Early in my career, the majority of my business contacts came from my immediate circle. They were people who wrote about the things I wrote about. Thought about the world the way I did. Did the kind of work I did and even spent the majority of their time at the same events I went to
Don’t get me wrong—I love what I do. But since then, I’ve made it my goal to master the idea of networking with people outside my industry. And I urge any professional working in inside sales to do the same.
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When you start to build relationships with individuals outside your industry bubble, interesting things start to happen. In today’s blog post, I’ll show you the advantages of connecting with people outside your industry and arm you with tactics you can use in your day-to-day life to establish these relationships, nurture them and make them count.
To start, here are a few reasons why you should be networking outside your industry:
New perspectives offer new ideas
When you’re constantly surrounded by sales professionals, it’s easy to fall victim to confirmation bias. The ideas that have allowed you to succeed in your profession are very similar to the ideas that have allowed your colleagues to succeed. As a result, it’s likely that you share similar philosophies on how to find success in your job and in your industry.
On the other hand, when you connect with people from other professions and industries, you gain new insights that can help you solve problems by looking at them from a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.
More referrals from new connections
One of the best parts of building a network outside your industry is that the people you’re not already close friends with offer great opportunity. What I mean is that these individuals offer you an opportunity connect with folks you wouldn’t be associated with through your existing network.
This thinking is built on a sociology concept called the theory of interpersonal ties. In a study titled "The Strength of Weak Ties," Mark Granovetter of Johns Hopkins University writes that interpersonal ties can be simply classified as strong, weak or absent. He studied 282 white-collar professionals who received their jobs from a referral in order to gauge the strength of their relationship with the person who made the referral. 16.7 percent said they saw the contact twice a week, 55.6 percent said more than once a year but less than twice a week, and 27.8 percent said once per year or less. In other words, most of these professionals benefited not from close connections, but from weak ties that opened up new opportunities.
Cornell University's David Easley and Jon Kleinberg talk about this concept a bit deeper in their book “Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World,” where they explain why staying in circles made up of people just like you can be a disadvantage: "The closely-knit groups that you belong to, though they are filled with people eager to help, are also filled with people who know roughly the same things that you do."
Add value through your own network
Growing a network outside your industry opens avenues to learn about new opportunities. In some cases, these opportunities might not have a direct impact on your business but could help you make a valuable connection for a client, partner or colleague, allowing you to add more value to your network and your new connection.
Potential to be a future customer
And while it might seem pretty obvious, one of the biggest reasons to network outside your usual events and conferences is to find new customers. People from other industries who need a service or product like yours may not be linked into the same circles as you and your typical customer. Understanding this reality can put you into a position to gain a competitive advantage by networking outside the box.
At this point, I’m sure you’re sold on the idea of networking with people outside your industry. But how do you find them? How do you connect with people who don’t attend sales conferences or industry events? Here are a few simple ways to kickstart and nurture relationships with people from other industries:
Schedule time to research events
People from other industries aren’t just going to fall into your inbox and CRM. You’re going to have to be a bit more intentional about connecting with these folks, which means spending time and getting outside your comfort zone. In particular, one of the best ways to connect with people has been and always will be meeting in person. There’s just something about meeting someone in the flesh that offers a deeper connection than what you get with video, phone and email.
That’s why I recommend scheduling time to research events happening in industries that are interesting to you. Visit a site like Eventbrite and search for keywords that would be used in the industry you’re looking to target. Be sure to sort the results by the type of event that best suits your budget and comfort level—there are options ranging from meet-ups to conferences. Then start a running list of events that would make sense for you to attend.
Host fun gatherings with interesting people
Over the last few years, there has been a surge of entrepreneurs and executives creating their own unique events to grow their network. As an example, Sol Orwell, the co-founder of Examine.com, recently hosted an event where he raised money for charity by inviting 140 people to taste and vote on a variety of cookies made by 27 professional chefs. People loved it.
After the Cookie Off (awesome name, right?) proved to be a successful event for helping out a charity and facilitating new connections, Orwell decided to do it again with what he called the Sausage Showdown. One attendee described it as “the most relaxing networking I have ever experienced.”
Another great example of someone running these types of events is Dan Martell and his Founder Dinners. Unlike Orwell’s Cookie Off and Sausage Showdown, the Founder Dinners happen more frequently, are smaller in size and don’t have a price tag to attend. Here’s a short video that Martell put together showcasing what the Founder Dinners are all about:
Think about creating your own mini-events and inviting interesting people who work outside your industry. It can be as complex as a Cookie Off or as simple as a dinner at a local watering hole where everyone picks up their own bill and enjoys good times and good food.
Become active in their online communities
Establishing relationships in person are great—I agree 100 percent. But sometimes, it’s more efficient to spend time building these relationships from your keyboard (at least to start). One great way to identify and build relationships with people from other industries is to go into the online communities where they spend time and strike up conversations. Be transparent about why you want to connect with them (you’re interested in the space) and don’t go into these communities—or any relationships—with the expectation of seeing immediate returns.
Comment on blog posts in their space
It’s likely that in any industry you can think of, there’s someone writing about it semi-regularly on a blog. In most cases, there are tons of people writing about a specific topic. If you find a blogger who isn’t a mini-celebrity, reach out to them after reading a few of their posts with your thoughts and feedback. This simple gesture is a great way to get on their radar and make them familiar with your name.
Over the next couple of weeks, comment on their posts, share them on social with a tag and reach out to them if you’re ever in town. Use their blog as a starting point to establish a relationship and use your interest in their industry to act as a starting point for a relationship.
Wrapping things up
So there you have it: a handful of ideas that should help you understand the value of networking outside of your industry along with insights that will help you do it.
If I could give two pieces of advice it would be this:
- Don’t look for immediate return
- Don’t go into these engagements with the sole purpose of making more money
If you’re walking into your relationships with business as a focus, it’s likely that you will come up short. The focus should simply be on adding value to the lives of those you meet and having some great experiences with them. If a relationship turns into a business opportunity, that’s a great thing—in fact, it’s likely that this will be the outcome if you go into it with the right intent.
But that’s the key. You need to go in with the right intent. Otherwise, people will see right through it and show you the door before you even take your shoes off.
And check out this episode of The Startup Chat podcast where Steli and Hiten discuss the value of seeking diversity in all areas of your life: Why You Should Invest in Diversity in Your Startup (and Life)