Robyn Henderson
Robyn Henderson Global Networking Specialist, Robyn Henderson has authored and contributed to more than 30 books on networking, career and business development. She has spoken in 12 countries, presents over 150 times each year and has never advertised - all her work comes from networking, referrals and her website www.networkingtowin.com.au

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Forensic Networking: The Tool For Serious Networkers

March 26, 2012 | Robyn Henderson

Learn how 'Forensic Networking' can help you swoop up those big clients you've been dying to get your hands on.

Are you ready to crack the corporate market with your business services or products? It might be easier than you think with ‘Forensic Networking’. To break into large organisations you really need to be quite strategic and very professional. And the more touch points or connection points within an organisation, the more chance you have of getting a positive approach from the decision maker.

Large organisations are made up of multiple pockets of influence and the cross networking opportunities abound, once you get in there, but how to do that is often the dilemna.

I first heard the expression ‘Forensic Networking’ from a very successful senior partner of an international accounting firm. Forensic networking was something the firm did prior to meeting with potential clients and included accessing public domain information about the potential client/s, their personal interests, their networks, looking for potential touch points, within their already substantial client base, who could potentially be an advocate for their firm.

The bigger the potential client the more touch points/referees you need to cultivate. Many people do this, but not usually in a systematic or strategic way. As a consequence, the results can be very inconsistent. We know that maintaining networks and connections is greatly assisted with systems, so I have come up with a model to assist with your forensic networking activity.

Be warned this does require effort, energy and time, however I believe that you really get one shot at a potential client, one chance to really prove your worth or value to that organisation. And if you blow that opportunity when you meet with the decision maker/s  it may take a long time before they give you a second chance. So the more touch points you have, the more chances of a favourable outcome you will have.

I once met with a financial client, who had booked me to do a Networking for Bankers full day program. Our meeting, in my mind, was to serve as a briefing for the program outcomes. In the client’s mind, it was a very different outcome. (Names and locations have been changed to protect privacy). Our conversation went something like this:

“Hi Robyn, glad you could stop by this afternoon, don’t sit down, this won’t take long.” (Here was me thinking I would be there for at least an hour, and it seemed like three minutes was more on the cards.)

“We are looking forward to your Networking for Bankers program next week, Sue Smith from Newcastle, John James from Warrnambool and Fred from HR saw you speak at the National Institute conference and said you were pretty good and we would gain from getting you in. I am on a board with Sue and John, they don’t work for the bank, as you know, but I trust their opinion.

Robyn, I want to be straight with you, we have potentially 600 business development staff that you could train nationally, if next weeks session goes well, we will work out a stack of dates with you for the next few months and get everyone trained up. If next week is a dud, and I have to warn you I have put some really tough cookies in your group, but I figure if you can win them over and they come away raving fans, then you are worth your high fee. If you don’t win them over, well, you might wait a long time to get paid. Thanks for coming in Robyn, see Sue on the way out and confirm your logistical stuff.”

How pressured do you think I was feeling! The good news, the session went well, I did win over the ‘tough cookies’ and went on to train the 600 staff. In hindsight, I had the trust of three people, whom the decision maker trusted, without that, I would not have been booked. And at the time I met those people, who coincidentally worked for much smaller organisations, none of them were wearing signs saying “Be really nice to me, I will introduce you to a potentially large client.”

There are two parts to forensic networking, the first involves your potential client, and the second involves you and your commitment to securing that client.

PART ONE: This part consists of a list of questions about your client’s organisations, networks, potential touch points and connectors. Much is public domain information and some will be almost like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. At first it’s just a jumble of information and as you continue to work on it, the pattern and images become clearer.

Identify your potential client – From their website, you should be able to obtain lots of information about their executive team, their products and services. Study all of this information and highlight the most relevant pieces and prepare your own organisational summary. Allocate a two-ring binder filled with plastic sleeves and dividers and start your forensic activity. Use the file to store the web page information as well as your summary and key points. Keep copies of any further information from newspapers, magazines, financial pages etc., you are virtually building a dossier on this organisation.

Identify the key decision makers and the people in their inner circle if possible – Inner circles can be formed through multiple connections, their children’s friends and families, old school or university contacts, old work colleagues, cities or sometimes countries, special interest groups, the arts, sports, environmental groups, politics etc. The list is truly endless and the point of going to all this effort is to check if some of their inner circle members are already in your inner circle or your current or past client base.

