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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I recently re-read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, "Better Sales Networks".

The article looks at different types of social networks and how each is more suited to different sales tasks.

The article shows how "sparser networks are better at getting access to unique information", whereas denser networks are "more desirable for coordination purposes".

As someone who predominantly uses my network for prospecting & lead generation on behalf of clients I can understand this completely.

In fact, the article recommends that "salespeople looking for new and unique information should cultivate broad marketplace networks" and suggests that, as not everyone is naturally good at this task, companies should "consider decoupling lead generation from other tasks"

I found that a very interesting observation. Not that lead generation should be decoupled - there's nothing new there. No, the comment that not everyone is "naturally good" at developing diverse contacts.

If you've been following many of the social networking platforms there's always this "quality vs quantity" debate going on. It's an old chestnut and I don't intend to add to it here, except to say that it always seems to polarise opinion.

I'm certainly firmly in to "quantity" camp as I use tools such as LinkedIn to develop access to a large and diverse range of potential contacts. If you look at all the most "connected" people on LinkedIn (apparently I've dropped a few places to #41) they're dominated by people who need to access information - such as recruiters, investors, researchers, biz dev people, etc [plus a few who just seem to be in it for the game of who can be top]

LinkedIn is such as powerful tool as it allows you to see your extended network in ways not previously possible.

But, to get back to my point, people in the "quality" camp will tell you that the most important thing is how strong the relationships are in the network, not how many connections you have.

Of course, if their focus is on coordination (getting experts together, getting contacts to actually do something for them) then it's important to not only have strong ties with their contacts, but it's important that they are also connected to each other. That makes sense.

Another way of putting it is that the more commitment you are asking for, the stronger you need the relationship to be.

If I'm just calling someone to find some relatively low-value (to them) information, then a sparse network with weak-ties is not only fit for purpose, it is actually optimum for my purpose as it gives me the widest range of access.

However, if I wanted to use this network for a purpose which requires much more commitment from my contacts (such as getting them to collaborate with me on a project) it's unlikely I would get such support unless I had taken the time to build a strong relationship with them (which, in turn, takes more time to cultivate and therefore is likely to reduce the size, and diversity, of my network)

So, in summary, if you're looking for information, you ideally want a sparse network (ie, it doesn't matter if each "node" of your network is not connected with another). If you want to get things done, you need a more tightly configured (and probably smaller) network.

Common sense really. Which isn't bad for Harvard ;-)

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Posted by: David Regler @ 8:34 pm |   | Links to this post  

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