International network connections can be the oil that lubricates the international business engine and allows the machine to move efficiently forward. The right overseas introduction at the right time can propel a company forward into a strategic relationship or a high-value client. Without those introductions, you feel like that high school student who never gets asked to the dance: under appreciated, awkward and never able to live up to your full potential.
The truth is that networking is an inherently messy, disorganized business. Finding the right connections can be quite tricky. Much time can be wasted trying to meet the right potential Brazilian client and British partner. For now business relationships in most parts of the world are built on direct peer-to-peer relationships and trust built those individuals. That is different than in the U.S, Germany, Australia and other business environments where contracts are the foundation of all working partnerships and transactions. Most of Asian, African and Latin American business builds on direct relationships instead.
You have probably observed that some people are just inherently better at networking than others. You may even know a few of these “super connectors” who seem to know just about everyone. I have seen two types- the super connectors who trade introductions almost like currency and those who have a larger agenda to promote other services or even the success of their region. A great example of the latter type is super connector Arlene Marom. Based in Tel Aviv, Arlene is deeply networked into the Israeli tech community. She also networks in Europe and North America to both find her own clients for marketing services and to connect Israeli companies with international markets.
As a company leader, here are some ways that you can engage with the right international connectors:
Reach out and start asking smart questions
I normally ask industry contacts, who do you think I should talk to about doing business in Country X? Sometimes I go through a few referrals before I find that well-connected resource. But even the well connected can have ulterior motives. Be sure to get third party validation that your super connector has a solid reputation. Then keep asking questions to learn how to do business in this new environment and who the right people are to know.
Respect the Networker’s Role & Reputation
When a network connector makes an introduction for you, they are putting their reputation on the line. It is vital to be modest, engaging, quick to respond and highly professional. It is also a good practice to report back on progress with that relationship to your network connector. Now that said, there may be times when you accidentally let those introductions languish untouched. If this happens, engage as soon as you can with a sincere apology. It may take time to rebuild trust. But is also might be altogether too late to salvage the introduction. Never ignore the lead entirely for the sake of your relationship with your network connector.
Find a way to make it worth the Networker’s effort
One of the challenges of being the connectors between companies that should be doing business together is the business model. How do you get paid for introductions? No one knows the value of the relationship about to be forged, if it even moves forward at all. Be sure to find a way to make introductions worth the network connector’s time. This could be a commission based off of the increase in revenue. It could be referrals back to this connector for leads to contract for their services. Or it could be a gift. Always be aware of bribery laws, particularly in the case of any government officials, and follow the laws closely.
It’s never too early to start building your own international network
Networking styles vary greatly. Some engage closely with colleagues and others who they interact with frequently. Others are highly social and know hundreds if not thousands of people. Regardless of your style, reach out to new people when possible and keep positive work relationships strong through the years. I also encourage you to find mentors and take on your own protoges. Mentor-protege relationships tend to be some of the strongest.
Remember that to be effective in international business, at least some relationships will likely need to span both your professional and personal circles. You will need to care about what your connections care about: children’s weddings, health, holidays, etc. Get invested in their lives for the long term.
As you continue to grow into international markets, the right connections can be absolutely crucial. Even young companies pre-internationalization should consider making connections. Connections won’t be instantaneous: it takes time to forge new relationships. Invest wisely!
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