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Power Networking with Walt Slaughter
by Tim Zaun

In June, native Tennessean, Walt Slaughter, was in town to present Power Networking on behalf of Cleveland Business Connect's AMPLIFY speaker series at the Terrace Club.

Slaughter was the first corporate director of public relations for Federal Express during the company's early, entrepreneurial, gunslinger days. He was also corporate director of public relations for Motorola, Inc. in the mid 1970's.

In 1979 Slaughter founded his own career management and outplacement company, which he operated for 25 years. Today, Slaughter works exclusively in sales training www.sellmorenow.net.

Slaughter joined local business writer, Tim Zaun in conversation shortly after arriving at his downtown hotel. Power Networking, Why 85% of Sales Calls are Wasted, and Slaughter's Top 3 Career Management Success Principles were among the topics of the day. He also offered words of wisdom to the Class of '07 as they prepare to enter today's competitive global marketplace.

As you travel the country, what is your sense of today's US business climate?

Today's US business climate is less than robust, yet most business owners are proponents of free trade. They also see their target markets expanding beyond the United States. "Cautiously optimistic" best characterizes the US economy today.

What is the biggest mistake people make when networking?

People use networking as a tactical means to get from point A to point B. Instead, they should use it as a strategic business development and career management plan. They don't take the long-term view of expanding their contact base, which allows them to cultivate key contacts. They discount the fact that there's a quid pro quo to maintaining, growing and nurturing relationships.

People unfortunately tend to use people to advance their own agenda. They often forget their referral source who helped them garner a meeting with" Mr. Big" at a given company. The intent is for you to be there for them as well.

Networking is getting together to get ahead- "I'll agree to be a resource for you if you'll agree to be a reciprocal resource for me." "Through the people you know, and the people I know, we can wed our networks and accomplish more together than individually." Interdependence breeds independence. The wider, broader and deeper your resources you can contribute to over time, the greater the outcomes are going to be for you.

Walt SlaughterYou talk about "Power" networking" not just networking. What's the difference?

It's a play on words in part and in another way, it's not. The thing that separates Power networking from random, bump and run, collect a card and move on networking is strategy. You have a plan. You know what circles of people you want to run with, be in touch with, or have access to over the next 12 to 36 months. You know where you want to be in multiple places.

Look at the technology industry today as an example, with its competitive choices and niches, You may want to have contacts within any number of its communities or circles. That's the strategic approach. People have a conscious plan and process to get there: Here's Step A, B, and C. Here's who is going to lead me to whom. Here's what I'm going to do when I get there.

Once I establish one level of presence in the community of people, I may choose to move in another direction. I have a plan for that as well.

How do you gain access to anyone at anytime?

The law of business says you drop the right name to the right person and their referral will give you the time of day. The rest you need to do yourself.

You need to know why you're there and you have to give that person a reason to connect with you. If you and I are business associates and I drop the right name to you at the right time, your referral is going to take my call. To not do so is an insult to our mutual friend who referred you.

Look at the people in corner offices- CEOs. They don't make a move without networking, asking, "Who's the best plumber?" Who's the best physician, etc.?" You can do this at any level. It's not where you start, it's where you finish. It helps to have a large contact management base, but you can network from square one.

I whole-heartedly believe in the Six Degrees of Separation. In fact, with today's Internet access, it's often fewer steps than that. It's the questions you ask, how you think and where you start. You can network like a champion even if you just rode into town and know no one.

What do you say to networking nay-sayers?

They're short-sighted individuals. I've dealt with my share of their kind in my career management practice over the years. Much of their mindsight has to do with their upbringing. You have to step out of your comfort zone to meet strangers, say "Hello," and be vulnerable. Let people know something about yourself.

You need to be able to give to get, give value to get value. It's not what you know, but who you know and who knows you. There's an enormous amount of truth to that statement. And yet, I could name Ph.D.s' and other professionals who believe that they're the manufacturers of their own success- MY education, MY diligence, MY perseverance, etc. will carry the day. For some people, networking compromises the idea of what they've done to make themselves successful.

Networking is indisputably the # 1 Job-finding strategy. As many as 70 to 80 % of people find their next job through personal or professional contacts.

Is it possible for introverted people to network?

Sure they can. All stripes can network. I've seen remarkably introverted people network. They have to push themselves typically, but they do it.

It all comes back to strategic planning-what are you trying to accomplish? Grow your network exponentially over the years, and take no one for granted. It's Principle # 2 of my 3 Career Management Principles.

So, what are your three Career Management principles?

First, business development is a contact sport. Second, it's less important whether someone can buy something from you or be of some immediate help to you. It's more important to ask "Who do they run with?" "Who do they know?" and "What doors might they be able to open up for me?"

Lastly, people will be all too happy to meet with you and help you if you tell them how they can be of assistance. If you drop the right name to the right person that peron will give you ten minutes of their time because they understand how the world works- "Yes, I'll do you a small favor because there may come a time when I need to call upon you too." And that's just smart.

