Pressing the flesh is particularly important in the supply chain where making connections lies at the heart of the business.
Here is a pertinent question for these troubled times. Are you getting out enough? It is natural when times get tough for a business to pull up the barricades.
But sitting in the office staring with deepening gloom at spreadsheets with mounting red numbers might not be the best way of dealing with a difficult business environment.
There is some interesting anecdotal evidence that managers who are effective networkers are more positive about the future than those who sit in their offices and moan to colleagues about their company’s poor prospects.
And when I say networking, I’m talking about meeting people, not linking up via computers.
Pressing the flesh is particularly important in the supply chain world where making connections lies at the heart of the business. But the trouble for some managers is that their business networks become sclerotic unless they are constantly renewed.
Consider two key issues which logistics professionals currently face. One is looking for less costly alternatives as the prices of commodities and components continue to rise.
Two thirds of companies say they have been doing this, according to an August survey by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation.
It’s a task which those who’ve developed their business networks over the years are going to find a lot easier than those who’ve stayed in their offices staring at a computer screen.
The same logic applies to another hot supply chain issue renegotiating existing contracts with customers. Four in ten manufacturing companies say they have been doing this, according to the EEF survey.
Business networking essentially the act of reaching beyond the boundaries of your own company to meet new contacts can be like a process of has become a business opportunity in its own right in Europe and North America there are, for example, numerous networking clubs which facilitate the process networking is only as good as the energy that an individual networker brings to it.
And there is clearly an art to successful business networking. As it happens, I’ve been doing some networking myself with Europe’s leading guru of the subject, Roy Sheppard, author of the book Meet, Greet and Prosper.
Sheppard tells me that the biggest mistake people new to networking make is to confuse it with selling. He says: “They think that going to a networking event is trawling for customers it’s absolutely not that and if you go to networking events with that mindset you will be disillusioned very quickly because it won’t achieve what you hope.
“It really is about creating an expanded network so that the people you meet are motivated to speak well of you and your business while you’re not in the room. So people need to buy you first as a person before anybody is going to try you out as a business.”
I agree with Sheppard that a well-developed business network is absolutely key because it provides different insights into the viability of a business and its products and services. He suggests that logistics professionals should use their networks to ask advice on whether the service they provide is what customers are likely to want and for which they would be willing to pay.
It is often over-looked but managers ought to spend more time studying their network of contacts and see who is there and where potential gaps exist. With that information, it is easier to be proactive in the current difficult economic environment to ask appropriate contacts to spread the word about the business and its services.
And it’s also easier to deal with difficult issues such as cost cutting or price rises if trust has been built up with contacts during previous meetings, both formal and informal.
The most successful networkers know how to create what Sheppard calls “meaningful connections” with people they meet. “The best networkers become a resource to the people in their network,” he says. “Their own business needs are fulfilled as a result of that.”
In other words, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. The logistics profession has plenty of people who are no shrinking violets. You only need to attend award events, such as the annual European Supply Chain Excellence Awards, to recognise that.
But what about logistics professionals who are shy about meeting new people? “Just go up to strangers with a smile, put out your hand and give your name first,” says Sheppard. It’s as easy as that.
The fact is that time on networking is an investment. In the end, the answer to some of those business problems is simply to get out more.