What does it take to be successful? Hard work? Skills? Talent? Relationships may not be what comes to mind first when you think about what you need to achieve career success, but they should be. Relationships are the biggest predictor of career success.
With that in mind, strategic relationship building should be your top priority. But what does that look like? How do people who make relationship building a top priority operate on a daily basis?
According to Super Connector John Vezina, it looks like serving and helping the people in your network, all the time. John’s career in sales has spanned over 20 years. Along with an impressive climb as a sales professional, his career also includes investing in successful start-up companies, sitting on boards of directors, speaking engagements, mentorships, and consulting projects. John credits his successful sales career and other opportunities to his network, each career move and professional endeavor coming to him through a relationship.
Although John insists networking is pretty simple when your focus is to serve and help others, I asked him to answer a few questions about how he goes about developing relationships and building a network of people that contribute to his career success.
When did you first realize relationships are the key to success?
It was early on in my career. My second boss right out of college was kind enough to share the Watering The Bamboo Tree Theory, which I still find very applicable to this day. He taught me the importance of strategically building out your network and coached me on how to do it effectively. The wisdom he shared with me had a huge impact on the way I approach my career and my life.
What’s one thing that you do as a Super Connector that most people don’t?
It’s pretty simple. I prioritize relationships and take the time to keep in touch with my personal and professional contacts. I make a point to let them know what I’m doing, what my company is doing, and ask them to keep me up-to-date on their careers as well. It’s second nature to me now, but when you first start building your network, it helps to have a system or a calendar of how and when you’ll connect with others. Most people contact the people in their network with they need something. That’s not an effective way to build relationships.
What are some creative ways you’ve gotten your foot in the door to meet successful people?
My current job is in the healthcare field, and I joined the practice as a patient at one of the offices I wanted to land as a customer. In this case, I needed a physician so it wasn’t disingenuous. The doctor and I ended up becoming friends, and he later became a customer.
But more generally, I like to plan before I walk into a room with someone I want to meet. I do what I can to learn about them and understand their priorities. To build genuine relationships, you want to get past the “NSW” (news, sports and weather) in your conversations. It’s easier to do that if you know more about the person, with whom you’d like a relationship.
Do you keep a list of people you would like to meet? If so, what is your process for gaining an introduction or meeting with them?
I don’t keep a list, but I did early on in my career. Now I just try to be the dumbest person in the room whenever possible. The more I can surround myself with smart people I admire, the more I will learn, which will make it easier to build relationships with them. Also, I’m at a point in my career, in which I can usually get a warm introduction from someone in my network to the person I’d like to meet. This goes back to the Watering The Bamboo Tree Theory. It feels fairly effortless now, and that’s a result of hard work and dedication to relationship building early on in my career.
When you’re networking with highly successful people, how do you make yourself memorable?
Always be authentic, and make it more about them than about you. If you’re talking more than they are, the conversation is not going well. You’re memorable if you add value. Past that, you build relationships with powerful people just like you would with anyone else.
Give me some examples of surprising opportunities you’ve gotten because of your relationships.
Most of the opportunities throughout my career have come through relationships. My current job is an example. I wasn’t actively looking for a job. A friend I had worked with at a previous company got in touch with me to grab a drink several months ago. They were looking for a VP of Sales, and he thought I would be a good fit. He put me in touch with the CEO, and I had the job in less than a week. Your network and your reputation are the most important contributors to your success. Keep those two things strong, and they’ll carry you from one opportunity to the next.
What advice would you give to professionals trying to build their network?
Be authentic, strategic, and patient. Find the people that are smarter and more successful than you in your industry and make it a point to meet and build relationships with them. Keep your network open. Don’t create a network of peers that have the same strengths you do. Ask someone you admire to be your mentor. Mentors are highly valuable and can have a huge impact on your career and your network.
When you meet new people, your goal should be to get to know them and to understand how you can help them or they can help you. Not everyone you meet is going to be someone you want to have a relationship with. Getting to know them is the first step to determining that. There are plenty of people who are only looking to fulfill their own agenda; you don’t want them in your network.
What do you think holds most people back from being great networkers?
Effort. Networking isn’t difficult, it’s work. It takes patience, persistence, and a genuine desire to know and help others, but it doesn’t require special skills or training. Put the work in, and you will be successful.
How do you follow up with the people you meet?
When you meet someone you want to pursue a relationship with, set up the next meeting before you leave. Between meetings, come up with a way to add value and contact them for that reason. Always understand what you need from the person you’re meeting with and focus on discovering how you can help them.
Do you have a system for building relationships?
It’s really just about making sure the people in your network feel like they know you and you know them. When you contact them, keep them updated on what you and your company are doing, and ask the same of them. The goal is to build a power grid of people that know you and your company and will have enough information and positive experiences to recommend you to others without you even having to ask.
Relationships unlock your true potential and will help you succeed in ways you never could on your own. Put in the time and effort to develop genuine relationships, and you will reap the benefits. In the words of author Jane Howard: “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”