Is e-networking a new opportunity in procurement? The fastest growing social networking site, Facebook (www.facebook.com), has more than 64 million active users and about 250,000 new registrations each day. It even has a user group called ‘Supply Chain Management Professionals‘ with more than 700 members!
“Even if you aren’t a Facebook addict, it’s hard to ignore online social networking” says Delwyn Cummack in the CIPS Supply Management Journal (March 13th 2008 edition). He looks at how procurement people are using the Internet to connect with other professionals and how this type of networking has moved into the business arena.
Specialist sites such as www.viadeo.com and www.LinkedIn.com, a sort of sophisticated Facebook for the over 30’s, enable users to see others’ professional credentials and allow ideas to be exchanged in real-time between a broad range of employees. This could prove especially useful for decentralised or global businesses.
According to Christopher Barrat, Director of Management Consultancy and IT services provider The Greystone Partnership, “social networking is especially important in procurement”. He argues that networking is crucial as firms are moving towards a matrix structure, and buyers need to influence people they don’t have a direct working relationship with.
E-networking can also make it easier for buyers to make external contacts and connect with other procurement people as it allows them to connect with those they would not normally approach in person, usually through a common contact.
But will we eventually conduct most of our business through faceless communication? Probably not in the next few years anyway.
6 degrees or 3 degrees?
No, not qualifications, but degrees of separation.
In Stanley Milgram’s 1967 “Small World Experiment” the theory of the “6 Degrees of Separation” was born. This theory states that everybody in the world is connected to each other via 6 degrees of separation.
Let’s assume that everybody has, on average, 250 contacts and each of these 250 contacts, and each of them, in turn, 250 contacts, etc. The greatest value of your network may be in that second degree.
It has been said that there is only three degrees of separation between people in procurement. The idea being that you know someone in procurement, who knows another person in procurement, who knows you. Have you ever experienced this?
Technology is thus a real benefit for us but ‘over-communication’ is one of the pitfalls. The real benefit of technology is our ability to stay in touch with a wide range of like-minded people, even if they are geographically remote or in a different time zone.
How to network at conferences
If you don’t go, you won’t know.
It is easy to forgo attending conferences if you’re busy, but this activity is a long-term investment. You are bound to learn something or meet someone who could be useful in the future. The old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” applies.
Work the room – If you have made the time to attend, you must make the most of it. Think not just of the person you are talking to but of everyone they know standing on their shoulders, and then everyone they know standing on their shoulders. This exponential growth of contacts is why networking is so powerful.
Be interested – When you have introduced yourself, turn the conversation back to the other person. Find out about them, and perhaps see how you can help them first. People love to talk about themselves!
Build rapport – Standing and speaking in a similar way to your colleagues – i.e. ‘matching and mirroring’ their body movements and tone of voice – is an excellent way to relax people, which helps to build relationships.
Who do they know? – You might not approach the right person first but before you give up check who else they know, remembering the theory that everyone in the world is connected by those six degrees.
Move on – If the conversation has reached its natural end, move on. It is not a social faux pas to say “lovely meeting you, I would like to talk to ………., so do you mind if I circulate?”
Follow up – If you make good contacts follow them up to keep your network vibrant and alive. There is no need to be a pest but there is every need to be persistent. You never know when you might need them, or they might need you.
The biggest pitfall is to confuse networking with selling – it is not the same thing. People who see it as selling are likely to come across as pushy, and to force the pace of the process. Networking is about creating sustainable relationships over time, and the best ones involve considerable up-front investment.
Lastly, you need to see your network as a living organism. It needs food and nurturing to sustain it, you need to be proactive in letting it flourish. Technology can help in this but, ultimately, it is a human process. Making time in the canteen, corridor or coffee break to positively grow your network will be time well spent.
We all know how our work grinds to a halt when the ‘network is down’, so make sure yours is up 100% of the time.
And remember to smile!
Author: Elaine Porteous of CA Procurement – Africa Recruitment can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Thrown a sheep lately?” by Delwyn Cummack, Supply Management Journal, 13 March 2008
- Christopher Barrat is Director of The Greystone Partnership (www.greystone.co.uk)
- www.facebook.com – Facebook procurement groups: Supply Chain Management Professionals – more than 700 members;
- Networking in Logistics – more than 200 members; and
- Sourcing – The China Business Network – more than 90 members.
Business networking sites: