If you're like most people, your efforts at building a network are more like a numbers game: You favor quantity over quality (since making lots of connections is relatively easy).
But playing the numbers game--and hoping that one or two of those connections pay off--is a huge mistake, especially if you hope to build a network that benefits both you and your connections.
That's why I recently talked with Diana Kucer, director of global product marketing for LinkedIn (and therefore perfectly placed to know all about building stronger business relationships), to find out ways you can work smarter, not harder, at building the network you need.
Networking is an art very few people master. For some it's exhilarating, but for even the most social, it can also be intimidating. However, when done for the right reasons--and in the right way--networking can be the difference between working hard and working smart.
This is especially true for those in revenue-generating roles, in which the physical or virtual handshake can be the beginning of a long-lasting business relationship. The connections you make are core to your business, especially online, where social selling is the primary way to get noticed.
Bottom line: The health of your network comes down to the quality of your connections, not the quantity in your address book.
As the director of global marketing at LinkedIn, I've seen social selling strategies applied in the right (and the not-so-right) ways. Here are a few things that definitely work when it comes to building your connections:
1. Follow the "favor" rule.
When it comes to social selling, it's really this simple: If you're not willing to do a favor for someone, then you should think twice about connecting with the person on LinkedIn--you have to be at least comfortable enough to introduce him or her to a colleague, or give the person a recommendation.
How you choose to make this distinction is largely subjective. It can come down to things like being impressed with a presentation the person made or positive feedback you've gotten about him or her from a colleague. There's also room for applying some good, old-fashioned instincts, but do so sparingly: Being selective means your pool of contacts will be smaller but your overall network will be stronger.
2. Make timely connections.
In addition to being selective, striking while the iron is hot is key to keeping your connections fresh. Whether you met at an industry event or your kid's Little League game, once you've established the need to connect, do so in a timely fashion. Timeliness allows you to continue a discussion--and building a relationship--without a lull.
Plus, getting that connection up and running early gives your prospect greater context for who you are and what you're about while you're still top of mind. So be sure your content is current and your profile is written with prospects and customers in mind and not as a résumé. (In other words, your profile should market you beautifully.)
One more tip: Take a little time, but no more than 24 hours, since pulling the trigger too quickly can seem hasty or even aggressive.
3. Tailor the connection request to the person.
Want to stand out? There's no better way to make a good impression than personalizing your connection requests and doing away with canned messages.
Show a little personality, add some context about your interaction, and be transparent about your goal. This simple act will make it clear that you are thoughtful and honest and that you also mean business.
4. Get an introduction.
What happens when you want to connect with a decision maker at one of your prospect companies but haven't had the opportunity to meet? Resist the temptation to send a connection request. An approach from a stranger will seem like spam, so even doing this occasionally can slowly tarnish your professional brand.
Instead, leverage your network to see if you know someone in common, and then ask for an introduction. A warm introduction is always better received than a cold call, and this is where the strength of your network comes in handy.
If you've been careful to cultivate your network, you have a community willing to vouch for your stature in the industry.
5. Send an InMail.
If you don't have a connection in common but you really want to reach out to someone, LinkedIn InMails offer a gentler approach.
InMails are basically personal messages that pack extra power because they are viewed as professional communications that won't waste the other person's time. But make sure you say more than just, "Hi, I'd like to connect." Show that you know the person's business and industry and that you want to be a resource for solving problems. Don't go right into a sales pitch.
In sales--and in business in general--your network of contacts is everything. Your network is the foundation of your social selling efforts, so get strategic about whom you connect with and why.
If you take the time to do it right, it will pay out in ways you never expected.