Building Contacts and Connections

Author: Alexandra Leader
City Business Library

As a Business Engagement Manager at the City of London Corporation, I was asked to put pen to paper and talk about how I build connections at work. I must admit, I have been pontificating about how to write this article as I have found it difficult to express how I develop contacts and build meaningful business relationships. However, I have got some practical hints and tips that I use to develop connections that you may find useful.

Integrity is key
I work in public service now but prior to that I held various sales jobs and so I am well versed in the different sales techniques.  That said, I hate being sold to!  It really puts me off.  I like buying from honest people – people with integrity.

I am always honest and sometimes that means I have to say no to people, but I think it’s important to be helpful, open and honest.  If I am not able to help, I will always try my best to signpost them to someone who can.  You will be remembered for that in the future, not fobbing people off is important to me.

‘Jazz hands’
No matter how confident you are as an individual there is an element of psyching yourself up to go to a meeting with people you don’t know – I call it jazz hands!

Be careful here though as it must be your form of jazz hands.  Please don’t try to be anything that you are not as people can see through that.  Prepare yourself mentally before a networking event or meeting – for me that means applying some lippy and listening to some music and then I am ready to go.

I was at a trade show recently and I felt a bit under the weather and so I didn’t have my best form of jazz hands that day.  I did meet some great people, but I knew deep down that I was not on my best form. You are going to have off days and that’s ok!

Be selective and focused
Be clear about your objective before you go, what sort of people do you want to meet? What I am building these connections for?

I watched a great talk recently by Dwain Reid (who speaks regularly at the City Business Library) about networking and he mentioned that it is not a numbers game.  I totally agree with this approach – it’s not about getting rid of as many business cards as possible and perfecting your 2-minute sales pitch.  Work the room, introduce yourself but don’t launch into your pitch, find out about them as people and show interest in what they are saying.  You will be able to make a quick assessment if that connection works for you or not.

When meeting people, I am also assessing if this person could work as a connection for someone else in my wider network; I really enjoy introducing people to each other and seeing their business relationship flourish.

Follow up and tracking
I am writing this paragraph cringing a bit as to be honest I am not always the best at the follow up.  I have trained myself to do the admin bit afterwards.  Again, don’t launch into your sales pitch via email or over the phone as its about setting up a future time when you could meet to explore how you might best work together.

If you are in sales, then you will probably have a fancy CRM system that helps you track business relationships.  They are great and have their place, but I keep separate notes for myself.  This again goes back to my point about having integrity i.e. remember if they have kids or where they went on holiday – remembering personal information about that person it is very important. Those personal touches help to build longer term meaningful business relationships.

Research
It’s a good idea to do some research before you meet or connect with someone in business.  LinkedIn or a simple google search should be undertaken at the very least.  It’s a bit like online dating (for those of you that have dabbled) you connect with potential people you like the look of, but you also check them out on Facebook first, right? The same applies for business relationships in my view.  Look at their company website or LinkedIn profile – what does their online profile tell you about them?  You can reference this when you speak to them as this will make them think that they are important to you.  Mentioning that you like their website or a blog they have written for example shows you have a genuine interest in them.

Online vs offline
I have talked a lot about offline relationship building but in a world of AI and technical advances we must consider online too.  LinkedIn is great but please only use LinkedIn for business purposes.  I met a guy once who told me that he dates a lot of woman that he meets through LinkedIn – this is not building genuine business connections.  That said, you can use LinkedIn to search for key people that you want to connect with, so it is useful.

The other option of course is to use the company data that is available at the City Business Library. You can access this data onsite for free and build a list of companies that you can promote yourself to – great if you are B2B. The data can be sorted by industry type, location, size of company so it can be drilled down to suit your needs. You can add director and key contact information too so it’s great as the starting point for a key contacts list.  A word of warning here though as with the new GDPR regulations you cannot approach individual contacts unless you have their permission.  You can contact them via their company generic email or telephone number or invite them to connect via LinkedIn.

The above is important but I read an article called ‘Will AI ever replicate love?’ by Perry Nightingale in the September 2019 issue of the Creative Review and what I loved about this article was how he talks about real connections with humans.  Through his experiences of lecturing at Oxford University he sees how many business leaders are attending Oxford University to learn about the cutting-edge developments in AI and business.  However, he also says that:

“When we love people, we don’t see them as words or finite objects.  They are more like moving worlds, full of millions of features and memories and connections, like a sort of giant map of all things that person means to us.  AI is fundamentally reductive, it always condenses data down into a target, a prediction or classification.  Whereas humans are fundamentally expansive, we expand things outwards continuously, adding more and more connections to things”

For me, meaningful relationships need to be developed in person.  I use some data for research purposes, but long-term business relationships are developed over time by being genuinely interested in them as people and understanding what makes them tick.

For more information about the company data and the events programme at the City Business Library, please visit: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/cbl.


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