Bridging the Gap via Networking
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 a method called '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 is connecting two people who have potential value to each other and having faith that, eventually, the bridge will lead back to you.
For instance, you set up a phone meeting between the president of a large advertising business and the vice president of a national media company. You brought two key contacts together because you knew you could help them advance each other's business goals and, in the end, help you with your business goals, as well.
You can begin the bridging process by following these steps:
- 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.
- Understand how a contact's business works.
Learn what you need to know by using a so-called statement of ignorance. For example, 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 not to make such statements – that you should never show your ignorance to a potential client. However, you are not asking from a position of ignorance – you've done your 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 objectives.
- Review your list of contacts in various businesses
Sort them into categories that might be able to help each other. For example, looking over your list, you will see that the advertising firm and the media company had complementary goals. You also saw that by introducing them to each other, you would be building a stronger relationship with each of them. That will increase the likelihood of your doing business with them separately, as well as the possibility of the three of you doing business together.
- 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.
- 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 get to it.