“No one is busy all the time. The issue is where you fit on their priority list.”
Gives and Gets. Asks and Offers. I’ve been to various women’s events recently where the value is structured around what the participants can do for each other. Is this the evolution of networking? Does it actually work? Do men do this when they get together?
I believe that we are moving from transactions to relationships. I see this with brands that want to move customers beyond one purchase to accruing “lifetime value” by looking for ways to build loyalty, often by humanizing the brand and/or offering incentives. In business, it’s becoming increasingly important in a world where everyone is connected to move beyond posts and likes to something more substantial. Some of this is captured in communities where like-minded people get together online or IRL (in real life).
That’s how I ended up at the events where the focus was on specifics (what can I get or give to the group members) vs. on more general networking. While I applaud the organizers for trying something different, I’m not sure that this approach is the best way to get women to help each other. Here’s why:
Introductions: Most of the asks/gets are for specific introductions. Do you know so and so or someone at company X? I’m always happy to connect people BUT I do it strategically. Mostly because I want there to be a good likelihood for success and value derived by both sides. That introductory email should be effusive as opposed to perfunctory. And I can’t be authentic if I’m facilitating a transaction. Especially since many of the requests are introductions to investors. It’s my network and my reputation. I protect it so that my credibility stays intact. If you have a big ask then I’ll be more likely to make it if you make an effort. Take the time to tell me about the desired outcome. Get me excited about the fit. If I believe it’s right, I’ll make the introduction happen because I care.
Virality: Helping someone spread the word about her new book or product is another favorite ask. The issue with something generic like that is that it’s unlikely to move the needle. Unless… there is a clear understanding of whom you want to reach. Case in point. When my movie Beer Wars came out a few years back, my famous cousin who had over 10 million Twitter followers offered to tweet about it. He was later surprised that he didn’t “break” my site as he was used to his followers literally clicking en mass. What I realized was that my audience didn’t match his followers. So it was a favor that failed because I asked (he offered first but go with me) the wrong person. Strategy always helps, especially when trying to get attention.
Lack of clarity: If you show up to an event where this is the focus, you need to be clear on how you can be helped. I can’t help someone if they aren’t clear about their need themselves. What I’m saying here isn’t that I won’t help you figure it out but that it then becomes the beginning of a relationship, not a transaction because it requires time and thought.
This “ask culture” is happening online as well, especially in women’s groups on Facebook. I’m not talking about recommendations for travel or hairdressers. I see endless posts asking for introductions or advice for business reasons. Transactional for sure but the asks are smaller and almost lend themselves to the digital world that is transactional in nature (look at your ratio of any of your posts to see likes vs. actual comments.) Sadly, even birthdays have become transactional.
So how do we navigate a world where we are the center of our own universe with social media there to amplify our every move? Where we are encouraged to speak up and stand up and ask for what we need?
Show Up: If you set up a lunch or coffee because you want something from the other person, show up. Don’t cancel at the last minute. Don’t say you need to reschedule and don’t. Be consistent. If I agree to meet someone, I do my homework and have already invested some time to prepare.
Reciprocate: I go to so many lunches and coffees where the entire conversation is about the other person. Here I thought we started a relationship but no, apparently the other person thought it was OK to talk about herself and her company for the entire meeting and to ask me how I was doing on the way out. Really? That may explain why I’m not responding to her email asking for investor introductions.
Tell the Truth: When I’m presented with an ask (outside of the event) I expect to hear the real story and I reciprocate with my straightforward opinion. I believe that if I’m starting a relationship with someone that it should be base on authenticity instead of bullshit. Many relationships seem to end because of my brutal honesty but I’m OK with that. Better to cut my losses early.
Do What You Say: If you make an offer then execute it. I can’t understand why anyone would want to appear as a giver and then not follow through. Case in point, at a recent event 10 women offered to help me with a specific ask. I followed up with all of them and provided all the information necessary plus an invitation to get together to see how I can reciprocate (while I believe in karma, I’m more than happy to dig to see how I can be helpful, especially to someone who is willing to help me). It’s been over a month and only 4 of them actually followed through. Some scheduled lunches (to discuss further) but then canceled. I’m not surprised. This is what happens when everything is transactional. You want to help in the moment but then you get busy and the transaction moves off your priority list and with it any potential relationship because you don’t see yourself getting (instant) value. I see it differently. Some of the best business relationships I developed started with me doing something for someone else and later as our relationship progressed that person opening a door without even asking. I’m not suggesting that you keep a ledger but that you take a long-term view.
Follow-up: I try to stay on top of my offers so that I can stay helpful. Again this is easy if it’s a relationship—I can simply check in. If it’s a one-time transaction, I don’t really bother.