Connections: It’s What You Know About Who You Know

A blog from Stuart Alexander on making the most of your connections: it’s not what you know or who you know that matters – but what you know of who you know!

The old adage that you are never more than six degrees of separation from anyone on the whole planet is one that is often rolled out by “experts” in the marketing or consultancy world. The fact that we all know so many people and that they in turn know so many people is something that psychologists will explain makes us the dominant species on this planet. Our connections, whether family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances, help us to connect with what is going on around us. Feeling connected is important to us humans and when we are not connected, we can feel lost and out of sorts with ourselves. We all have connections; some of us have more than others and some of us have fewer but ultimately, they all matter. All this may be true, but from a business sense, do we use those connections or just have them?

On LinkedIn those connections can be long established – old colleagues that you find and want to reconnect with – and new potential business connections that may help you grow your business. The dreaded “sales pitch” connection is the one we all hate, and they are evidently on the rise. Equally the connection from an old colleague that you drifted away from can occasionally appear in the inbox. I could write a whole blog just on how NOT to connect on LinkedIn and how NOT to pitch your amazing business idea that will save my company millions! However, most of us like the sense that we know what is going on with the world and with those people who we either care about or have some form of strong connection with. It’s not about the numbers but about the quality, about the relationship and about what you and the other person get from the relationship.

I am always amazed by how small the world is – and I’m not talking about flights making the distances less or that the internet means you can see into other worlds and people’s lives so much easier. I am talking about that casual connection or that random bumping into someone when you are miles from where you know them. It happened to me last week when I was driving through St David’s in Pembrokeshire, Wales. A small provincial town (actually the smallest city in the world) and it has the most amazing cathedral, but it’s 250 miles from where I live. As I slowly drove through the town/city a couple walked across the road. Nothing strange about that, except the couple live 50 yards down the road from where I live in Hertfordshire, and I live in the middle of nowhere! This isn’t the first time this has ever happened. I bumped into my old geography teacher a few years ago on a beach in South Africa. We all love the positive feeling from bumping into someone you know miles away from anywhere. The sense that you have a connection with someone somewhere and at some time. All things that are important in business and something we often forget.

Business involves joining the dots to make the connections so that great things happen; a trade, a new venture, an opportunity to grow or to improve in what you already do. Whatever it is, it will often be the connections that make these things possible, but some people seem to think it’s a numbers game and in some cases that can be true. But for me it is the quality of that relationship that matters and whether you can establish a common interest that is mutually beneficial to both parties. All too often the fund sales pitch is too one sided with “let me show how wonderful this fund is” rather than “what are you looking for?”. The solution sale is all about helping the other side see a reason to buy as it fits with their needs, but in order for that to happen you have to understand what they require. So listen, observe and then talk. Two ears, two eyes and one mouth as the saying goes. Find out all you can before you speak either face-to-face, on the phone or through an email.

I read a great blog the other day by Lucy Walker who, as an expert in fund selection, now advises fund selectors but also acts as a steer to fund promoters. She was clear in her point that all too often a lack of research beforehand can make a poor meeting. I agree and would add to that: so can a poor presentation when the presenter hasn’t researched the audience – ‘Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance’. The internet is a wonderful thing, but it is annoying when people don’t use it correctly. How many times have you been contacted by someone who hasn’t a clue what you are all about and tells you about the best thing since sliced bread only for you to say you are metaphorically gluten intolerant? Do your research and build up a picture of the person/company well ahead of the pitch. Identify the opportunities as you see them, but also identify the challenges. Do they buy only ESG funds? Is fund size an issue? Is price important? Is domicile a deal breaker? How do they identify funds? How long must a fund have been established? So many questions that you can pick up from their website, from connections or asking around. Identifying the right person to contact is also critical. No point in talking to the emerging markets guy about your US portfolio! A few moments/hours spent researching your target will pay dividends in the long run, but don’t rush it. You might regret it and ultimately lose a possible client. It’s important that you establish that you are talking to the right person, about the right subject. You don’t want to have a repeat of the famous BBC News interview of the IT specialist who thought he was being interviewed for a job but found himself on the news itself. Not his fault but cringe-making all the same.

When it comes to the connections you have, don’t exhaust them to an inch of their lives. Encourage discussion, engage holistically, comment on articles and generally treat them as a source of knowledge. Don’t rush in for the metaphorical kiss because rejection can be swift and brutal. As they say, fools rush in where others fear to tread. Cajole and over time you will get what you need. Use the connections you have and leverage those contacts to learn about their business, and in the long run it will save you hours of meaningless meetings – and you never know, there may be a mutually beneficial outcome for all.

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