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How To Get The Most Out of Your Network
We all know the value of having a strong network. Businesses depend on their networks for growth and prosperity. Yet most of us aren’t maximizing the strength of our network. The reason is simple. We don’t understand which people in our network are most valuable.
Networking is an art and a science. To be effective, we need to have an air-tight understanding of the people in our network. This is easier said than done. Our networks are vast. According to Dunbar’s number, we can only successfully manage around 150 relationships at a time. But our networks often consist of thousands of people. How can we possibly keep tabs on each one?
Mindmaven, a company that teaches professionals experience-based relationship management, has some great advice on how to get the most value out of your network.
Step 1: Know your relationship objective
You can't manage what you can't measure. To maximize the strength of your network, you need to know your objective in interacting with people. Mindmaven calls this your “relationship objective.”
What should your objective be? Start by asking yourself a simple question: When do you want people to think of you? Do you want people to think of you when they meet a promising startup? When they hear about a cool sales gig? When they hear about a new biotech investor?
Step 2: Rate your network
There are probably a lot of people in your network who can help you achieve relationship objective. This second step involves focusing and rating your network. Mindshare suggests using a four-tiered rating system. Unlike many rating systems, it isn’t based on numbers or letters. Instead, it uses titles. Mindmaven explains, ”In our experience, it’s much easier for your mind to associate people to a certain group rather than a list of arbitrary numbers or symbols.”
“Not everyone in our network provides the same amount of value or connects us to the opportunities we want to hear about most. By rating our network in the right way, we simultaneously avoid spinning our wheels or draining time unnecessarily and replace this with a clear blueprint of our network, focused on who should get the best from us in terms of frequency of touch and the value of interactions you deliver. In other words, we remove much of the ambiguity and ensure we invest time in the right ways.” - Chalyse Elsasser, Coach at Mindmaven
Mindmaven’s system uses the following titles.
Legends: These are MVPs of your network. They’re the most important people who can help you meet your relationship objective. According to Mindmaven, these should be the people that can gain you the best exposure to the people, opportunities, and deals that align with your objective.
Champions: Champions are members of your network who are valuable in helping you reach your objective but they are a notch below a legend, for one reason or another (perhaps they may willing to help but don't have access to the specific types of breakthrough opportunities you're looking for). They may turn into legends in the future.
Stars: Stars are people you know reasonably well and respect. You may be able to call on them for a favor but they won’t move waters to make you successful in achieving your objective.
Players: Players are all the other people in your network. They make up the bulk of your network.
The goal is to tier your network using your CRM. If you’re short on time, you should just aim to identify the legends. This is where your focus should be. If you want to become a rockstar networker, Mindmaven recommends classifying each member of your network. This will take more time, but it is well worth the investment.
It’s important to be diligent about choosing legends. Mindmaven recommends restricting the number of legends in your network to no more than 5% of your total network, or a maximum of 50 people. Why? This is where you’ll be investing the most time. It’s going to require a lot of time and effort to nurture and strengthen your legend relationships.
Of course, this isn’t to say you don’t invest any time into the champions, stars, and players but it should be relative according to value. Champions will require more time and effort than stars, and stars more time and effort than players. To automate this process, a number of Mindmaven's clients utilize Affinity to rate their network.
Step 3: Nurture and deepen relationships.
You’ve done the hard work. Now it’s time to put strategy into action. Mindmaven recommends several strategies to enhance your relationships with the people in your network, especially the legends. Some of our favorites include:
- Be interesting by taking an interest in others. Get to know the people in your network. Ask questions that delve into their passions, drives, and interests. Listen.
- Never fire off a question alone. A single question often results in a bland answer. Asking a follow-up leads to a better, more intimate, and more engaging conversation. Consider asking one of the following follow-ups. Have you always thought that way? Why is that important to you? How does that make you feel?
- Seek Those Difficult, Uncomfortable Conversations Difficult conversations are an inevitable part of any relationship. While some of us avoid them, the most effective networkers embrace them. In doing so, they are seen as being more reliable and trustworthy.
Your network matters. It can be a gift that keeps on giving. By taking the time to audit assess and nurture your network, you’ll realize big gains that can transform your career and the level of impact you’re able to have.
“When we take care of our network in the right way, it enables us to reach our fullest potential. We’re able to hear about opportunities we care about most. Some of the best opportunities, in terms of quality, come from people we know and trust in the form of referrals. Therefore, our commitment to take care of our network is absolutely critical to reaching the next level.” - Chalyse Elsasser, Coach at Mindmaven