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    Networking for the New Year

    Just like me, no matter what your profession or industry, you have competition. But all too often, we fall complacent in our day-to-day interactions, missing opportunities and losing momentum. For many of us, a new year means it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions. For some, those resolutions may involve growing or strengthening your networks. Whether you’re just getting started, starting over, or simply looking to enhance an already stellar network, consider these tips to make the most of your relationship efforts.

    Getting Started: Initiate, Interact, Invite

    For the up-and-coming professional just starting to build their network, I have this advice: Take the initiative. If you make a meaningful new connection, be diligent about follow-through. Reach out and let them know your interaction was meaningful to you. Don’t hesitate to invite a second encounter—if you can tie in a common interest or preference from your first meeting, even better. You’ll demonstrate your professionalism in that you remembered them mentioning a penchant for French press coffee or single malt Scotch.

    My only word of caution is to leave plenty of room for authentic reciprocation. Relationships are permission based and pursuing a professional relationship is much like a personal one—it’s possible to come on too strong. Be intentional, not pushy. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for the other person to reach out to you. When you’re starting out, it’s also important to ask for introductions from those with whom you’ve already built a good reputation. 

    Starting Again: Re-energize Existing Relationships 

    Whether you’ve made a career move, a physical one, or have just let things lull down, reactivating your networks can seem more daunting than it actually is. Organization makes information usable. Start with a scroll. Reading through names, or looking through profile pictures is a good starting point, but don’t stop there. Sort those contacts into groups (in my app, Vipor Plus, these are called Orbits) based on priority. For example, you can organize by High, Medium, and Low Priority, or numerically, such as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3. Once you’ve done this, you can begin to reach out. Craft messages and determine how you’ll communicate based on the priority. Balance the importance of the desired results with the level of effort required to achieve them.

    Sure, the people in your database may reach out to you, but when your success or failure is determined by the quality of your networks, why wait for a call that may never come? Relationships, after all, are investments. Some are penny stocks with little ventured, little gained. Others require significant time and attention to see really big payoffs.

    Staying the Course: Decide. Commit. Succeed.

    The first and last word in effective relationship management is diligence. Our long-term success lies in our every day routine. Why is this piece of “common sense” advice so uncommon? People promise, but don’t deliver. If you want to stand apart from your competition, the formula is simple. Do what you say you’ll do when you said you’d do it. I start my day with an overview with that very thing in mind. I can’t possibly remember every little email, call, or task, which is why I depend on a tool to keep those little details from slipping through the cracks of my memory.

    Whether you use an app like Vipor Plus, spreadsheets, or sticky notes, put your system to work for you! Organize contacts by location, interest, etc. Communicate regularly and with a personal touch. Schedule activities with reminders, so you don’t miss deadlines. Remember, little things don’t mean a lot—they mean everything.

     

    As the co-inventor of ACT! Contact Software, the product acknowledged as the catalyst for the CRM industry, I’m actually not a fan of traditional CRM. Why, you may be wondering? I think it’s too limited. Relationships don’t always fall into distinctly professional or personal categories. People may move from one classification to another, or even be in more than one at a time. The relationship statement for my company VIPorbit Software is this: People Matter. We believe in the infinite potential of closer relationships. If you haven’t resolved to be more diligent about building your network this year, I hope after reading this you will. Everybody networks. Make the most of every introduction and interaction with diligence and professionalism!

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    CRM: You’re Doing It Wrong!

    There are CRM apps for all devices, some specific to certain industries, some that are built-to-order and others customized by the user to suit their needs. However, no tool on the market is a substitute for effective, consistent use. Continue Reading

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    Smartcuts vs. Shortcuts: Micro versus Macro Relationship Management

    Technology has made almost every activity in our daily lives easier and faster. This enables us to accomplish so much more than previous generations—not only more quickly, but in some cases, seemingly effortlessly. It has given us, for example, the means to produce results in less time, helping to free up more time for other things in our daily lives. Our productivity is boosted dramatically.

    Take the microwave oven. Most of us enjoy the convenience of a hot meal virtually immediately. Having said that, though, I’m sure none of us would wish to have a microwaved TV dinner every night, compared to the more-likely healthier and pleasurable “home cooked” meal that takes more effort and time, and yes, even care to prepare. The distinction, therefore, is that investment in time is proportionate to the enjoyment of the end result. There is no way around it.

    The dictionary defines a shortcut as “a method or means of doing something more directly and quickly than and often not so thoroughly as by ordinary procedure” (emphasis added). It is that word “thoroughly” that ought to stand out to you when it comes to your approach to your relationships where the intent and need is to create, develop, and sustain meaningful relationships that produce effective and valuable results over long periods of time, and with it further strengthening your reputation across your various networks. When it comes to building deep and enduring relationships, and as Tina Turner sings in Proud Mary, those just can’t be achieved “nice and easy.”

    Some of the synonyms for shortcut are perhaps even more blunt: bypass, dodge, get around, and sidestep—just to name a few. None of these can be used to describe the process of building purposeful relationships. Cooking food quickly and having immediate information results are fine for those types of needs, but the same cannot be applied by the use of technology toward relationship development and management.

