There's nothing wrong with networking. Business owners, no matter how busy they are, should do it everywhere, all the time. But one of the best ways to network is through "bridging," a strategy that helps you build a foundation of contacts sure to provide you with sales opportunities now and in the future.
What is bridging? It's connecting two people who have potential value to each other and having faith that, eventually, the bridge will lead back to you. For example, I set up a phone meeting between the president of a large advertising business and the vice president of a national media company. I brought two of my key contacts together because I knew they could help advance each other's business goals and, in the end, help me with my business goals as well.
You can start the bridging process by following these steps:
1. Know your goals and objectives. The clearer your vision of where you want your business to go, the better you'll be able to see who can help you get there.
2. Understand how a contact's business works. Learn what you need to know by using a so-called "statement of ignorance." For instance, you could say "I've followed your industry for a while. But let's pretend I'm totally ignorant about what you do and how your company makes money. Can you explain to me in layman's terms how your business functions?"
Some people might advise me not to make such statements: "Never show your ignorance to a potential client." However, I don't ask from a position of ignorance-I've done my homework. But what happens when you ask for basic information is that you get a clear and focused answer about that company's inner workings and its most important goals and objectives.
3. Review your list of contacts in various businesses. Sort them into categories of who might be able to help each other. In looking over my list, I saw that the advertising firm and the media company had complementary goals. I also knew that by introducing them to each other, I was building a stronger relationship with each of them. That increased the likelihood of my doing business with them separately, as well as the possibility of the three of us doing business together.
4. Qualify your ROI. How much time and effort are you willing to give to support this new relationship? Bridging is not just throwing two people together in hopes that they might be able to help each other out. It's doing your homework and lending support-recommending leads that might help their businesses, or assisting with their marketing strategies. The effort you put in should be based on what you think the ROI would be.
5. Brainstorm with the people you've "bridged" together. Talk about what each of you can bring to the table and how you can all benefit from the newly formed relationships. The key is to keep the communication going among all three parties. If you're genuinely interested and enthusiastic about furthering their goals, both companies will see you in a new and valuable light.
In the end, bridging works because of the old saying What goes around comes around. When people see that you have an interest in helping them, they'll be more than happy to help you cross that bridge when you come to it.