Building Relationships with Valuable People

If networking is more like farming, how do I effectively manage my crops?

By Cynthia Greenawalt

We’ve heard it before: networking is more akin to farming than it is to hunting. The act of hunting to put food on the table creates an immediate result but it’s unsustainable - people don't want to be 'hunted'.  A hunter-networker is out there meeting people, building relationships, adding new contacts to her list, and in the end, the “prospective clients” she is putting into the top of her Business Development Funnel are prospects that he found. Hunting in this analogy simply means that the bulk of the prospects to whom we’re presenting our business are people that we brought to the table. There’s nothing wrong with it. If we have quotas to meet and overhead to cover, then we gotta hunt. Hunting, however, is based in linear dynamics and does not give us leverage. As Michael Gerber of the E-Myth book series likes to say, we’re out there “doing it, doing it, doing it”.

“Hunting does not give us leverage”

The philosophy of a farmer-networker is a complete paradigm shift. It is based in non-linear dynamics and provides access to leverage. This kind of networker is also out there meeting people, building relationships, adding contacts to his list, however, the prospects entering his Business Development Funnel are people that were referred to him by his strategic alliances, also known as referral sources, or what I like to call “power partners”. So then, how does the difference between these two “networking worldviews” manifest itself? When a hunting-oriented networker walks into a room at a networking function or an alumni gathering, what she will see is a “room full of prospects”. When the farming-oriented networker walks into the same event, what he will see is a “room full of gateways” leading to 100’s of potential clients.   

Room full of prospects vs. Room Full of Gateways

Of course, the challenge for every farmer-networker is this: if everyone in that room is a potential gateway, and if a gateway will only “let me in the door” and act as a referral source if they know, like, and trust me, then there is clearly some nurturing and fertilizing to do before that relationship becomes a fruit-bearing resource. Yes, there is a time lag here. Which is why I recommend to my clients that they do both: while we put food on the table through our hunting activities, we intentionally launch a farming initiative so that we can wean ourselves off of our dependence on hunting, and experience the peace of mind that comes with sustainable results – reaping the benefits of cultivating relationships that bear fruit year after year.

The key phrase is “farming initiative”. When we launch an initiative, do we wing it or is there a plan? The most effective networkers are those with a long-term plan, just like the most effective farmers are those with a plan, who took the time to develop their agricultural skills, and learned how to use the tools that accelerate the process and maximize their effectiveness. Developing skills in farming (as in any profession or sport) takes time, and it takes the willingness to practice consistently. Sporadic efforts toward our networking (or any endeavor for that matter) will yield mediocre results at best.

There are many tools for accelerating our yield from networking, and as we master the use of these tools, we see our results blossom. The tool that is typically the most under-utilized, and that is one of the most leveraged activities in the networking toolbox, is that activity known as “Inviting”. Hours could be spent on how to use this tool to its maximum. Let’s take a moment and dip our toe in the water of Inviting.

Many of us have read or heard of the book, Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi, in which he reminds us to take the time spent eating a meal and invest it simultaneously into cultivating a relationship.  And that’s why I like to say, 

“Never go to an event alone”

There is no better way to leverage your networking (i.e., relationship cultivating) efforts than to include others from your network in the events you’re attending. You are already going to be there at that networking breakfast, or art opening, or book signing, or lecture on mind-body medicine. Look at your calendar and see what events you are scheduled to attend in the upcoming weeks, and with each event, ask yourself, “Which of my relationships can I water and fertilize by inviting them to join me?”

This is a game-changing question. And it is multi-dimensional.  Here are just a few of the many layers to consider:

To access the Inviting tool, you must first answer this question: “Who are my potential invitees?” And we arrive at that answer by asking yet another question: “Who are my VIP’s?” The Very Important Person can be flocked together with others of the same feather. Ask yourself: “Which segments of my overall network are the most important ‘relationship crops’ that I want to nurture and fertilize on an ongoing basis? These would include current and past clients, prospective clients, referral sources and potential referral sources, mentors, and friends.

Once you identify your potential invitees, take a look at the events you’re already attending, and ask:

  • Which of my VIP’s have an interest in the topic of this event?
  • Which of my VIP’s would like to meet the types of people who are going to be attending this kind of event?
  • Which of my VIP’s would I like to hang out with and get to know better – and this event sounds like a conducive environment to provide that opportunity?

And the masterful networker goes even deeper and asks:

  • Serving as a Connector, who could I invite to this event that needs to meet each other? If I invite “Victor VIP”, who else could I invite that would be a favorable introduction for Victor’s business?
  • Given that I could relate to the person holding/sponsoring/speaking at the event as a VIP herself (someone inspiring and influential that I’d like to nurture and develop), then who could I invite from my network that would be a potential referral or potential power partner for this VIP, thereby further cultivating my relationship with her?

Even if none of your invitees shows up at the event, the act of inviting them is where much of the magic lives. When they read your email invitation, or listen to your voicemail inviting them to the event, what they’re left with is, “How nice of Cynthia to think of me!” particularly if you include in your invitation wording along the lines of wanting to connect them to some other mover/shakers you know are attending, or saying, “I thought this event would be a great way to check out some wonderful art (or get in some good networking) while at the same time learning more about you and how I can connect the right people to you.”

Even if none of your invitees shows up at the event, the act of inviting them is where much of the magic lives.

Through that kind of invitation, the relationship is never the same. You distinguish yourself. You stand out from the crowd of people that your contact has met the past few months. You register as valuable to them because you value them.

What goes around comes around. You get what you give. Networking is indeed like farming. Commit to mastering what it takes to efficiently and effectively harness the potential in your “relationship crops”. Learn the skills. Master the tools. And you will reap a bountiful harvest of mutually satisfying relationships and sustainable growth in your business.


About Cynthia Greenawalt: Cynthia is an prolific networker and a dynamic speaker and trainer on networking and developing social capital. She has put together 52 executive networking groups for BNI-Business Network International, the world’s largest referral networking organization.  She is also a contributing author of the New York Times best seller, Masters of Networking, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Masters of Success.  She is a third generation graduate of the Wharton School of Business – her grandfather, father and mother also graduated from Wharton.


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