Who do you know in their inner circle, or whom do you know who knows someone in their inner circle? – Once identified, you can then make contact with your network and ask the question, “I wonder if you can help me, we want to work with XYZ and it appears John Smith is the key player there. I understand you know John quite well and was wondering what advice you could give me about the best way to approach him?” Of course they have the right to decline politely, but more often than not, they will recommend that you attend somewhere that prospect is going to be. Maybe there is a community event or charity that they support and you could attend an event or book a table to support this project, maybe you would be invited to share a box at a sporting event.

Now here is where the strategic part comes in, if you have no interest at all in that sport, and you work with someone who does have a passion for the sport or the team, suggest that you arrange a meeting with your co-worker and your contact, so that a connection is made there and then ask (very politely) if it’s possible that both you and the co-worker attend that sporting event. Your request may be declined, however, now you have another piece in the jigsaw. And you may find that your co-worker is in fact the person who can potentially be one of your touch points for XYZ organisation. If your contact generously invites both of you, do your homework.

You can’t fake passion or interest in a sport or activity you are not interested in. Yet combined, your co-worker has the passion and you have the interest. Your co-worker can give you a heads up about the key rules prior to the game and then it’s up to you to get involved on the day. I often think of one of my favourite films, The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith, and how he missed out on a major account through attending a ball game, but made great contacts anyway. In the film, the potential XYZ identified himself as a non-prospect, but he liked Will anyway, and connected him with his mates.

What do you know about the potential decision makers? – Sponsorships, awards they support or have won, alliances they have in the industry, charities they support, and corporate social responsibility initiatives they may be a part of. Your folder should be bulging with clippings and pieces of important information as you collect this data. Also don’t forget your internal network , asking the question at a group meeting, does anyone know JA and BB, decision makers at XYZ or do you know anyone who works at XYZ. Google and other search engines can also be a great help here, again you are collecting key pieces of information. Remember you may only get one shot at this potential client; you want to make sure you are prepared for that meeting.

Who is their current service provider? – You need to know the name of your competitor, how long they have been servicing XYZ, the products and services they provide. What is different about your product or service? Be honest, is there product better than yours? And if so, what can you offer XYZ that your competitor cannot? Are they under contract or tender, when does the tender expire? All this information is placed in your folder (manual or electronic) as you build a case to gain that large client.

Think like the client, not like the potential service provider – If you were XYZ, what would make you consider changing service providers? Price is often not the sole determining factor for supplier decisions. Think more strategically about what you have to offer.

Is there anyway you can refer business to XYZ in the short or long term? – The law of reciprocity states that what you give out comes back ten-fold. So if there is a way that you can refer business to XYZ, prior to you approaching them for business, then you are standing out from your competitors as trying to assist them to grow their business, not just expecting them to grow yours.

Do you know anyone who already has a strategic alliance with XYZ? – How well do you know them? Can you arrange a phone meeting or catch up with them to ask for help. “We want to supply XYZ, if you were me what would you do?” Similar to point three, you may again find out key information to assist with your strategic targeting.

Are any of your current advocates and ‘A’ class clients current service providers to XYZ? – If you don’t know, ask the question. Referrals are often so close to the surface of organisations, you just have to do your research. If you have an advocate who is already supplying XYZ, what a great link for you, and the advocate already knows how good you are, and can certainly give you a testimonial, possibly an invitation to an event where XYZ will be or an introduction at an appropriate time.

How many people do you know within XYZ company? – Make a list of names, and grade them A, B or C contact, with A as the highest contact, know them well, have their number in your mobile, connect once a month with them. Then if you ask your internal network, who knows anyone at XYZ, and go through the same ABC process, you may find you have a lot of overlap with connections. And if you ask the second question, how do you know them, you gain a lot more information to add to your original profile. Using flip charts or mind maps is a great way to visually display these connections, I often think of a detectives’ white board when you place all these names and connections in the one spot. Your jigsaw is really taking shape. If you don’t know anyone at all, make a list of the positions that key people may hold and find out who they are; if you drill down, you may find you do have connections. It is no longer six degrees of separation, more like two degrees of separation these days.

How much effort are you prepared to commit to this XYZ project? –  The bigger the client, the more effort is required to secure that client. You might get really lucky e.g you are a bank, and they have a particularly bad bank day, and you just happen to offer to sort out their problem. More likely though, little things keep building and building with a disgruntled supplier until one little thing can tip the edge and you can jump in as their next supplier.

