The foyer is claustrophobically stuffed with people. We’re all customer experience professionals; I don’t recognize anyone smashed against me. My company has been recently acquired and this is the night before our big event—part user conference, part company celebration after an exhausting few months of layoffs and uncertainty. The small space is charged—nervous, excited, and ready. At this point, though, we’re mostly ready for the doors of our dinner venue to open and reward us for our patience.
Abruptly, the tiny woman to my left starts talking—loudly and not necessarily to anyone in particular. “We should make a break for it. I can slip through that opening over there and we can make it to the bar. It’s time for wine.” With nary a hesitation, I take the bait.
Over dinner we introduce each other to colleagues in the room, chat about life, love, and customer service, and make frequent dashes to the bar when the waitress is unable to keep up with our wine consumption. I am smitten with her wit, wisdom, and zealousness. We end the night with hugs and a promise to stay in touch.
The next morning I break into a wide and surprised grin as the keynote speaker bounces up on stage. There she is, Dayna Steele, my newfound friend.
Dayna Steele: I had two thoughts when I met the whirlwind Sarah: this was either going to end up as a great friendship, or one of us would need bail money. You can’t help but be sucked into Sarah’s orbit when she is around. She's the kind of people I gravitate to at any event whether it’s a business conference or a family wedding.
Growing your network is not about attending as many networking events as you can and handing out business cards. It’s about meeting people, starting conversations, and creating real relationships. That’s how a successful network grows.
Growing your network is not about attending as many networking events as you can and handing out business cards. It’s about meeting people, starting conversations, and creating real relationships.
It’s important that you have the essentials of good networking in place because you never know when you are about to add someone to your network—it can happen anywhere and anytime. What are those essentials?
An open mind
A genuine smile
A good laugh
Knowledge of the world around you, and
The ability to get to know someone and talk about them. Not you.
Sarah: As customer experience professionals, we tend to measure everything, including the success of our relationships. So how do you know if the network you’ve built is successful? How do you know if the effort is worth it? “Nobody gets paid for networking,” says motivational speaker and networking expert Rob Brown. “We all get paid on the results of our networking.”
Sometimes the results are immediately apparent. Towards the end of Dayna’s dynamic keynote that morning, she careened above the crowd and asked, “Where is my new friend, Sarah?” As I stood amongst hundreds of my professional peers and new colleagues (and bosses), she unsolicitedly exalted my expertise. “You should get to know Sarah. She knows some things about successful customer service.”
I have never forgotten that moment. I have never forgotten how humble and appreciative I felt. Sometimes the results of your network immediately scream their worth.
But let’s be honest, that’s not always the case.
Dayna: I’ve learned a lesson over many years in many different careers: the more I do to help others be successful, the more adventures I have, the more opportunities come my way, and the more successful I become. I genuinely enjoy putting people together and watching what networking magic can happen when I step away.
As a business success speaker, I often draw on stories from working with the world’s greatest rock stars. Every year the Houston station I worked for would put on a charity rock auction and concert. Many different rock stars would help as celebrity auctioneers and then jam together at the end of the event. Prepping for one of those jam sessions was Jack Blades (Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (Styx), and Ted Nugent—this was a great networking opportunity for them. Calling themselves “Those Damn Night Sticks” they played well together that one night. So much so, they became Damn Yankees and went on to have several radio hits.
I didn’t expect a lifelong friendship and countless work opportunities to come from my first conversation with Sarah. I just knew she was fun to sit with, had a great laugh and smile, was intelligent, and neither of us could get enough of the other’s stories or wine. I took time to know her that night and now my network continues to grow. The “inches” nod in the title of this post? Sarah is well over six feet tall in heels. I am barely five feet in cowboy boots. Despite the fact I need to stand on a chair to talk to her, we found mutual ground and powerful networking results, in partnership and friendship.
Sarah: Your network shouldn’t just be measured in inches—networking results are more than just a number. It’s not as simple as assigning each person a rating: “I got three speaking engagements from Mary and an introduction to a CEO. I deem her a 5. Jayne only invited me to that event in Vegas and those conferences we spoke at didn’t yield much. She is a 2. Jayne has to go.”
In Your Network Is Your Net Worth, Porter Gale says good networking is more than personal brand building or getting something from other people. It’s more about: "Am I forming relationships that are based on my own passions and beliefs?" and "Am I creating relationships with people that I trust, like, and respect?"
It’s more about: "Am I forming relationships that are based on my own passions and beliefs?” and "Am I creating relationships with people that I trust, like, and respect?"
Yes, your passions and purpose matter. Time matters. Respect matters. Rather than a black and white number, consider the experiences you’ve shared, the dinners you’ve had, the emails you’ve sent on their behalf, the job recommendation, the LinkedIn reviews, the charity they introduced you to, the wine you drank, the astronaut you met, the fun you had co-authoring a story—that’s how you measure your network.
Dayna and I never talked about networking that first night at dinner. Neither of us said, “I think I can get something important out you. Give me your card.” Instead, we immediately realized a mutual passion for a cause (good customer service) and a shared personal appreciation for great husbands, quirky cities, and fine wine. We liked each other and what the other stood for—the numerous adventures together, and because of one another, delightfully and easily came later.
Dayna and Sarah can be found together again—on stage at ICMI’s Contact Center Demo & Conference during the closing keynote on October 27, 2016.
Sarah Stealey Reed is the editor of Relate by Zendesk. When she's not wandering the world, she's a loud writer of customer experiences, contact centers, and optimistic relationships. Find her on Twitter: @stealeyreed.
Dayna Steele is the host of The Rock Business video series and is The Rock Talk featured keynote business speaker. Success takes more than talent. Dayna delivers the principles and introduces the rock stars who prove that theory every day. This rock radio Hall of Famer is also the creator of 101 Ways to Rock Your World book series. Dayna is a professional on LinkedIn, occasionally snarky on Twitter, and has absolutely no filter on Facebook.