Networks are important for sales professionals. You need to create a network that has clients, prospective clients, referral partners, other partners, past and present colleagues, and vendors.
I like to think of networks like wheels with a hub and lots of spokes. Most networks that people join already have a hub, so you become one of the spokes.
The “hub” is where the energy comes from in the group. If you joined in, someone else has the energy and the focus. A Chamber of Commerce is an example of a “hub” – you will never be more than a “spoke” – you can be a very involved and vocal part – but it is not your hub.
A much more powerful way to build the right network for you is to become the hub of your network, and then you craft your network based on the "spokes" that will help you grow your business.
A Sellers Network
For example, if I sell cloud computing services worldwide, or throughout North America, chances are it is not a good use of my time to go to a local business networking event. What would be much more effective for me is to go to industry events that represent who my buyers are. It could be an annual event that comes to my city, or I may go once a year to a big event where all of my buyers' industry counterparts meet up.
If you don't want to leave your desk, you can do this virtually too. Here are a few ideas on how:
- Create a group within LinkedIn where you help set the tone and create content that helps your market niche. A great example of this is the Inside Sales Experts group created by colleague Trish Bertuzzi of The Bridge Group. It now has over 48,000 members and has grown because they don’t allow spam or self-promotion. Sellers learn this is a place to go for good insights and ideas. It is a hub, not a spoke arrangement. They have also recently created the Sales Development Rep Forum group in LinkedIn as well. It is a brilliant way to build a vibrant network – a network that shares valuable stuff. Just search for the by group on LinkedIn.
- Follow a live event that may be thousands of miles away through a Twitter hashtag. Most big industry events now have a #hashtag in Twitter which makes it easy to follow top speakers' bullet points. When there are a number of people tweeting about a live event, you can capture some great stuff - often a link to slides or even event recordings.
- Create online content through Slideshare or your own industry blog that gathers like-minded people in the industries you sell to. As your content gains exposure - especially if you are helping to educate your buyers - the word will travel and people will reach out to you.
- Check out Periscope and see the brands that are recording live from their events. It is very interesting and will be fun to see where this goes.
What Spokes are in your Wheel?
In creating your own hub and spokes to build your network, think of who the perfect people in your network would be, and create those spokes. Let's say you sell cloud-based compensation tools. You might want some corporate employees who could give you feedback about what works for their comp plans, you'd want other sales reps who call on the corporate marketplace but don't sell what you do, and a network of C-level contacts who are your potential buyers.
You are crafting an ecosystem and if you do it right, you'll be at the center, or hub, of your network. Everyone connected to you will be people you like or admire, who also serve a purpose in your network. Don't forget that you are serving a purpose in the networks that others have invited you to be in too.
The one thing you cannot get back in your sales role is time. The value in building a strong hub network is that you can gain more connections through referrals and warm introductions. These connections will help you identify your right buyer and will be quicker sales cycles due to being warm or referred.
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Lori Richardson is recognized on Forbes as one of the "Top 30 Social Sales Influencers" worldwide and is a Top 25 Innovative Sales Blogger. Lori speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside sales teams in mid-sized companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog for sales strategies, tactics, and tips.
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This core of this article was originally published in October 2013 and updated for this post.