Contacts Or Relationships, What’s In Your Database?

At MCM Capital Partners my primary responsibilities include direct sourcing of investment opportunities and managing intermediary relationships within the investment banking and buy-side intermediary community. As a result, I am thrust into the realm of networking: cocktail parties, dinners, golf, conferences, etc. Nowadays, it even entails online networking – blogging, LinkedIn, FaceBook, and Twitter. My job is to “establish relationships” in the conversations I have at these events and/or within online groups, and that – in and of itself – counts close to nothing. By the end of the day I am left with a stack of business cards thick enough to choke a horse and have heard so many 30-second commercials I think it’s Super Bowl Sunday, although not nearly as entertaining. If the process ended here so would my career at MCM.

In today’s market, success lies in learning how to maximize the return on your networking investment. The key to your networking ROI could be in the composition of your database. As you are sitting at your desk reading this it is likely you have some form of CRM open at the moment. Take a few minutes and scroll through your database and ask yourself is it composed of contacts (aka business cards you have received at past events or accepted requests on LinkedIn) or is it full of relationships (people you communicate with on a regular basis)? Contacts are people you know in specific contexts; they are your connections to organizations. For example, ‘my contact at ABC Co is Tom Smith the VP of Sales’. You need to know Tom because he’s the VP of Sales, not because he’s Tom. Relationships are connections to people. If you have a good relationship with the VP at ABC Co, it’s because you have a good relationship with Tom, not the VP position.

As you click through the names, odds are the number of contacts significantly outweighs the number of relationships, which is understandable. Great relationships take time and you can’t be all things to all people. However, the gap between the number of contacts and relationships can certainly become smaller. Below is a quick guide to help change the composition of your database and earn a top return on your networking investment.

Prioritize Your Contacts

  • Develop a clear vision or definition of what these contacts mean or can do for you and your business (At MCM we use a rating system – A. Valuable contact. B. Professional contact. C. Develop further.).
  • Create a value based game plan to connect to your contact in order to establish a relationship. (i.e. offer information, advice, referrals, introductions, names of great books you’ve read, a kind word, articles of interest, etc.) I would suggest beginning only with the “A’s” in your database.

Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up!

  • Meeting people is only the first step in networking. True business development comes from the relationships and trust you build through subsequent interactions.
  • After meeting someone new, always follow up with an email or phone call. Little actions like these reinforce your first meeting and help make a stronger impression.

Cultivate Relationships

  • In order for the business relationship to bear fruit, you need to make the effort to cultivate and grow the relationship.
  • Do what you say you are going to do. Offer value and do it when you do not want anything in return. With time and effort, you may be able to develop the relationship with your new contact, and turn the contact into a long-term partner or client.

Keep In Touch

  • No matter how well you know your partner or client, you should maintain regular contact with him or her to sustain and strengthen the relationship.
  • Short, regular meetings and phone calls are actually more effective than long but infrequent sessions.
  • By staying in touch regularly with your partners or clients, you are showing that they matter to you and ensure top of mind awareness.

Successful networking depends on the diversity and the quality of the relationships you create. Yet most of us don’t invest enough time building, nurturing and quantifying the key personal, functional, and strategic relationships we need to achieve success. Successful businesspeople understand networking and relationship building is more about “farming” than it is about “hunting.” It’s about building long-lasting connections with other professionals strongly rooted in a bond or connection developed over time. Take off the camouflage and put on your overalls, it’s time to start “cultivating” your database.

MCM Capital Partners is a Cleveland based MicroCap private equity fund investing in niche manufacturers, value added distributors and specialty service businesses. For more information on our private equity firm and investment principles, contact us today.

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