What more is there to say than this? It is an imperative to all CEOs. It is a discipline which must be learned, and applied, and applied again, and not neglected, until it is in your very nature. If you run a product company or service company or consultancy, you must be constantly visible in your community (for prospecting, finding referral sources, new leads, and customers or clients).
Whether you as CEO are the main point person, or you have a business development or sales person on your staff, you must direct that the development, maintenance and support of the pipelines of new opportunities are constantly re-enforced.
Too busy? Wait until that major client drops away, or a disruptive competitor eats your lunch, or your margins are cut by forces outside your control. Then wonder how you were too busy to maintain your pipelines to new revenue.
One of my clients, a highly successful CxO, was turning to consulting to diversify his interests and his market reach. He said to me, “So, I should set up on the calendar to be out in the community with my contacts several times a week, right? I mean, I should deliberately set myself the task of networking as a regular event?” Perhaps I have lived this life too long, but that surprised me for a minute. It seemed so basic an idea that I was caught short by his asking. But there was no way he would know this, as he had never consulted before.
“Yes, I said, it should be regular, often and calendared. It is not just a discipline; it must become a way of life that you are always connecting, looking for the next relationship that brings the next opportunity for referral or for direct work.” He became masterful at this.
Now, I don’t mean you should be always pitching, or talking business at inappropriate places like personal social gatherings. I mean when you are in a business context, you should always be working the room for wherever you can be of service, without pushing, only being available to help. This means meeting new people, and new colleagues who may not hire you but may refer you. And of these folks you meet, you must select some who are best suited, and see them more than once or twice – you must put time and effort into building a relationship with them. This means a follow up email, and the effort of scheduling and meeting, and sending them information of interest to them, or resources or leads. Giving first is often your most successful strategy for creating lasting relationships.
The point of networking and marketing is to be in the “top of mind” of your most valuable sources of new work, so that when someone says “I have this problem” or “I need this product” it is your name that is immediately spoken.
Evaluate where to spend your time. What kinds of professionals send you the most work, or leads? Focus on more of those. If you attend a formal networking/referral group, assess its value after the first year. Who knows your value proposition? How many referrals have you gained? How many of those referrals were correctly targeted, and how many closed? If the answer is none or few, abandon the group or change to another one that may be more useful. If you are in a niche market, or offer specialized services rather than addressing a “horizontal” market, these groups may not be of much use to you.
And, you must take your carefully honed one-phrase or one-line value proposition (a success promise with a metric, most times) and teach this repeatedly to your referral network. And you must train them also on how you want leads referred to you (by phone, by email introduction, by sending them to your website, etc.). If your referral sources cannot state your value proposition succinctly, and know the simple and best way to send a new prospect to you, their good intentions will be worthless to you.
This discipline means keeping up connections with your long-time colleagues, sharing information or leads with them, involving them in your conversations online and offline, and seeing them face to face at least a few times each year. It is fine to see your colleagues (especially those who already understand your value proposition) at gatherings, but it is important to carve out time to see them one-on-one as well. Try to meet for an hour or so before a networking gathering, so you have some private time.
This discipline is most challenging when you are busy fulfilling client work or delivering products that are in demand. And it is equally difficult if times are tough, when you are re-positioning to avoid a decline. All the same, you don’t stop marketing when times are good and you don’t stop marketing when times are bad. You must train yourself to respect the priority of always networking and marketing when you are working.