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professional networking

When Your Network is a "Mile Wide and an Inch Deep"

(Wordcount: 874; Pages: 2) In a new book by the late former CEO of KPMG, Gene O'Kelly, he describes his relationships as connections surrounding him in concentric circles. To his astonishment, and ultimate regret, he paid more attention to the thousand people on his outermost circle than to the few, including his family, in his innermost circle. There's something to be said of a long-term commitment to a group of people for your long-term business success. This group, through time, learns not just what you do, but to trust you enough to refer you to their pool of opportunities. More importantly, the longer you associate with this group, and the deeper the relationship grows (assuming you allow human nature to take its course), your success with the group will ultimately be dependent on a single factor: compatibility. The more you like these people, the more your interest in acquainting yourself with what every person in this group does and the greater the likelihood that you'll all keep each other top of mind when opportunity comes-a-knockin'.

When an opportunity does present itself, for the purposes of this discussion, let's think of it as some sort of interaction between two people and label it a referral. If your referral is compatible, it is because your relationship to both referrer and referree increases the likelihood of everyone getting along. But herein lies the unexpected flaw in this logic: compatibility breeds stagnancy of thought and behavior and is not uniformly transferable to every referral. In other words, just because you like "Stan" doesn't mean the guy you're referring Stan to will, despite your wholehearted endorsement of Stan. Furthermore, without ever meeting another person that does what Stan does, and in some cases, without ever working with Stan (you were acquainted and your relationship has flourished within the confines of a "networking group", not working relationship), how can you guarantee Stan's quality and performance? You cannot, making the long-term commitment to a group questionable in value to your long-term success when you aren't sure you'll ever be able to refer or do business with Stan, or be sure that Stan can ever offer you any value.

Thus, in spite of the close-knit camaraderie that has come to be widely credited for the success of "networking" in general, it may actually contribute to lengthening the time it takes to recognize value, if any, from a long-term commitment to a group. And worse still, these deep relationships can make it more challenging to network among anyone else outside of this group due to incompatibility.

In this case, considering limited time and funding resources (1), it hardly seems practical or rational to wait out success among a single professional networking group (or relationship circle) no matter how deep that relationship becomes, and despite guests and member churn, when, through sampling various groups on a short-term basis, a wider networking "net" yields greater statistical success more efficiently and at a fraction of the cost, (i.e. a possible cost being poor balancing of your own concentric circle of relationships). To crystallize this, think of this sort of "mile-wide, inch-deep" networking the equivalent of shopping around for the best rates.

So, how do you achieve compatibility? Based on an analysis of professional business networking (2), compatibility isn't necessarily the result of closing a group to conflicting categories of professions. Indeed, our analysis reveals that open groups that accept more than one insurance broker, CPA, etc. are in fact the majority, with 61% of all groups in our sample group being open to anyone and everyone. Our data also doesn't confirm that a formal admissions process is responsible, since the majority of groups, 44%, have no formal process at all.

Compatibility may have to do with a combination of factors including the social element (which a substantial 46% integrate, despite cynical protests of its uselessness); collaborative tools such as a website and email distribution list, which the majority of groups do have; and most critical is the passion of the founder.

Our data reveals that the number one category of professional launching groups are marketing professionals at 26%, with consultants and financial executives (brokers, advisors, and other commissioned sales professionals) rounding out the top 3 categories of founders. Reflecting on your most exciting and worthwhile networking experiences, ask yourself if the passion of the leader/founder weren't genuine and contagious, would that group have been as compatible and enjoyable as it was? Still not certain? Ask yourself the reverse: wasn't the least interesting and possibly downright offending professional networking experience you've had among a group of people lead by an uncharismatic leader, who clearly had his own agenda while the interests of the rest of the group were very low priority? Based on this analysis, if there is a "secret sauce" to networking, it starts with the founder/leader, the same as in corporate America.

To be sure, networking is a form of marketing, and frequency is a key component of the success of any marketing effort. Thus, if marketing is nothing more than a relationship that strengthens with frequency, the logic of long-term commitment seems obvious. However, as with any marketing effort, a professional wouldn't rely entirely on one tactic, and frequency can be achieved outside of the formal networking structure.


(1) The Economic Theory of the Professional Networking Group

(2) The Metrics Of Professional Business Networking

Al Berrios is Managing Director of al berrios & co., an innovative strategy consulting firm advising leaders on the impact of human behavior on their strategies and on how to change their organizations to address the behavior. Write to Consumer Strategies Report at editor @ alberrios.com.


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