A few years ago I attended a private conference in New York where Esther Dyson, a prominent angel investor and philanthropist, was speaking. I had admired Esther for a long time and wanted to meet her. At at the end of the conference a long line of people lined up to talk with her. I knew that Esther specialized in energy investing, so when I got to the front of the line, I said hello, mentioned two energy deals that I knew about, told her I admired her passion for investing, gave her my card, and said, “It’s a pleasure to speak with you.” A few short sentences and I was done. That night I had a LinkedIn invitation from Esther with a request to stay in touch.
How many times have you wanted to create an instant connection with someone and set the stage for further contact? These skills, which are the basis of successful networking, are critical for any sales professional. After all, your contacts and connections are your most valuable assets. It’s people who have the answers, deals, money, access, power, and influence you need to get what you want. They buy what your business sells—or your whole business—and they do the favors that make your path to success easier. Like a “power grid,” relationships help get things done faster and more effectively.
For the past 25 years I have been studying and creating high-value, strategic relationships that give businesspeople instant access to the inner circles of influence. What I l have learned has helped me go from being a shy social worker in Idaho to my current career–putting venture capital funds and angel investors together with tech start-up companies. I’m called “the woman with the titanium digital Rolodex,” and my connections include governors, billionaires, notable authors, and some of the biggest figures in business today. What has made the difference? I don’t network: I power connect.
In power connecting, you create a small network (about 150) of high-quality relationships. You make your network wide, deep, and robust (i.e., it includes the right resources, involves the right people, and cultivates the right action steps). Finally, you follow value-adding strategies to develop your network relationships, creating greater success for everyone. Power connecting creates high-value relationships and maximizes your network’s effectiveness.
The 5+50+100 Power Network
You may try to stay in touch with hundreds of clients, customers, and prospects—but can you really say that you have strong relationships with them? Social science shows us that the maximum number of relationships we can maintain at one time is around 150. Further studies of the gaming world and other online communities confirm that groups break apart when they exceed that size. That’s why I believe a truly powerful, connected network consists of around 150 people, organized in three concentric circles:
- Your 5 closest relationships
- The 50 people most important to your current life and business
- No more than 100 individuals who are key to your long-term goals.
This doesn’t mean that you ignore any connections that are outside of your core 150. But you do make sure to keep in touch specifically with these 150 people on a regular basis: your top 5 daily, your top 50 weekly, and your top 100 monthly. While the 150 people in your network will evolve and change through time, keeping this number as your target will help you avoid overwhelm while you develop great relationships with the people you select.
Imagine distilling the lists of people in your contact software down to a core 150. How much more sane would your life and business feel?
While it may seem counterintuitive to increase the power of your network by limiting the number of people in it, by focusing on and deepening a smaller number of important relationships, power connectors can create greater value for the people in their networks. And remember: each of those 155 people has his or her own network, too. The stronger your relationships, the more likely your 155 people will happily give you access to the people they know.
The Three Traits of a Power Connector Network
With an upper limit of 150 people in your network, selecting the right 150 people is key. That’s why power connectors are cordial to everyone while seeking to create a network that will make the biggest difference to their business. Three characteristics set a power connector’s network apart. First, it is wide. It reaches beyond a particular industry or community to include individuals from eight key ecosystems—webs of professional and personal connections, linked by common interests, shared knowledge, and access to opportunities unavailable to outsiders. In addition to the personal ecosystems of friends and family, interests and hobbies, and your career or profession, other key ecosystems include your industry, community, politics, finance, and media. How wide is your current circle of connections, and how many ecosystems does it contain? Networking succeeds best when you’re looking for help in all the right places.
Second, a power connector’s network is deep, with multiple contacts in each ecosystem at different levels of experience and expertise. Say you wished to persuade a local company to use you as a supplier. If you knew five or more of the company’s C-level executives from your community connections, do you think it would be easier to arrange a meeting with the company president? The real secret to a truly deep network, however, is to connect with key players in an ecosystem. The key players know each other, meet with each other, and do deals with each other. The places where those key players meet are the “rooms” you want to reach, and one of the best ways to do so is in places that have nothing to do with business. For example, early in my career I worked for the Idaho Office of Aging, but I volunteered for the finance committee of the local United Way. There I met several top executives from the biggest companies in the area—people I would never have had access to otherwise. Charities, community functions, industry conferences, and social settings are great places to get into the same rooms with key players.
Third, a power connector’s network is robust—the people in it are happy to help you and to help others with whom you put them in touch. How quickly do the people in your network respond when you put out a request? If you ask them to reach out to someone (qualifying that person first, of course—you always make sure a referral is appropriate), will they do so simply because you asked? A robust network is created when you add consistent, appropriate value to its members. Value comes in many forms—information, key contacts, favors, and introductions—and is determined by the needs of the situation and the individual. Providing consistent value creates the strong, long-term connections you want in your network.