You've worked in manufacturing, transportation and the service sector. What is the biggest change you see in these industries as a whole?

That's a big question. You could ask ten people and get ten different responses. Clearly, manufacturing is changing as we go to lean manufacturing to compete offshore. We've seen structural changes in the service sector as many call centers have moved overseas.

Although, that may be coming full-circle. There are too many cultural and language barriers. Consumer confidence can be eroded when customers have difficulty communicating via the telephone with people in other countries. Although outsourcing is still popular, some companies are returning their call centers to US soil. We may be overestimating what can be achieved by going global and rushing to outsource overseas.

Why are 85 % of sales calls wasted?

The sales person or account manager hasn't qualified the prospect. A qualified prospect is someone who has a need, and a desire to do something about that need. They have a certain urgency to achieve an outcome and they have the ability to pay you for your contribution.

We waste too much time. In other words, 85% of sales calls chase leads that aren't near-time buyers. We could do a much better job overall of qualifying prospects and clients, and managing our time. Unfortunately, many sales systems and structures encourage the " How many calls did you make today?" mentality. The result is misaligned sales incentives and unqualified prospects.

It sounds like some people don't belong in Sales?

Sure. But sales isn't unlike any other career. It's just that the sheer number of sales people make them more conspicuous, and over the years, they've earned a bad reputation. Once again, the 80/20 Rule applies to sales as well. Roughly 80% of sales people are very average. That holds true of most professions, including the medical profession.

The other 20% keep in mind, are some of the highest paid people in the world. Sales people in the right industries can do very well for themselves.

What are your thoughts on businesses that continue to compete on price alone?

There are price competitors in every line of business who compromise margins. You can't get top quality and best service at the lowest price, no matter what people say. Everybody competes on either price or value.

Our jobs aren't necessarily to provide the lowest price solution, but the best overall value. Remember, 93% of buyers seek value over price. The word value is almost trivialized but ultimately, it's what people buy.

Clients tell me that it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from their competitors, whether the buyer's perception is right or wrong. The moment that buyers see similar selections, the product or service becomes a commodity. Buyers are looking for differences in suppliers, no question about it. We as sales and business people aren't showing them the differences.

What words of wisdom do you have for new college graduates?

Choose your first few jobs carefully and to the extent it's possible, identify a mentor within a good environment. A mentor is worth its weight in gold to new graduates.

There are no spring breaks. Your expectations will need to change as you adapt to the world as it is (Frankly, we older adults will have to adapt to the younger generation as we increasingly communicate with them). Graduates entering the workforce this year will need to be flexible in their thinking and behaviors.

Keep your options open. Plan to be in your first job 36 months. Today, that's the average. Build upon that. I've found in my career management practice, people in their late 20's who've had 4-5 jobs and haven't paid attention to their careers. Now they're competing with other 28 year-olds who did map out their career path.

Try to think beyond the near-term, 36-month plan. If a young man or woman just lets circumstances carry them and moves from job to job without having an ultimate goal in mind, they're more likely to be disappointed at a fairly young age in their career.

Also, your pedigree education may carry you for the first four or five years of your career. Afterwards, it's "Let me see your resume," and "What are your core competencies?" "What can you do for me?" "I don't care where you went to school."

So, it all comes back to following your passion?

That piece of advice is solid. Trust your gut. If you're not whistling on your way to work, get out. Sure, every career choice has its challenges, but should you be having fun at work? Most definitely.

What about workers who still have the "Employee" mentality?

I'd say they're rare today, but that wouldn't have been my answer 15 years ago. Given the velocity of change, mergers and acquisitions, dislocations and reductions in workforce,. anyone who thinks that they'll be with a company longer than 5 to 7 years today is very short-sighted.

Again, it comes back to networking -anticipating change in the workplace, whether voluntary or involuntary in the course of 5 to 7 years. Today, that change may occur within three years. I think you're an anachromism if you think you're in it for the long haul.

What three key messages do you hope to imprint on GreatLakesGeek.com readers?

1.Success is what other people give us. Not that you and I don't have a lot to do with our own success. We do. But think about it. Ultimately, it's the other man or woman who has to believe in, and buy into us.

2. Understand that it's who you know ( a trite saying yes, but it's true) or can come to know or become known among, and not so much what you know.

3. It's not where you start, but where you finish. You're never too old to learn networking skills. It helps to be well-connected but it's not required.

Take that first step, having sensible expectations and you'll be on your way to higher ground. Be realistic in managing your affairs and career. You'll arrive precisely where you want to go in terms of contacts. The rest is up to you to make it happen.

Interview by Cleveland business freelance writer, Tim Zaun timATtimzaun.com. Zaun blogs on business, entrepreneurial, and environmental topics at www.timzaun.com.

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