In my entire career, I have never once heard a successful person say he or she regretted putting time and energy into building their relationships and contact management system (CMS).
That's why my interest was piqued when I recently saw a blog by my close friend Brandon Steiner, CEO and founder of Steiner Sports in New York. It addresses what Brandon calls "next-level networking."
What Brandon is referring to is: "If my contact at a company left, who would I still know there? Would I still be able to work with that company?" If the answers are "no one" and "maybe not," then you could be in trouble.
That's why it's always been my philosophy to get to know as many people as you can at the organizations you do business with. Always have your antennae up. Never pass up an opportunity to meet new people. Develop a relationship with the gatekeeper. Seek out introductions from your customer. Do your homework on the company. Learn about your customer's organizations and groups and possibly get involved.
I call this strategy "dig your well before you're thirsty," which happens to be the title of one of my books. You'll never know what kind of relationships, ideas or even deals can come out of these new contacts. Consider it a great networking insurance policy.
Also, don't forget your former contacts who flew the coop. Just because they've moved on is no reason to yank their entry in your CMS. In fact, there's a reasonably good chance they'll become even more valuable members of your network. For one thing, a former contact knows where the bodies are buried at his or her previous company. If your network is going to work, you have to stay plugged in and keep the wire humming.
Consider the Law of Large Numbers. An entire industry -- insurance -- is built on the principle of the Law of Large Numbers. There are over 315 million living Americans. Insurance people can tell you within one-fourth of one percent just how many of us are going to die within the next 12 months -- and how and where and in what age bracket, sex, color and creed. That's pretty amazing. The only thing they can't tell us is which ones!
The Law of Large Numbers can work for and against you in sales. First, when you are trying to break into accounts, strive to position yourself as No. 2 for every prospect on your list and keep adding to that list. I can promise you that if your list is long enough, there are going to be No. 1s who retire, die, jump to another company, are terminated and succumb to the Law of Large Numbers. What I can't tell you is which ones.
But fortunately, as in the insurance business, "which one" doesn't matter. All that matters is that you have the perseverance and patience to position yourself as No. two to enough different people, and the Law of Large Numbers will do for you what it has done for the insurance industry: You will be an extremely successful and wealthy salesperson.
But what if you are No. 1 and your contact leaves? Then you have to compete with the salesperson who is No. 2 and has a better relationship with the new decision maker. That's why you have to develop relationships with as many people in the company as possible. You know who, but does who know you?
If you want your CMS to produce a fruitful harvest, you have to be persistent and you have to keep on hoeing. An ancient Chinese proverb advises: "If you want one year of happiness, grow grain. If you want 10 years of happiness, grow trees. If you want 100 years of happiness, grow people."
Never underestimate the importance of people in your life. Next-level networking doesn't work unless you master first-level networking. With practice, using your CMS becomes more than a discipline; it's a way of life.
It all comes down to liking people. I get a real kick out of adding people to my CMS. I try to stay in touch with the bulk of my network every year, but I might not see someone for five or 10 years. Sooner or later they crop up again, and it's always fun to get reacquainted.
And that's how you take networking to the next level.
Mackay's Moral: People aren't strangers if you've already met them. The trick is to meet them before you need their help.