Disconnect to connect… In today’s hyper-connected world, technology has become an indispensable part of our lives. We use our smart phones to set alarms, call, text message, e-mail, surf the net and download productivity applications and games. Personal touch is fast becoming endangered in our work day. However, technology should rightfully complement our networking efforts, not eradicate its necessity.
Undoubtedly, personal touch plays an important role in business communications and customer service, particularly as part of the sales process. In a sales process, a customer can purchase a company’s product via the telephone, email or online. However, if the business owner pays visits to the client’s office, he will build rapport and confidence, thus ensuring customer loyalty. The same goes for networking whether we are in it for business dealings, industry knowledge, career advancement, or expanding clientele.
A face to the name
“Engagement” has reached the current list of business buzzwords, thanks to the burgeoning social media scene. Networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn efficiently connect people at different levels. But is there genuine engagement? Is the correspondence in business emails aimed at harvesting “likes” for their business page or creating real value for customers?
Mr S.C. Tan, a small business owner for more than twenty years, confesses that he surfs the net and communicates using emails, but prefers to meet his clients and suppliers in person. He loathes receiving e-mails that sign off with a company name as he is more inclined to respond if the sender gives his name.
Richard Weylman, in Opening Closed Doors, tells us that “one of the most effective ways to become well known and achieve high visibility is to meet your prospects face-to-face at their clubs, association meetings and social functions.”
Front-line work, not back-end
I have talked to business owners who find networking “a waste of their time and skills”. They send their junior associates, often inexperienced and untrained in networking, to represent the company at trade fairs and business conferences. This is a classic example of putting the cart before the ox. Since visibility can lead you to credibility, and ultimately profitability, it pays for you to be in direct contact with people. This is one aspect of your business-building that you cannot afford to outsource.
If you shun meet-and-greets, your business cannot develop beyond what is already written on your web profile. Your career success would plateau. In his book, Dr Ivan Misner writes, “Networking is a contact sport! If you don’t develop effective relationships, you can’t possibly create a powerful, diverse, reliable network of contacts.” Indeed, face-to-face interactions with business associations and clients communicate trust, warmth, sincerity and credibility. An e-mail cannot ever replace a warm handshake or a friendly face. Hardly anyone has networked via a remote control with any success.
Whether you formally network in organised groups, or informally at parent-teacher meetings and casual get-togethers, the fact remains that as part of the networking process, you need to be present to build on those relationships, both old ones and new. You have to show up, chat up strangers and follow-up after the event.
Whether you retail a product or provide a service, you are in fact in sales. You are selling yourself all the time. Your demeanour, character and values system are apparent to others who are observing you in the same room.
When two companies plan for a merger, the CEOs may have communicated electronically but they still meet up for negotiations and signing of the agreement. In diplomatic relations, ministers visit their counterparts in other countries to build goodwill, and then attend summits and conferences to discuss strategic collaborations for trade and commerce. It’s difficult to imagine peace talks between Israel, Palestine and the U.S. being conducted through teleconferencing. Instead the country leaders fly to Camp David for a retreat.
People networking, not unlike computer networking, is part and parcel of our lives. It has served us well in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. It is here to stay, so let us maximise its potential.
Note: This article was first published in The Straits Times 27 September 2013