Over the years, I have written about and have aspired to be a good networking contact for friends and business colleagues. Recently, relocation to the Austin, Texas area has caused me to reexamine my personal networking motivations as I begin to connect with local people and businesses who are interested in revenue growth, sales enablement and sales best practices. I also follow content from a number of networking experts, like Michelle Tillis Lederman, who is also a serious student of what it means to be a good “Connector”. Michelle is doing a survey in preparation for her new book on Connectors, and is looking for input about how people assess their skills as Connectors. (You can access her survey here if you are interested in giving her feedback.)
During my dialogue with Michelle, I recalled that Malcom Gladwell coined the term “Connector” in his book The Tipping Point – by Gladwell’s definition, Connectors are seemingly connected to everyone important to your business. They can generate all sorts of introductions to key prospects, identify new sales opportunities and have the personal relationships to enable the right pipeline. I think we can all agree that true Connectors in the sense that Gladwell describes are fairly rare individuals. But working to become a true Connector is something to aspire to, especially when so many people benefit from their unselfish acts as resources and colleagues.
Networking has always been an important element of sales, and even more so in the current market, where connection via social media, marketing automation and the ability of buyers to access information about products and services limits how sales people can have dialogues with prospective customers.
As a sales person and consultant, I use LinkedIn extensively to learn more about my potential clients and their businesses. Important insights can be gained just by looking at LinkedIn profiles and reading about the background of your potential customer, who they are connected with and how they communicate about themselves and their business to others online. I have great respect for what people put online, and I try to connect with them when I can add value to that connection through a personal relationship, information that I can provide, or help that I might offer them as a potential supplier.
However, this is not always the case for many people who participate in social media like LinkedIn and Facebook. On a regular basis, I receive connection requests from people whom I don’t know or are connected to me indirectly (in LinkedIn parlance, 2nd or 3rd degree connections). They don’t personalize their request, and for all practical purposes, they have no obvious reason to connect with me. I call these people Collectors.
If I request a connection, I always personalize my request by explaining to the recipient why I am connecting. When people request connection, I usually send them a thank you note after accepting their connection. I also ask they why they connected, and I offer to be a resource to them. Some people take me up on this, but in many cases, they just respond that they are looking to communicate with me or they may request help in the future. The important aspect of this is that they respond to my message.
Conversely, a Collector never responds to my message, and I never hear from them. In some cases, especially when I don’t know the person, I will even remove them from my network if they don’t respond. It’s so easy to click the Connect button and expect someone to agree, even though there may be no real benefit to them in doing so.
The important (often lost) point about networking is that if you are a Connector, connecting is not a gratuitous act. While connecting on LinkedIn is not as high on the importance scale as personally meeting people or interacting in a sales conversation with a customer, how you treat your connections and what you do when you connect, in my opinion, sends a message to others about who you are and your motivations. My theory is that Collectors send out connection and friend requests because they want to have more connections on their profile to promote their personal brand and be found by searches on the social media product. Certainly, they have no motivation to communicate or to be a resource.
I applaud Michelle Lederman for her efforts to expand on the process and value of network connection, and I am looking forward to her future book on Connectors.
What are your thoughts on Connectors and Collectors? Why do you think Collectors connect the way they do?
Help Michelle gain insights into Connectors by filling out her survey – you can link to her survey here.