“It’s who you know that counts.” We hear this all the time…and many of us believe it to be true. Our success often hinges on the relationships we can build with decision-makers in our own company, in those we buy from or sell to, and in those who make policy decisions that affect our work. So, the question this month is: How do successful managers get to be known and develop relationships with important new contacts? The following are the thoughts of some successful managers on the subject of getting to know the right people who can help you in your profession:
“Relationship building is a process not an event. Become a good networker and an even better listener. Seek out people who know the people you want to get to know. Ask those contacts a lot of questions about the people you want to develop the relationship with and when you finally get to meet or contact those important people, listen to them more than you talk. Find out what their interests and opinions are. Find out what their challenges are. Focus on them, not your self-interests. This sounds like “Sales Training 101.” It is. To develop a relationship, you must sell yourself. That starts with getting to know your customers and focusing on their needs.” Al Borowski, M Ed, CSP, Owner, Priority Communication Skills, Inc.
“There aren’t any secret strategies for this. Those who are successful make internal and external contacts a priority. Tom Peterson said it years ago – your calendar communicates your priorities. Taking time to attend functions, make phone calls or seek out opportunities for one on one discussions takes time and thought, but there is no better way to build and preserve good working relationships. The temptation today to do all communication by email is the biggest threat to good working relationships for busy professionals. I couldn’t live without email, but I’ve learned it can cause miscommunication and hurt relationships if I rely on it too heavily. You don’t get to know a person through email. I remind myself often that personal contact and having fun with my colleagues inside and outside of PSEA is one of the most important things I do. And I enjoy it – isn’t that great!” Terry Barnaby, Associate Executive Director, Pennsylvania State Education Association
“When I came to Pittsburgh seven years ago to work in media community affairs, I read the newspaper and attended meetings of nonprofit organizations to learn what the most critical community issues were for this region. When I wanted to learn more about a certain issue, I called up someone in a leadership role and asked if I could have a few minutes of their time to understand the issue better. For example, I went to visit the U.S. District Attorney who had helped initiate the YouthWorks program, because I had heard that this program was giving average low income children a chance to intern in local businesses. This was a good idea, so I wanted to learn more. If you demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in a community problem, leaders who are working hard on that issue will want to talk with you. Always be sensitive about their time constraints.” Karen Block Johnese, Director of Community Affairs, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“I’ve also heard/read: ‘It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.’ Effective networking is an exercise in advertising/marketing, and the product is you. We all know about ‘degrees of separation’. Our method of touching the right people, in the right places and at the right time creates bridges and shortcuts across those separations. That ‘method of touch’, however, is not about touching those who can help you. When we take the time to introduce ourselves to others, our first and highest use of that time should be to help them understand how we can be of assistance to them and perhaps to others in their network of friends and contacts. Once they have that solidly planted in their minds, they will actively retain that knowledge and seek ways to direct others to us when the opportunity presents itself. Consider this: when you find someone with a gift, a talent or some unique facility for helping others, don’t you often begin telling others about it right away? Many times the folks who our contacts direct to us will have some direct or indirect relationship to our own needs, and the mutual gains can kick in and multiply quickly. Even if that seems not to be the case immediately, you’ve still gained one more link in the network without having done a thing! We naturally tend to cluster our relationships around our needs. The more we seek to satisfy only our own needs through relationships, our networking will reflect that. When we do connect with someone on the basis of our own needs alone, it may work once, but not twice. We risk becoming known as a one-way street…a ‘user’. When you sense those kinds of networkers, they never even make it into your contact list, do they? So in a humble way, focus on getting others to know your gifts, talents or unique facility for helping others, and they’ll spread the word.” Robert D.Jones, President & CEO, Ingood Company
“My suggestion for meeting and developing relationships with key decision makers is to become involved and stay involved in professional associations, volunteer activities (such as non-profit boards), and community events. The people who work in these groups are always very busy and very important people. By working beside them, there is an opportunity to meet them, get to know them, and let them get to know you.” Susan E. Gove, Ph.D., CEO, Gove Group, Inc.
5 Tips About Developing New Relationships with Decision-Makers
- Pay attention. Keep your ears and eyes open so that you can identify the real decision-makers.
- Do some homework. Find out as much as you can about this person.
- Notice connections. Watch the decision-maker to determine whether you may have a common connection. Ask your common connection for an introduction, or mention the connection if you introduce yourself.
- Prepare for a win-win situation. Determine what the win is for this person in meeting you. Decide how you can make meeting a decision-maker a benefit for both of you.
- Be gracious. Be patient. Be persistent.