Seven Action Steps to Improve Your Network Online

By Heather Baldwin

When it comes to making new contacts and maintaining business relationships most sales professionals still do it the old-fashioned way with phone calls, letters and face-to-face meetings. Today, however, social software – blogs, Websites, chats and other online tools – offers new ways to expand your network and better leverage your relationships. "Even if you don’t use these technologies, your competitors are to gain an advantage over you or, at a minimum, to learn more about you," say David Teten and Scott Allen, authors of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online (AMACOM, 2005). "Whether you choose to participate or not, you will feel the effects of social software." Here, say the authors, are seven simple steps you can take now to radically improve your online network.

1. Write down your goals. Look at the goals on your list and then write down how virtual relationships can help you achieve each one.

2. Analyze your network using the authors’ seven keys:

  • Character. How can you improve your character – integrity, clarity of motives, consistency of behavior, openness, discretion and trustworthiness – and make it more visible?
  • Competence. How can you increase your competence, or your ability to walk your talk?
  • Relevance. What is the best way to increase the relevance of the people you know?
  • Strength. How can you build stronger ties or increase the closeness of relationships?
  • Information. How can you increase the information or data you have about the people you know?
  • Number. How can you multiply the number of people you know? Or should you focus on building stronger relationships with the people you know now?
  • Diversity. How can you double the diversity of your network, including heterogeneity by geography, profession, industry, position and so on?

3. Make the mundane sublime. Master the basic office productivity tools. If you invest the energy to learn how to speed read, how to touch type and how to use standard office productivity software comfortably, you will become far more productive.

4. Become an information sponge. Install professional contact management software. Record emails, phone numbers, the notes you take in meetings and everything else you can about the people you know. "Building and maintaining a comprehensive database enhances your ability to keep in touch with people and also helps you think about who you can introduce to whom," say Teten and Allen.

5. Master your email. Install a sophisticated email reader and spam filtering and antivirus software. Set up mail filter rules to route mail to appropriate folders. Keep your in-box empty and turn off the automatic send/receive function.

6. Share your knowledge wealth. Maintain a master file of documents, resources, Web links and so on that have been helpful to you. "Whenever David Teten has to work on a process, he collects information on how to do that process," say the authors. "As a result he has accumulated documentation of best practices for every major process he has used." He then shares that knowledge. For example, whenever a friend starts a new job, Teten sends that person his files on how to shine in a new job. "At no marginal cost," the authors point out, "he can be a useful resource for his friend."

7. Join the virtual communities where your target market lives. Once you join one group, ask the members for other places where they connect with like-minded people. Don’t forget to read the blogs of employees at your target companies, the authors remind sales professionals. "Linking to them and discussing what they have to say is an excellent way to gain access to thoughtful people in these companies," they say.