Francois Ganneau is the Managing Director of Safeer and spent some time talking with The Industry Leaders about how to build a great network.
Can you share a little about what makes you an authority on building a great network?
I reckon there are several ways to build a great network, which you need to tune and adapt to the environment/culture you evolve in.
In hindsight, I can see that I’ve been successful by building strong relationships with my clients, prospects, colleagues and the overall ecosystems I was involved in, thanks to a couple of factors.
The fact that I lived and worked in a variety of countries (France, USA, India, Libya, Saudi Arabia) allows me to quickly find some common grounds with a potential connection, and therefore establish a positive rapport.
I’ve often led commercial and customer facing roles, so you have to put yourself out there, and connect with a lot of people (colleagues, partners, clients, consultants etc).
I’m a team player at heart, who loves building strong relationships
By strong relationship I mean one that is based on trust, where people also recognize your value and appreciate your values (the team sport that I deem the best for that? Ultimate frisbee. Feel free to check out the piece I wrote about ultimate frisbee and leadership https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/similarities-between-leadership-ultimate-frisbee-francois-ganneau/ ).
Overall, this requires time & efforts obviously, and I would argue that in most cases it requires solving problems together. Only in hard times can you appreciate the true qualities of a person.
How important is networking for professional success, and why?
“Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone”, Reinhold Niebuhr
In some rare cases, you remain in the same company, and naturally build your internal network, without much effort.
However, for the majority of people, professional life is now a mix of experiences, in terms of employment type, geographies and companies.
Plus your definition of success may involve fulfilling experiences, high responsibilities in a MNC or being an entrepreneur, working along inspiring leaders... It will likely also evolve over time.
I would also argue that to progress or be presented with exciting opportunities you need to have people appreciate you and trust you.
Therefore, you need to make a conscious effort to build your brand, and network, in the sense of building and nurturing relationships.
Bottom line, it’s often who you know rather than what you know which makes the difference.
So go ahead, publish on LI, reach out to people by sending meaningful connection requests, attend trainings and conferences, there are lots of tips out there.
What's your usual ice-breaker question when meeting someone for the first time?
It really varies depending on the set-up, the person, and my mood.
I usually try to smile and be positive, crack a light joke.
One of the best questions I like is “what good book have you read recently?” or “what’s your favorite sport?” or “tell me a fun fact about you?”
I will certainly learn something, and be able to talk about my passions and build a genuine rapport.
How do you approach networking differently when you're meeting someone in person versus virtually?
With Zoom, Teams, Meet etc becoming standard practice, I believe the difference is fading.
With video you can now read body language, and cues pretty accurately
And I’ve noticed that for some people, who may err on the shy side, virtual meetings can provide comfort, as they would be located in their “safe place” with a sense of control over the situation.
Though I crave real f2f interactions, and believe we can’t/shouldn’t go 100% virtual, I must admit that, when done well, virtual networking is very powerful and efficient.
What are some common mistakes people make when trying to build their professional network, and how can they avoid them?
From my perspective, if you remain polite and genuine, it’s hard to go wrong.
One issue I often see is someone asking (sometimes even demanding) but never offering his support, eg they’d ask you to be introduced to x y or z, and neither thanking you nor offering you support in return.
Another is focusing on the wrong people, and spending time building connections that do not add value.
It may sound too transactional, but in essence, this is it.
We want a good “ROTI”, return on time invested.
Fun fact: google “ROTI Indian food” if you do not know it already 😉
Have you noticed any differences in the types of relationships you build through in-person versus virtual networking? If so, can you describe those differences?
For me the lines are getting totally blurred
Had you asked me a couple of years ago, I’d probably have said that when virtual it’s hard to joke or feel a real connection, but nowadays, this doesn’t hold true anymore.
Still, I believe that to get to a higher level of intimacy and trust, you need to meet f2f, over a meal (one of my favorite activities), or drink, and let things unfold naturally, vs the relative control of a virtual setting.
What are some strategies you've found effective for building rapport and establishing trust with someone you've only just met?
There are several I’d list:
• Be genuine.
• Find a way to get them to talk about their passion, and you about yours (not too much, listen more than talk)
• Identify some common ground
You can and should do your homework, learning about the person you’re meeting (identify common connections, read about their opinions, career etc)
• Create an element of surprise to break the ice and connect.
You basically need to stand out.
How can someone use social media and online networking to expand their professional network?
Networking is by definition an interaction.
So, you need to go the extra mile and reach out to people when building your network
The idea is to differentiate yourself.
For example, publish an article about how your passion and work correlate (in my case I wrote about ultimate frisbee and leadership, a good ice breaker 😉 ) This gets people engaged and you can refer to this article in the future (if they have done their homework, they may even bring the topic themselves).
We are all unique.
So, my advice would be to publish relevant information, which you can either create, or share, and comment on social networks.
Then, on LI, when reaching out to people, write why you want to get in touch, a simple sentence has a much higher likelihood of getting you the connection than a blank request.
The other social networks that I use (IG, FB, Twitter) are more about getting news and updates from my closer personal circle rather than professional network. Of course, in time some people transition from a standard professional connection to a friend.
So, in a nutshell, find an angle, and be consistent in your efforts.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to networking and trying to make connections in their industry?
Read about networking, there are lots of useful tips & books out there.
One of the keys I realized is attending industry events, live and virtual. That’s a great way to start building a network, as you will meet lots of relevant people in a short time and have something in common.
Other classic advice include joining and contributing to groups on LI, following thought leaders…
A few off the beaten tracks:
Think of reading recent books on the industry and summarize them in a post or article, tagging the author and other industry peers you have in your network or that you are targeting.
Write about how your passion relates to your work, how you adapted to a new country etc, show yourself, with your vulnerabilities.