PART TWO: Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Why do you want to become a service provider to this organisation (XYZ)? – Is this a short or long term prospect? Is there prestige attached to being a service provider? Is it all about bonuses, targets and sales? Do you want to genuinely assist XYZ with your product? When the going gets tough and you seem to be taking one step forward and three steps back, you really need to be clear on the why.
  2. How much time can you commit to the XYZ project? – There is a finite number of hours in the week and we assume you will have other work to do as well as study XYZ; so you need to be clear on your time commitment and get mutual agreement from your peers with this time allocation, e.g. XYZ’s decision maker may be a keen yachtsmen, as are you. And Wednesday afternoon twilight sessions are when XYZ sails with his peers and then back to the clubhouse for drinks. If you think sailing on Wednesday afternoons is a strategic networking opportunity, be sure to get agreement from your peers or they may become very resentful. Even keeping abreast of the daily news may take up to 30 minutes a day, where can you find that time?, or will it be stolen minutes here and there throughout the day?
  3. What is your project XYZ plan? – Be clear on time frame, possible resources, other staff involved, without an action plan it will be very easy to give up and drown in a sea of newspaper clippings and paper.
  4. Who can you include in your project from both your internal and external network? – Create a list of names and contact details. When you do make the approach to them, be very clear how much time you are asking them to commit? Phone time, text messaging and emails may be a convenient use of time. Maybe you just need the okay to run your progress past them from time to time. And of course, you must respect their choice if they decline your invitation. It is far better for them to decline than to agree and then be a no-show at the bulk of your meetings.
  5. What might you have to give up along the way to make time for project XYZ? – Maybe you can squeeze this project into your current day, but be warned forensic networking can suck up a lot of time, particularly in the early stages when you are collecting the most information. One of the keys is deciding if you can combine your networking with your interests, eg. sailing, running, gym, special interests. If you can, you will find that you are a lot more passionate about project XYZ, than if you have to miss your hobbies to make room for project XYZ.

Always remember some people are non-prospects.

The sooner you identify this, the better for everyone. Forensic networking will give you the answer to your question ‘Could XYZ potentially be a non-prospect?’ This might be due to strong loyalty to their current supplier, a long-standing gentleman’s agreement and a less than obvious connection in the supply chain.

Here is a quick story; I have a wonderful web designer, who has created many websites for me over the last 15 years. He is patient, speaks in everyday language, is up with trends that work and those that are faulty when it comes to web traffic, is affordable and always does a great job for anyone I refer to him.

I was recently at a business networking breakfast presentation with at least five other potential web designers, one of whom approached me at the start of the breakfast and told me all the things he could do to improve my websites. And when I repeatedly said, that I was a non-prospect, he didn’t get it, he just went on and on about what he wanted to do and what it would cost.

Now I have no doubt that he may have some new ideas, and he could be very good, but I am loyal to many of my suppliers, especially my web designer. I want to work with people that I know are professional, affordable, deliver on time, tell you if you are about to waste money on something that won’t work, are up to speed on trends in the marketplace and those that are overnight wonders and those worth investing in. But most importantly, will always do a great job for the people you refer to them. They call it loyalty and there is still a lot of loyalty in the marketplace today.

In your forensic research when you find out who is XYZ’s current provider, a critical question to ask is of course, ‘how long have they been supplying XYZ?’, if it’s more than 10 years, they may have a serious case of loyalty happening and are potentially a non-prospect. Of course, if you never ask the question, the answer is always no. But don’t be disheartened if you get beaten by loyalty, maybe some of your forensic networking time needs to be allocated to researching what you would have to do to get your current clients to all be advocates! Just a thought!

The final question you need to ask yourself.  “What would I do if I knew that I could not fail?”

Forensic networking takes time and effort.

Sometimes when you finally get that XYZ client, then the work really starts. But your research helps you build your connections with XYZ’s key players and as you nurture those contacts you build your internal XYZ web and it becomes stronger and stronger every month. You stand out from your competitors because you try to build XYZ’s company as well as your own. Where possible you:

  • Give them regular referrals.
  • Invite them to networking events where they can meet potential clients.
  • Connect them with some of your current advocates for mutual connections.
  • Keep clear communication lines open and flowing.
  • Make sure that they keep seeing you rather than the employee or coworker you offload their work to, this is important. Maybe you don’t make the time for face to face, but working your database and sending them snippets of relevant information by text, email or snail mail, keeps you in their face. In time your employee or coworker will have the trust with them that you have, but initially it takes time.
  • Exceed their expectations with the service you provide, they expect great, you aim to exceed great every time.
  • If you ever stuff up, fix it immediately and offer compensation if possible.

Big clients expect excellence every time. That is why they pay you a high fee. It is almost an expected given that you will do an above average job. Forensic networking provides the clues, but YOU still have to exceed the clients expectations, every time.

Networking Tip.

Be friendly to everyone, you never know whom they know and whom they could potentially refer you to.

  • Excellent article!! Proactive and deeper networking is much more effective than the surface-only networking that is so often done.

    Cathy from thenetworkingworkshop.blogspot.com