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The link between networking and great leadership

Being a good leader requires you to be great at selling yourself and your business, but for many networking is an incredibly daunting exercise. Here’s some easy ways you can overcome your fears and become a master networker.

If you’re the founder of your organisation you’ve probably got a title to suit, such as CEO or MD. I’d like to propose to you that one of the critical success factors of being a great leader for your organisation revolves around you being a great CSO (Chief Sales Officer). Being a good networker is a great way for you to fulfill this role. Whilst I’m sure that some of you will revel in this, I often find myself discussing this with CEO’s who find it quite a daunting responsibility.

I’d like to break this down into some basic skill sets that I think anyone can master and help the less sales orientated of you fulfill this important role.

One of the first things to get right is what I like to call your “BBQ chat”. This happens when you’re at a friend’s place for a BBQ and someone you don’t know asks you about your organisation. You need to be able to describe briefly what you do and why it works for your customers whilst not looking too weird or sales-y. One way to do this is to think of a brief way to describe what you do (ideally using a story or analogy) and then if you’re feeling confident maybe even use a good customer example. Over time you can build up a number of good BBQ chats.

For example, if someone asks me about Upstream I sometimes use our “box of paper” analogy. Most people can relate to this story. I explain that a box of paper is five reams of 500 sheets and typically costs $25. By the time most organisations have consumed this through their copiers and printers it has probably cost them more than $250 (that is if they haven’t selected and managed their machines carefully). We are in the business of helping companies reduce this cost by helping them select and manage their machines better.  This story works really well because it’s not too sales-y yet next time this person sees someone open a box of paper in their office they will almost certainly think of Upstream. If you’re having trouble thinking of some good stories try work shopping this with the rest of your team. Then you should all practice telling the story so that your delivery is relaxed and confident.

These BBQ chats are very versatile and will come in extremely handy next time you’re at a networking event. Most people I know find networking events a bit scary, especially if you’re at one where you don’t know anyone else. You feel a bit weird standing by yourself but scared of barging into someone else’s conversation. Conversely, how often have you gone to a networking event or other social event where you could be making lots of new contacts and find yourself talking only to those people that you already know because you’re a bit scared of introducing yourself to others?

A great tool that can help with this is the FOR toolkit. FOR stands for Family, Occupation and Recreation. These are great subjects to start a conversation with someone you don’t know. Over the years we’ve developed a cheat sheet with dozens of good FOR questions that you can ask someone new to spark up a conversation. You can find more information about the cheat sheet questions on the Upstream blog. With a little bit of practice you will find it much easier to introduce yourself and start a discussion.

My last bit of advice is to treat these opportunities as chances to meet new people and build your own personal network. This is achieved way more efficiently by not being sales-y and not pitching your products or services at these events.I always go to these events with a view that I want to make some great new contacts (that I hope to sell to later on) but right now I just want to get to know them. One of the best ways to do this is to learn about their business and think about how you can help them or how other people in your network can help them. This is great karma and will nearly always pay you back in the long term.

If you practice these skills you will soon be a great networker and CSO. Good luck.

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