The List: An Approach to Maintaining Your Professional Network

26th May, 2015 No Comments Blog

David Blanke and I got to talking over lunch recently. He had left Sailthru and was thinking about his next gig, spending a lot of time meeting with people, primarily CEOs and investors, who could help him identify and weigh his options.  Like most busy startup (and other) executives, Dave hadn’t devoted as much time to relationship building as he would have liked. . We all recognize, though, the value of maintaining such relationships – both personally and professionally – and marvel at those rare individuals who manage to strengthen such relationships while maintaining focus on their day-to-day roles.

Dave and I talked about how to help the rest of us build important relationships in a natural, ongoing way; essentially, how to make regular relationship building easy.

We settled on a concept we call the List – the 20 or so people you should be talking to a few times a year. If you are a technology executive, these people will likely be a blend of fellow executives, investors, and industry consultants/service providers. They can help you do your job better, expand your thinking, and connect you to other people. They are force multipliers.

Here’s how to make the most of your List:

1.  Write out your List.  Think about the most influential, relevant people in your professional life that fit the characteristics outlined above.  Prospects and clients are purposely excluded from this list.  If your list is only ten, that’s a fine number, too. You have to start somewhere.When you’re looking to build your list, ask those on your list who they talk to and if they would be good for you to meet. Put the List somewhere where you’ll see it regularly. In your calendar, in your Trello board. Assign it to your EA.

2.  Build a regular rotation.  At the very least, meet with each member of the List twice per year.  You can do the math, that’s 40 meetings per year. That means you are having roughly one networking meeting per week.  If you don’t have a budget for this, find it. Block this time in your calendar. Fill it with someone on the List. Breakfast or lunch is easiest, low impact on daily work routine.  Some of the 20 will drop off.  That is normal. Add people to fill the holes.

3.  Make it easy for the other person. E-mail, suggest a meeting, and provide a few times that work for you.  Go to them. When in doubt, pick up the tab.

4.  Be prepared for each meeting. Preparation can be quick.  The goal is to know what you want to talk about, to reflect on the other person and on yourself.  You don’t need a formal agenda, just a list of talking points.

Update yourself on the other person before you meet.  Check relevant news and social feeds. See if there is anything you should know or help out with.  Did they just raise money? Did they just sell a portfolio company? Did they just invest in a new company? Did they get a promotion? Show you’re genuinely interested and you’ll get genuine interest back.

Take stock of your own needs.  You might be considering a new product idea that you want to bounce off this person. Or you might be dealing with an operational issue you want to discuss. It might even be worth it to share discussion points with him or her beforehand to get them thinking about it.

5.  Maintain the right frame of mind.  The List is functional in nature, but the relationships you are building are real and human.  Your goal is to connect. That requires giving. If you are thinking about taking, you will not build strong, lasting relationships. And the meetings should not feel like work – they should be fun.  If you genuinely dislike someone, take him or her off the List.

People are busy. Your meetings will get scheduled, rescheduled, rescheduled, and then rescheduled. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.

Follow up right away on follow-ups. Nothing demonstrates you care more than this type of conscientiousness.

Listen; don’t talk all the time.

Excessively thank people. No one has to help you. They do it because it feels good. That’s why you do it. Make them feel good. If appropriate, send them a gift as a token of gratitude.


Finally, give yourself time to get good at this.  Most people are not born with the relationship building skill. They have to hone it.

In the words of E.M. Forster, “Only connect…”


Post script: David recently joined Clarifai as General Manager, an opportunity he discovered through a CFO relationship he first developed a few years ago. Huge thank you to that person!


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