By David Wamambo
Last week, I was at a pitching competition hosted by DOLOLO supported by the Southern Africa Innovation Support Programme and National Commission on Science Research and Technology. I got there just before the program was about to commence so I was late to see the party begin but not too late to grab some snacks and say hi to a few familiar faces. One thing I already had figured out is that this was an ideal place for one to network with the fellow start up community, exchange contact details and establish relationships that could evolve into collaborations or partnerships. However, I soon realized that with most networking events people always tend to gravitate to who they are already familiar with.
With that said it is important that networking is taken as an important exercise in the same way a successful business person treats all their transactions. The idea behind networking loses its purpose when it becomes another catch up session. So, this led me to do some research and reflection on some of the best methods one can use to help them with networking.
One of the trends that business forecasters and scholars are discussing lately is the experience economy. As you are reading this you might be asking, ” David, what in the world is the EXPERIENCE ECONOMY?” Well the experience economy is the idea that products and services can outcompete by creating an experience that customers value. This translates to how people value the review; written or via word of mouth, that a customer tells their sphere of influence about how your service or product made them feel when using it and that outshines any marketing to that sphere of influence.
This can also be related to share of voice, which I will shed more light on in my next post. A good example is when a colleague is always raving about a certain restaurant in town and how their waiters are so sweet and you want to tip them before you even place your order and how the for is so delicious and leaves you craving for more. Well of course after hearing that from a colleague you trust, you definitely would want to go and experience it for yourself too.
So how does one incorporate this in their networking game? Well first things first you should always know what your end goal is, what sectors are you looking to collaborate with and what businesses would you want to establish relationships with and what value would sustain those relationships. It is useless to have a business card so you can just add more contact to your phonebook and the best you can get of them is access to their WhatsApp story. I mean there should be more value to relationships we establish. This might sound cheesy and manipulative however this is how the Jews and Arab communities have developed generational wealth because they utilize every network and place value for the growth of both parties. You probably have heard of the Jewish business communities where they source services and products from each other and basically the money rotates around them and by the time it leaves their circle it would have multiplied in value for all of them at least a tenfold.
There are two ways of networking effectively, one is Business to Business. This is a concept that was primarily used in marketing whereby a business would market their products and services to other businesses rather than to the general public. How does one do that with networking?
Well, the first thing is to look at your product/service, then look at where your source it from, then look at how you take it to the market. Once you have established that, you have established your immediate sphere of influence. These are the business people you would want to engage with in a networking session and collaborate with in creating the best customer experience. Think about it this way, if you are a restauranteur, you ideally would want to network with a farmer, (because they supply you with fresh products), you would also want to network with a packaging company (because they help you give your customer your service with the best impression) and you would want to engage with a social media marketer (they will embark on an effective share of voice campaign) and you would also want to talk to an events coordinator so that the next time they need a caterer they return to you.
SO now the circle is established, you as a restauranteur can work with a farmer, packager, social media marketer, events coordinator, while all these people can also work together. The end goal should be to create the best experience possible for the consumer and it is more easer done when you know your suppliers are well capacitated to help you deliver the best experience.
The other way to network effectively is one that was previously overlooked in the whole culture of networking. That is Business to customer networking, now this is not the place for you to be a salesperson or a marketer but rather to be a public relations practitioner. The aim is to connect with the potential customer and ask them what they think of your service and how to improve the experience. Arrogance is often one of the reasons I would not support a business person despite them having the best service, because every time I buy from them I do not enjoy the experience because subconsciously I am thinking that I’m financing their arrogance. So, with B2C one has to be very humble, charming and fun to talk to. This is also where you exchange contacts with the customer and ask them if they can be part of your newsletter data base and you can always send them surveys during your market research activities or when you have a special discount and you are hoping for free share of voice. The customers that spoke to you will feel incline to support you because you had a nice friendly chat with them and expressed your heart towards the experience you desire for your clients.
As the experience economy unfolds there is more need for business people to develop narratives within their businesses to enhance the value proposition their brand possesses solely based on the reality of the service or product.
There is more pressure to give the people what they want, yet this might sound like a lot of work, it is exciting to see as businesses will feel the pressure not to cut corners while also those that are truly passionate about their business will have more zeal to deliver the best service possible.
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