Networking vs. relationship building

by Jack Warren, Top Coach editor and host

Jack W 3It’s the caricature of the young realtor or insurance agent, handing out their business cards at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon or other get-together. Baseball coaches don’t typically use business cards, but you get the idea. At a convention, clinic, showcase event, or other gathering, coaches are greeting old friends and making new acquaintances. It’s the old networking game.

Networking is indeed an important part of the growth of your “corporation” and brand. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the life blood of your recruiting efforts. However, if you want to build a loyal group of friends and fans that will take you to the next level, then you need to focus much of your effort on building relationships.  In the business world, we would call these people our raving fans. In your universe, these are the men and women who will help you land that new job, help secure a big donation to the program, give you access to their lake cottage, recommend your school to a potential recruit, or help provide a soft landing should you find yourself out of coaching.

It is just as important – if not more so – to have a handful of really strong, deep relationships than hundreds of superficial relationships. It comes down to the old adage about being a mile wide, but only an inch deep. In order to cultivate these relationships, you need to dig deeper.

This is not meant to be all encompassing, but here are a few tips to help you as you work to build these strong relationships.

  • Work to remember names. There’s not much more irritating than someone who you’ve met three times over the course of the same summer and they’ve yet to make the name-face connection. It’s not the unpardonable sin, but it certainly is important when trying to make a connection.
  • Remember at least one thing about people with whom you come into frequent contact. Hobbies, family, job, home town, alma mater, pets – all good candidates for topics to bring up each time you run across someone you’ve met before. “How’s your dad doing after surgery?” “How was your daughter’s wedding?” “Glad to see you had a successful conference tournament.” Any of these statements (or something similar) makes a tremendous impact and makes you memorable.
  • When speaking to anyone, make them feel as if they’re the only person in the room. There’s not much worse in a conversation than feeling as if the person with whom you’re speaking is looking right through or past you. Don’t be that person. Engage a person in conversation. Look into their eyes. Clear your brain from things that you’re thinking about doing in the future and focus on what you’re doing right now. This takes practice. Work at it.
  • Handwritten cards. If you’ve ever been to one of my presentations, I typically find a way to work this in – that’s how important I consider this one act. Handwritten cards still make perhaps the biggest impact of anything you do. In fact, because of electronic communications, handwritten cards may have a bigger impact now than they did 20 years ago. Whenever you get news of some significant event in the life of a friend, send a card. Here’s a simple method to handle this task. Get a stack of postcards with your pre-printed logo and return address. Put stamps on 20-30 of the cards. Put a handful into your backpack and leave the rest at your desk. When you read a news story, see a Tweet, or hear from someone else some significant news about a friend or acquaintance, pull out a card and dash off a quick note. Either write in the address on the card or have an assistant address it for you. Small effort. Big result.

Again, this list is not meant to be comprehensive, but it will get you thinking and moving in the right direction.

Don’t rely on the fact that you shook someone’s hand or replied to an email as a significant way of cultivating relationships. You’re going to have to work at it. And it’s definitely worth the effort.

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