My marketing resolution for 2016: network, network, network

3rd January 2016

Happy New Year!

It’s that time of year again… I’m just about to go back to work after my holidays and I’ve been thinking about some things I want to focus on over this next year.

At the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum last autumn there was a presentation by Yetunde Hoffman, a leadership and change consultant, who spoke about the cultural and behavioural requirements that make for great leadership. But what particularly resonated for me was her challenge to us around networking.

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Yetunde asked the B2B marketers in the room to rank themselves on 2 questions: how often do you network and how good do you feel you are at networking? Surprisingly (or perhaps not) the vast majority of people in the room ranked themselves poor at both. In discussions afterwards, the overwhelming sentiment was that networking is a chore, it’s time-consuming, and doesn’t really have anything to do with a marketer’s ‘day job’.

And I can understand that. For years, a very savvy (and extremely well-networked) mentor of mine encouraged me ad nauseum to get involved in networking outside of my company. And, like the marketers at the B2B Leaders Forum, I made the same excuses – not enough time, doesn’t add value to my job, I’m no good at it, on and on.

Then a few years ago I attended my first B2B Marketing event. It was at a time when I was trying to do some very different things within marketing at my company and getting a lot of push-back around my approach. And that B2B event was a ‘Eureka!’ moment for me. For the first time I heard from and spoke to marketers who were moving in the same direction I was – I left that event with renewed confidence and it was like a light bulb went off in my head about the value of networking.

Why do it?

Like Yetunde, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of networking – no matter where you are or what you may do in your career. Many of us are terrific networkers within our own organisations; it is, after all, how we gain sponsorship for our marketing activity, navigate internal politics, and create a path for advancement. But too often, particularly when our markets and our businesses are in the midst of change, this internal networking merely validates what we’ve always done, instead of exploring what we need to do differently.

For me, there are 8 critical reasons to network:

1. build relationships across a wide spectrum of industries and organisations, both horizontally and vertically
2. find sponsors and mentors who can give us new and different perspectives
3. engage with peers and hear what other marketers are doing in different organisations
4. break out of our organisational silos, learn new things and be inspired
5. gain on-going support throughout our careers
6. develop a sounding board for our ideas and a reality check for our plans
7. discover new paths to that next big step in our careers
8. create a pool for spotting talent for our own organisations that we might never come across

After all, B2B is fundamentally relationship-driven. Our businesses are grounded in it, so why aren’t B2B marketers doing more of it?

Networking is a skill

Just like our technical marketing skills, networking is a skill that can and should be learned. And like any skill, it must be continually practiced to be improved. There are all kinds of networking activities out there. But, in particular, here in the UK we have a dedicated community for B2B marketers. The Business Marketing Collective (BMC) is the UK’s only association that represents the B2B marketing industry, providing a forum for both in-house, agency and freelance B2B marketers to meet and exchange ideas, so that we can drive the profession we love forward in new and inspiring ways. And it’s loads of fun too.

So let’s start flexing those networking muscles. I’m making networking my New Year’s resolution. What’s yours?

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This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of B2B Marketing magazine

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Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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