    Technology can certainly help you learn about a person in the beginnings of what could become a real relationship. However, with all of its power and speed, technology is not a substitute for what it takes to produce satisfying, and hopefully, repeatable results. You don’t even need technology for that. What do you need? You need to resist the urge to confuse immediate gratification without true investment and instead place value on constructing relationships that last.

    The double-edged sword of technology gives immediate self-gratification by helping forge emotional connections, but maintaining them requires discipline and ongoing effort. The pursuit of healthy and rewarding relationships exists in proportion to the amount of time, intensity, trust and reciprocity that you have poured into them.

    In other words, the rewards are worth the investment. To that end, we must consistently re-evaluate why we are building relationships and whether the desired outcomes are worth the effort required to attain them.

    Shortcuts lead to shallow relationships and offer little depth from which to draw upon in the future. To achieve consistent success from your relationships, don’t look for shortcuts. Instead make “smartcuts,” by applying those thoughtful efforts and actions that lead to real, enduring, and reliable relationships. In other words, it’s those “smart” efforts vs. expeditious ones will result in what I like to call the social capital of relationship value.

    You may rely on technology and social media to provide immediate information on someone, but if that’s as far as you go, you’ll never know how that relationship could have progressed or what opportunities it might have afforded. This “macro” view leads you to believe that through technology-enabled information shortcuts, relationship results will be achieved. Unfortunately, that is at odds with the investment of effort and “relationship drill down” built over time required to produce solid networks—personal and professional.

    Where social media blasts and email newsletters are an effective means of communicating a message to an audience, they don’t do much in the way of building a lasting connection. The opposite to this “macro” approach could be as simple as sending a text message at a crucial time, say the anniversary of a loved one’s passing.

    As it applies to relationships, “smartcuts” may be calendar reminders and push notifications to follow up with someone after you get together or talk on the phone. Those “micro” efforts have lasting effects on how others perceive you and in turn how they perceive your value of them. The irony of making smartcuts is that they not only produce big results, they can lead to a shortcut on your path toward achieving your personal goals and ultimately your overall success.

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    Surface or Substance? What to Do After the Introduction

    It seems as though a new software product or online networking platform emerges almost weekly. Often they entice users with effortless ways to find new “connections” by accessing address books and other social platforms to cull for people you “may know” or wish to know. But what are they offering, really? Are they providing just another aggregated list of names and profile pictures? So what.

    What should you do from there? Should you call someone in your contact list to tell them that you saw the picture they just posted on their Facebook page and can tell them how cute their new puppy is? Or reach out on LinkedIn to acknowledge that you both graduated from the same school? Or should you favorite their latest tweet that has nothing to do with anything pertinent to your newly formed “relationship” with them?

    I’m not suggesting that social networking is a bad thing, per se. What I am pointing out, and hoping to spark some deeper thought about, is that like so many things in life, you get out of a relationship what you put into it. These superficial attempts to build a relationship may give you a starting point, but only that. There are four main components that determine meaningful relationships: time, intensity, reciprocity and consideration.

    What may be superficially acceptable on a social network with a new connection does not necessarily translate into a valuable business relationship without effort. In other words, just as businesses invest in many things to help them achieve the greatest return on investment, so too do each of us need to invest the time and effort it takes to build lasting business relationships. We must capture the hearts and minds of those we deal with to gain a competitive edge that goes beyond the globally-available-to-all information about people with whom we associate.

    Real relationships, and I am talking about where there really is a mutually satisfactory connection, move away from the “publically available” knowledge to “this-is-between-just-us” private state. That is where we actually begin to develop that all-important trust. It might be said that when it comes to “working” a contact, where there is no up-front work there is also little back-end value.

    So, how do you build that substance with a new connection? Whether the introduction is virtual or in real-time, consider these three tips for investing in a newly formed connection:

    Be “Them-Centric”

    Think about what you can offer to the other person, not what you may want to get out of the relationship. Remember, the best way to invite reciprocity is by giving to others without expectation and without pressure. And keep in mind that one of the most valuable gifts you can give is your attention. By asking questions and listening attentively to the answers, you can get to know others better and show them true consideration.

    Meet In-Person, if Possible

    When you get together, try to meet in person, so that you’re communicating on as many sensory channels as possible: eye contact, body language, and so on. If meeting in person isn’t possible, choose a virtual method that allows more sensory channels, rather than fewer, for a higher-intensity connection. (For example, choose a videoconference over a phone call, and a phone call over texting.)

    Don’t Forget the Follow-Up

    Keep the relationship moving forward by following up quickly—ideally within 24 hours—with a note of appreciation. Let the other person know you enjoyed getting together and appreciated the time he or she spent with you. Don’t try to solicit a response. Simply offer a respectful “tip of your hat” and leave the decision of whether to respond up to the other person.

    If you understand that professional success is tied to the strength of your networks, you probably also realize the need for real, deep and authentic relationships. Success is not achieved by amassing a list of contacts. Those introductions are only as valuable if you continue to invest and develop them. We make meaningful relationships by making investments in others. Therein lays the potential for infinite opportunities and mutual rewards.

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