Networking: It’s About Relationships

What can you get from your network?  This question, posed by David Cacioppo, President of emfluence, launched the networking discussion at the September KCMN meeting held at Alphapointe.   The answer was broader than the handful of typical responses:

CustomersPanel Discussion
Service Providers
Support
Employers
Employees
Education
Friends

Networking is not a ‘one and done’ exercise, it’s a process by which all of us can grow and learn, but there is some effort involved.  David noted that there are different kinds of networks for different purposes, but all should be fully leveraged to gain your maximum benefit.  If you meet new people, follow up with them. If you are attending an event, get there early to meet new people. Make networking an opportunity to forge personal connections.

Brad Carl, from Allied Products, noted that networking has enabled him to see new perspectives, become aware of new trends and to meet new people.  It’s also led him to a new career opportunity.  Dave Coughlin from Heatron stated that for him, networking was all about helping others.  In helping others, you gain respect, trust and better working relationships with those around you.   Chris Klope of Mobile Hydraulics jumped into networking with both feet when a job change brought him from St. Louis to Kansas City.  His network has created opportunities to work with new customers, suppliers and business associates, and he noted that Kansas City has an open and welcoming networking scene.

The group discussed social media, and it’s role in manufacturing. David noted that on LinkedIn, his 1300+ connections really could translate to over 1 million people.  Brad noted that he uses Twitter to listen to what others have to say, and to keep in contact with others, and despite the funny sounding name, there is great business value in utilizing the network provided you have a plan.

Brad noted that social media is  not just marketing’s job.  He also dispelled some other social media myths:

  • It’s not just what you ate for breakfast
  • It’s not a place to sell or cold call
  • It’s not a place to sell products
  • If you build it, they won’t just come.

The group agreed that today your brand (personal and company) is not what you say it is, it’s what others say that you are.  It’s important to keep that in mind as you are out there, in person, and on social media.  It’s about forming relationships, and through those relationships your message will have resonance and staying power.

Dave noted that listening is key. His rule of thumb is to hear before heard.  Ask yourself, “Who do you want to be in the room with?” , then strive to be that person.

Chris talked about crowd-sourcing.  Originally the concept gathered steam as a funding source, with sites like Kickstarter and Indigogo, but has expanded to problem solving and collaboration solutions.  He gave the example of a toothpaste production line whose engineers were stymied over productivity improvements as they sought to increase the fill rate.  Putting the problem out to the crowd unveiled the solution that pulling vs pushing through the tube provided the solution, that was obvious to an MIT student who was not so close to the problem that he couldn’t see alternative solutions.  Chris noted that intellectual property concerns preclude some crowd-sourcing solutions, but open innovation contractors may provide the opportunity to present issues in a more confidential manner.  The bottom line is that not all solutions can be found internally, and reaching out to others can provide valuable insight.

Pet Peeves:  All panelists discussed networking pet peeves, and the audience shared some of their own as well.   Bottom line in this discussion:

  • Be sincere. People want to know you are genuine, and are not just looking to get something
  • Listen
  • Realize not everyone is in it for the same thing
  • Be considerate of people’s time

Dave noted that networking works best for you when you have a plan.  Whether your networking activity involves social media, the phone, email or in person, decide in advance how you intend to utilize your networking avenues, and have the discipline to stick to your plan.   He makes an effort to identify those he wants to have in his network, touch base with them on a regular basis, listen to what they have to say, and be helpful to them when you can.  Chris commented that networking is key to avoid being myopic.  Getting out and meeting new people and learning new things helps to avoid tunnel vision.

In conclusion, the panelists agreed that there was benefit to forming, growing and sustaining networks in their business, career and personal lives. At the end of the day, it’s about reaching out to people, on a personal basis, not just amassing cards or contacts or likes.