Key Power Connector Strategies to Build the Right Relationships
A power connector’s network is only as good as the quality of the people in it, and the strength of the relationships between those individuals. That’s why power connectors approach building relationships in different ways. Here are four important strategies to help you build your own 5+50+100 network.
1. Seek out the right people in the right ecosystems. You can work a room until the end of time, but what good will it do if you’re in the wrong room? You’ve got to determine the proper ecosystem for your needs and then determine the best people to help you reach your goals. Start by examining the connections of your current network. You may be surprised to discover that your college roommate knows the head buyer for that department store chain you’ve been trying to get your products into, or the parent of another child on your son’s Little League team is the CFO of the biggest manufacturer in town. Whenever I need to reach anyone, the first thing I do is to put the request out to my network: “Who do you know in (whatever ecosystem I want to reach)?” I always get an answer—but inevitably the contact comes from someone who I never would expect to have access to that industry or community.
2. Connect in the right way. The best way to build strong connection is to be authentically yourself and authentically interested in others. If I am going to meet new people in a professional arena, I often will do research beforehand about the individuals who will be there. I want to get to know what’s important to this person, what makes him or her excited in either their personal or professional lives. Before I ever say anything about myself, I try to ask questions of the people I meet. If you are genuinely curious about others, they will feel your interest.
When it is your turn to speak, please avoid a thirty-second “elevator speech” about your business! Instead, I suggest you develop a share that tells who you are, what you’re about, and what you’re interested in. Talk about your family, hobbies, civic or community involvements—anything that shows you have a personal life. Only after that should you talk about your business, making sure that the description reflects energy and passion.
Once you’ve created the initial connection, do whatever you can to quickly add value. As you listen to someone, keep these questions in mind: “How can I help?” and “Can any of my contacts be of assistance?” Remember that your goal is simply to establish enough of a connection to secure the next meeting, and then move on. Try asking yourself, “What’s the one thing I can say that will lay a foundation for a future relationship?” And always end your conversation with what I call the three Golden Questions: “How can I help you?” “What ideas do you have for me?” and “Who else do you know who I should talk to?” With these three questions you set the stage for future contact and the potential for a deeper relationship.
3. Assess the value of a connection and reconnect immediately. Power connectors appreciate the value of every connection while determining exactly what assistance that person brings and what assistance he or she can give in return. You must assess your connections to see if they are a good fit for your 5+50+100 circles based on (a) whether their values match yours and (b) can you both provide mutual meaningful value, now and/or in the future. You want your power circles to be composed of people who have a good head, a good heart, and who are a good bet. Once you have evaluated your connections, reach out to them within 24 hours and provide some sort of value immediately. I often will send articles, offers of help, or simply a “nice to meet you, let’s stay in touch” email. By following up quickly you demonstrate your own responsiveness and your willingness to create a further relationship.
4. Continue to build value and triangulate for greater success. Before people are willing to help with the big things, they must know you, like you, and trust you. You accomplish this through regular, value-added contact over time. Be proactive; be the first to offer to help and then follow through. Giving first is rare and builds trust in a world where talk is cheap and people mistrustful.
One of the quickest ways to deepen a relationship is to identify and solve a problem by sharing relevant information, a key introduction, a piece of strategy, a referral, mentor, or other support. Do the little things that others don’t, and give value multiple times without expecting a return.
Some businesspeople view their relationships as assets to be hoarded and kept away from others. But I have found that the real power of strategic relationship building comes from creating interrelationships between the individuals you know and with their extended networks. I call this triangulating. Some of my greatest successes as a power connector came from being the “matchmaker” between connections. Not long ago, venture capital firm CEO Claudia Iannazzo asked me to help a friend of hers find a speaker for a big entrepreneurs’ conference in New York. I put her in touch with Dr. Annette McClellan, who had just sold her company for several million dollars and was looking for a new opportunity. By referring Annette, Claudia came to the rescue of a good friend and professional contact; Annette received great exposure to entrepreneurs and companies in which she might invest; and I was able to put two friends in touch as well as adding to my own connections in the ecosystem of professional speaking.
Even if you are incredibly efficient with your networking, you have only so much time and so many resources in a given day. But if you can connect your connections to one another, you’re leveraging your time and energy by using the resources of those in your network to add value.
When it comes to building a powerful network, I believe that quality—defined as the level of connection you create with your communication and the ways you add value—trumps quantity every time. In high-quality relationships, people know you, like you, and trust you because you have communicated with them consistently and added appropriate value frequently. They take your calls, answer your emails, and help you when you ask—and you will do the same for them. With a wide, deep, and robust network of quality connections that are eager to help and support you and each other, you will find your path to success easier and far more enjoyable.