How to authentically extend your professional network

Networking is about giving. All great connectors have certain characteristics including guiding principles based on trust, empathy, generosity, relevance, and authenticity. To extend your professional network, in a meaningful and trustworthy way, one must maintain the highest level of integrity, benevolence, and authenticity with existing connections, and future engagement opportunities.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

"If you are not receiving or making at least one introduction a month, you are probably not fully engaging your extended professional network." -- Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, venture capitalist and author of The Start-Up of You.

Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force, and I have co-authored several articles on how you can reach your full potential and deliver peak performance while working from home. The path toward achieving high-performance work at home starts with how you design and architect your surroundings, followed by how you practice and refine the art and science of public speaking and presentation skills. 


Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force.

The next most important success factor for work is how you manage your time -- pause, ponder and prioritize your time. Now, as a manager, the awesome privilege of managing a remote team requires a new playbook and mindset that can guide your team's collective ability to reach their full potential. Effectively managing your remote teams requires a new mindset and behaviors. For business leaders, effectively managing remote teams starts with an understanding and a commitment toward building healthy relationships for all stakeholders. You are not a team because you work together. You are a team because you trust, respect, and care for each other. Team building and extending your network requires the same set of skills -- trust, empathy, generosity, relevance, and authenticity. Extending your network starts when your thoughts, words, and actions have complete alignment and your motives are clear -- to add value and deliver benefits to your network. 

"Networking is a lot like nutrition and fitness: we know what to do, the hard part is making it a top priority." -- Herminia Ibarra

So how do we extend our professional network authentically? 

"Master Connector of Great People," that's how Cheryl Feldman, networking expert and Salesforce MVP describes herself. What she's discovered through the building and maintaining of an extended network globally with thousands of influential people is that what you gain results from what you give. And, just like any thoughtful gift giver, what differentiates a great gift from a token gesture is attention to detail.


Cheryl Feldman, Salesforce MVP.

Whether you're seeking your first job, your next job, or to extend your network of contacts and sphere of influence, consider the relationships you might need tomorrow and start building them today. 

Before you click to connect, though, consider these tips for how to make a great first impression that opens the door to a longer-lasting relationship.

1. Define success: Get specific about the outcome you aspire to achieve through and with your extended network. For example, are you seeking a new job? A mentor? Advice? Amplification of your content? Access to an influential thought leader? Clearly defining success narrows your field of focus to prospective contacts who can move you closer toward achieving your goals. Invest first in building networks of quality rather than quantity.

 "You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." -- Zig Ziglar

2. Follow the digital breadcrumbs with the proper intentions: Once you develop a shortlist of people to connect with, do your homework. "Everyone leaves a trail of crumbs behind on social media," explains Gurvinder Singh Sahni, CMO of Appirio (a Wipro company). "Those crumbs provide invaluable insights about how to plan an effective first interaction. I've met some of my best business partners on Twitter first. And I've sourced keynote speakers for big events through Twitter that I've never met before as well. All because I did my homework to discover what we had in common. A single social media comment that's well thought out invites future connection and relationship."

Gurvinder is one of the smartest CMOs that Karen and I have ever met. He is actively involved in all marketing activities, including the management of analyst and press relations. He is one of the most authentic and kind business leaders in the industry. He is also a generous connector. Gurvinder actively seeks opportunities to connect like-minded professionals. And he intends to give without expecting a get. Gurvinder connects to learn and to add value. He recognizes, now more than ever, that to add value, you must consider speed and relevance as new currencies in a digital economy. Gurvidner is following digital breadcrumbs with a purpose to be useful and to stay teachable -- what every CMO should consider as guiding principles. 


3. What's My Line?: The premise of this wildly successful game show from the 1950s and 1960s was that celebrity panelists were blindfolded and attempted to solve for the occupation of mystery guests each week by asking only yes or no questions. Are you inadvertently borrowing from that playbook with your online networking and connection requests? "Avoid the, 'Can I pick your brain?' and 'Could we get coffee or virtual coffee?' requests," shares Sofia Rodriguez Mata, Community Manager at Salesforce. "Why? Those questions obscure the true intention behind your connection request. Instead of asking a 'yes' or 'no' question, immediately establish trust and offer reciprocity. Be clear about what you want to discuss and what you want to gain by listing out the topics and your goal in the initial outreach. You can close the request by discussing what you can offer in return. Most of the time, the receiver is impressed enough by the transparency of the message that they are happy to make time for you without cashing in on your reciprocity offer." 

Building and keeping connections is hard work. You have to maintain positive intentions to be useful to your network. You have to give more than you take. And most importantly, you have to educate, inspire, and ignite positive action with each engagement. Strong connectors use remarkable words. Allow your language, your intentions, and your actions to speak for themselves. 


Sofia Rodriguez Mata, community manager at Salesforce.

4. Turn the Tables: Before you click to comment or to connect, turn the tables on your own message. If you were on the receiving end of your own invitation, would you accept it? Is your message customized to the recipient? Is your objective, intention, or outcome clearly articulated? Have you been transparent about what you aspire to achieve and what you have to offer? If not, take a moment to revisit your message.

 "Success isn't about how much money you make; it's about the difference you make in people's lives." -- Michelle Obama

5. Picture This: "You're at a party, and across the room is a celebrity you're dying to meet," proposes Sofia. "What do you do? You ask the host to introduce you, and, to your surprise, the host does you one better and also mentions what you both share in common. Similarly, you can leverage your existing network to make introductions to third, fourth, fifth... degree connections. The host can schedule a group video-conference or kick-off an email thread to make the introduction. The host can also facilitate follow up the conversation by sharing the best way to contact each other."

"Your network is your net worth." -- Porter Gale

6. Curate Community: If networking continually falls to the bottom of your to-do list, try creating a community. Create a connecting point for a network of networks to come together to form a community based on shared interests. "Don't be afraid to put yourself out there in creative ways," says Sharon Klardie, Sr. Manager of Salesforce Labs. "I started a virtual book club and host virtual #IAmRemarkable workshops. Taking these actions helps me stay connected and meet new people while making a positive impact on others as well. Plus, these communities scale impact."


Sharon Klardie, senior manager of Salesforce Labs.

7. Amplify Authentically: From re-posting content to referrals and recommendations, how you interact says more about you than written words. Approach online comments and introducing your network of connections to each other as an extension of your personal reputation, values, and brand. "I'll never forget the time when I leveraged my network to help someone get a job," recalls Cheryl. "The person who approached me was so articulate about the kind of job that she was seeking that I knew exactly how to help her right away. I introduced her to another trusted member of my network who was trying to hire someone with those exact skills. It was so rewarding."
Extending your network begins with defining your goals and solidifying your story. One resource to help you define and articulate what differentiates you as well as to construct a clear ask is this  Career Companion.

When you change your conversation, you change your results.

What are you discovering as you try to extend your professional network authentically? We welcome your insights here or by joining us on Twitter at @karenmangia and @ValaAfshar.

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.

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