How to Supernetwork Your Way to Success
Jan 24, 2019
By Andrew Sobel
The underlying message of most networking advice boils down to “more is better.” In today’s age of social media, we’ve come to confuse quantity for quality. However, if you really want your network to work for you, follow the lead of the “supernetworkers.” They understand that all contacts are not created equal in terms of their career impact.
Supernetworkers segment—explicitly or intuitively—their network into these two parts: The “critical few” (the 20-25 relationships that are most important to you) and the rest. They then adopt different tactics to stay in touch and manage each group.
Here’s how you can become a supernetworker and build lasting relationships:
Identify and cultivate your “critical few.” Your critical few should include clients or customers, prospects, colleagues, personal mentors, and collaborators—firms or individuals you may trade leads with and work with to serve a client. Plan to personally connect two or three times a year with each of the people on your list. Add value to them in different ways. I like to think about ideas and relevant content, network value (making a valuable introduction), personal help, and fun. In my interviews with highly-successful professionals who were at the end of their careers, I discovered that most of them actually identified very early on the 20-25 key individuals who were going to power their career and on whom they would also have a major impact.
Build your network before you need it. You have to invest in other people before you ask them for anything. Otherwise, you’ll be seen as a freeloader. Cultivate your relationships over time, the same way you would tend a garden. Then, when you do need help, you’ll find the people around you eager to lend a helping hand.
Follow the person, not the position. A client of mine was promoted to a very senior position in a large Fortune 100 company. She had been the deputy in her area and was now at the top. She told me that the day her promotion was announced in the newspapers, she got dozens of calls from suppliers wanting to do business with her. “Do you know what I said to each of them?” she told me. “I asked them, “Where were you five years ago?”
Truly important people—those who are at the top of their careers in any field—often bring their advisors and trusted suppliers along with them over many years. While it is not impossible to break into someone’s inner circle after they have achieved great success, it’s also not an easy task.
Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, and ambitious people, even if they’re not in an important job right now. Follow them throughout their careers. Before you know it, you’ll know some very important, powerful individuals who can buy your products and services.
Stretch yourself by building relationships with people quite different from you. Research shows that our natural tendency is to choose others to work with who are very similar to us. But the most creative teams, the teams that solve problems the fastest, are eclectic and combine people with very different backgrounds and personalities. These people often connect you into whole new networks that will complement your own. Who’s the Steve Wozniak to your Steve Jobs—or the John Lennon to your Paul McCartney? If you put in the hard work it takes to accommodate differences, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.
Evoke curiousity. When someone is curious, they reach toward you. They want to learn more. They want to take the next step. When you evoke curiosity, you create a gravitational pull that is irresistible. Curiosity helps you get more of everything: More inquiries, more sales, more clients, more dates if you are single, more RSVPs for your party, and more friends.
Tell people what they need to know, not everything you know. Give brief answers to questions. Hint at things. Don’t lecture a prospective customer for 10 minutes when they ask you to describe your firm. Develop contrarian or unusual perspectives. Be seen as someone who has refreshing points of view. Say the unexpected and surprise the other person.
Know the other person’s agenda and help him or her accomplish it. Supernetworkers know that the key to connecting with others is an understanding of what’s important to them. When you know what the other person’s priorities, needs, or goals are, you can figure out how to help them. Have you tried to get an appointment with an executive who just wouldn’t make room in the schedule for you? The problem is actually very simple: You are not connecting with and showing how you are relevant to the other person’s critical priorities. Only when you understand this will you clearly see how you can help them and add value to the relationship.
Every act of generosity creates a ripple. A collateral benefit of selfless generosity is that it draws others to you. It creates an attractive aura around you—even though that’s not the reason you do it. It is what characterizes the most influential people in history, individuals like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Andrew Carnegie, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the last chapter of our book Power Relationships, we tell a story about a philanthropist named Rich Goldbach. One night, in a dark, empty parking lot, a strange man confronted him. Rich thought he was about to be mugged, but the man was there for a very different motive. It had to do with an early childhood literacy program Rich funded in the local community. One of the grade-schoolers who learned to read in the program in turn taught his father to read. The man had come to thank Rich, not rob him.
There is often no way of knowing how your own generosity—to a cause or an individual—creates a ripple effect that influences many others. You end up touching many other lives, often without even knowing it. Supernetworkers are among the most generous people I know.
Take action. Go through your contact list and ask yourself: Who will go out of their way to endorse me and introduce me to their network? Who will drop what they are doing and help me when I am in need? Who will tell others that they’ve never known someone as trustworthy and talented as me?
You may find that only five or ten people remain on your list. That’s a great start: A handful of deep, loyal relationships is always better than hundreds of superficial contacts. Quality trumps quantity every time.
Here are some AMA seminars that will help you develop and enhance your career:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®
Expanding Your Influence
About the Author(s)
Andrew Sobel is coauthor, with Jerold Panas, of Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships (Wiley, 2014) and the accompanying workbook, Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide (available at www.andrewsobel.com)