These days I spend between a third and a half of my time networking, either face to face or through online activities (including writing blog posts like this). I'm in a competitive marketplace for the services that I offer, and so it's crucial that I spend this amount of time feeding the pipeline of new opportunities. Much to my wife's chagrin, this time is not fee-earning (directly) - but without it there won't be fees to earn.
Much of this networking is spent without a direct focus. It's about building relationships, building trust, and from that being in the right people's minds at a time when an opportunity might arise for me to work with them. "Spotting Matt-shaped holes" as I occasionally put it. I'm lucky in that I enjoy it. I get a lot from not only finding out about different businesses, but also about finding out about different people. Understanding what makes them tick, and, ultimately, understanding if there are ways in which I might help them.
If you are delivering IT services, then you are also in a competitive market. For maybe a decade IT found itself in an enviable position of being a monopoly supplier within organisations. In the client-server world you needed IT for computing stuff to happen. Those idyllic days are over. You are in competition. Fierce, existential competition.
The people to whom you provide services could well be toting a smartphone or tablet of their own, connected to fast 4G networks, wondering why the IT services aren't as usable or slick or quick or cheap as what sits in the palm of their hand.
Cloud service providers are marketing themselves directly to your marketing people. Or your HR people. Or, heaven forbid, your finance people. And they are dismissive of you and what your teams provide along the way. "No software" as SalesForce put it. They might as well have said "No IT", because that's what they meant. I told you it was existential.
So in this intensely competitive environment, how are you reacting? Are you standing, Canute-like, telling anyone who listens that "they shouldn't be doing that"? Or are you out building a pipeline of work, keeping you and your team at the front of mind of your clients, finding out about what makes them tick and the things that are concerning them and their business?
There is a tendency for IT functions, in their very logical analysis, to assume that people will know where to come, will come, will ask. But if you aren't going out there without an agenda, to find out about what they want, what they think of you - well, without that, you'll never get the chance, ironically, to shape an agenda.
If you read the history of any business, you'll find that it's the story people and their relationships. It's not about logical decisions - it's about the alliances and the disputes, the personalities and the behaviours. Business happens through the soft stuff, no matter how people might post-rationalise the logic. And if you are in a competitive business, fighting for trust and attention, you had better get out there and start chatting.