Using your network to make contact

Sales professionals live and die by their network.  Becoming a very successful salesperson typically means that you can use your network to its fullest to get and GIVE introductions, referrals, and more.  There are dozens of posts on ways to build and maintain your network (and I’ll likely have several posts here on this), but what do you do when you want to ask someone in your network for assistance in making contact?

Early on in a professional sales career, the mistake that salespeople often make is to badger the people in their network – or ask unreasonable things of the people in their network.  Think of the typical pyramid scheme salesperson.  They typically continually hawk their products to their friends, family, neighbors, etc. until those people cringe when they hear their call or see them face-to-face.  They are actually taught by the people at the top of the pyramid to rely on their closest relationships for sales.  This is completely the wrong way for professional sales people to behave.  You should rely on your network to help get you closer to your sales – but never to get the sale for you.   You always need to remember that it is YOU that needs to get the sale.  Your network is but one tool in your bag.

If you rely on sales to live, the last thing you want is for people to avoid your calls, avoid you at networking events, and delete your emails.  You want them to embrace you.  In order to do this, you need to get into their shoes.  What would make YOU do something for them if they were calling you?

Here are my three basic rules for making contact and requests of your network:

  1. Ask for something EASY:  Ask them if they would forward your email onto the decicion maker, ask them for the decision makers assistant’s name, ask for some (publicly available) information on corporate goals that might help you build a better pitch
  2. DON’T ask them to get you a meeting.  (rookie mistake):  Never ask this person to get you a meeting with a decision maker.  This is putting the task of getting in the door on them.  Asking them to forward your email with a short introduction is easy and puts the ultimate closing pressure on you.  When you ask them to get you a meeting, it puts the closing of getting the meeting on them.You are asking them to do your job – not to help you out.  If you put yourself in their shoes, imagine if someone in your network asked you to get them a meeting with your CEO as opposed to just forwarding an email onto them and then letting them take care of getting the meeting.  The email is a great “in” and you haven’t potentially affected your relationship with the person in the network.
  3. ALWAYS offer something in return: A referral into your network, posting on your blog, information that will help them with a project they are working on, etc.  If this person is unwilling, or un-able to help you out this time, providing them some assistance in their job

If the person you contact is inclined to go further in their assistance, they will.  Perhaps they will get you that meeting.  But because you asked for something that is easy for them to do – they will not feel put out.  You never can know the internal politics that may be going on.  Its possible they are saving that silver bullet for another time, maybe they recently had a bad performance review, maybe they don’t think your product is right for their company (but still like you and want you as part of their network)..