening to wait for your turn to speak, you miss the opportunity to offer value by truly engaging with what your connection is saying. Listening is different than hearing, listening is a process of communication and to be successful, it must be an active process. To understand the motivation and to capture the potential opportunity of conversations, you must be an active participant in the communication process.
Follow-Up: How To Maintain Contact
Securing contact details from someone after one conversation at one event does not mean you have developed a business relationship. Attending networking functions is the starting point, now you need to cultivate this contact into a deeper connection. To achieve this, you need to establish a follow-up system, one that works for you, is simple and manageable. If you have a CRM system, this is a great way to help manage the process. Even without it there are processes you can implement. Something I have always found helpful, is on the day of the event, write on the back of your new contacts business card where you meet and key points you discussed; this enables you to personalise your follow-up.
An immediate and highly effective follow-up action, is to connect with new business contacts via LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the top online site for professional, social and career networking. The site functions as an online directory of individual professionals and organisations and facilitates the process of professional networking. I aim to connect with new contacts on LinkedIn either on the day of the networking function or within a few days, as this provides immediate recall and further strengthens the professional connection.
The other powerful follow-up action I implement, is to send an email within one week, but no longer than two weeks after meeting a new business contact. Sending an effective follow-up email is a great way to further solidify the introduction and develop a more meaningful business connection. A great way to manage this follow-up process is to create a range of email templates that you can edit to personalise for each contact. If you don’t know where to start, Hubspot has created a useful range of follow-up email templates that can help get you started in implementing this process.
Understanding how to successfully network is a powerful tool that will help your career advancement. Take the time to strategically plan how and where to spend your time in this pursuit. Consider becoming a regular at one or two key groups, spend more time focused on developing your reputation in one or two key areas instead of spreading yourself thinly across multiple groups. Plan event attendance in your calendar. From my experience, if you don’t book in time to attend, you simply won’t go. For more details on the range of networking and professional development opportunities we offer, click here to view our website or contact us today.
Never miss one of Donny’s blogs, subscribe today.
Other blogs you may be interested in:
- Why Women Don’t Network Enough
- Why Women Should Not Be Afraid to Talk About Failures
- Do you suffer from the Imposter Syndrome?