Who Trusts You? The Key to Attracting Advocates
By Lynne Waymon and Andre Alphonso
Carolyn called Maria and said, “I just talked to Eric over at Harper and Conrad. They aren’t happy with their A/E firm. Eric said, ‘They’re just not listening to us like they used to.’ I told him you all were known for client service and just finished a similar project. He’s going to give you a call.”
As Maria laid her phone down, she thought, “Wow. Wish I had ten Carolyn’s in my briefcase!”
You can. You can build a cadre of Advocates who provide you with hot leads, timely information, and valuable resources. Encouraging networking contacts to become Advocates is a process anyone can learn.
People have the mistaken idea that others are either networking contacts – or they’re not. Social media encourage that on/off perception. You are linked or not; you are friended or not. It’s far more complex than that. This diagram shows the stages of trust development.
(see attached diagram)
Outside the outermost circle are Accidents, chance encounters. An Accident is the person on the airplane sitting in 14A when you are in 14B. You might have a great conversation, but Accidents are people you meet only once, so you have to work really hard to build a relationship with them. A relationship won’t happen unless you deliberately initiate future meetings.
An Acquaintance is somebody you don’t see regularly, but you could find again if you wanted to. You meet an Acquaintance through someone you know. For example, you went to a barbecue last summer at your cousin’s house, and the cousin’s neighbor’s brother was there. You could find that person again if you had to. An Acquaintance is somebody you’re not going to normally run into or see regularly, so again building a relationship is a challenge.
An Associate is someone who’s joined the same group you’ve joined – someone you see over and over and over. When you both
- Belong to a professional association
- Belong to networking organization at work or outside of work,
- Attend a church or synagogue or mosque,
- Go to a fitness center,
- Take part in alumni activities
- Join a leisure time activity
You’ll see the other members again and again. Frequency of contact is important. Our Contacts Count research shows it takes about six to eight contacts with someone before they know who you are and before they give a hoot!
- Six times that you come into contact – hopefully face-to-face, but maybe by phone, or even e-mail
- Six times when they get to see your character and competence, and you see theirs
- Six times when you teach them what to come to you for, what you’re looking for, what you’re good at, what they can count on you for
- Six times when you’re learning all about them
- Six times before they get comfortable with you, before they know you, before they trust you enough to pass your name along to other people.
Of course, you can probably remember a time when you met someone and it was like old home week, when it didn’t take six contacts before you felt the trust that long-term relationships are built on. But, on average, think of yourself as someone who’s trying to create six contacts with the people with whom you might do business with.
You can see why joining and becoming active in professional associations like SMPS and other arenas where you see people regularly, is such a great way to build your network. The group, whether it’s leisure time or professional, through meetings, and committees and events, helps you create those six contacts.
Accidents, Acquaintances, and Associates can all become Actives. You and your contact move to the Active Stage when you get into activity, when you exchange information, resources, and introductions. So pour your energy into having a rich conversation – one that uncovers a commonality or a need. You know an Active well enough that you know how to find him. You look forward to seeing him. When you converse, you look for ways to give him something. You might tell him about a favorite resource, a website, an article. So an Active is a person you’re giving to and– hopefully – a person who’s also giving to you.
When you get into exchanges with people at the Active Stage, they are looking for two things: your character and your competence. If they see these two things exhibited in what you say and do, then they want more activity, more relationship with you.
Realize, when you’re in the Active Stage with contacts, that you’re in the process of teaching people enough about you that they become willing to “go out on a limb” for you, “stick their neck out “ for you, and “put their good name on the line” for you.
People will only do that and become your Advocates after they have experienced your character and competence and trust you. When they see an opportunity, they will grab it and give it to you. Their antennas will be up for you. Advocates seek each other out and say things like:
- “Hey, I’ve got an idea for you,” or
- “I ran across something you’re going to love. Let me e-mail it to you,” or
- “I was at a conference last week, and I came across a really good opportunity/idea/resource/person I think you’ll be interested in.”
And then, right in the center of the diagram, are your Allies. Think of Allies as being on the Board of Directors of your life. These are the people you turn to
- When you need advice.
- When you want to commiserate or celebrate.
- When you have an important decision to make.
Allies care about your well-being and your career. You’re going through life with them. They are involved in all aspects of your life, both personal and professional. You have known them for a long time and have a high degree of confidentiality with them. They will go to extraordinary lengths to help you succeed. You’re not going to have very many of these people in your life, because it takes a lot of time and attention to develop that kind of trust.
At each stage, there are good next steps you can take to develop the relationship.
At the Associate Stage, listen generously. Listen with an ear for “How can I help this person? Who do I know that he or she might like to be introduced to? What information or resource do I know of that might be useful to this person?” When you give to someone, you automatically, gracefully, professionally move to the next stage of relationship building – the Active Stage.
At the Active Stage, show your character and competence in all you do and say. Invite the person to do something with you. Create opportunities for people to experience your character and competence.
There’s something we call The All or Nothing Rule that kicks in here: “If you do one thing well, people will assume you do everything well. If you do one thing poorly, people will assume you do everything poorly.” So, when you join a committee that your key contact serves on, for example, be careful to do an expert job. You’re teaching about your character when you arrive on time and are well prepared for a meeting. You’re teaching about your competence when you distribute a well-written, comprehensive report or come up with a checklist that makes sure your programs go smoothly without a hitch.
At the Advocate Stage, look for opportunities, resources, referrals, and introductions that will enhance your contact’s life or work. Because people won’t be there when you have your shining moments, it’s important to tell each other stories about your successes.
At the Ally Stage, confidentiality and support are the keys to a continued relationship.
Three Things To Remember
- You can’t make people move to the next stage. You can’t “Turn Jim into an Advocate.” When you give something to Jim, you become an When he reciprocates, he joins you in that Stage. There’s no manipulation. After you know his character and competence, you recommend Jim for a special assignment. You’ve become his Advocate. When he nominates you for an award he becomes your Advocate.
- The goal is not to become Allies with everyone you meet. That’s not necessary or possible. Being and remaining at the Active or Advocate Stage with someone can be very beneficial.
- Acquaintances are more valuable than you might think: They provide bridges to diverse contacts and circles you otherwise might not be able to access. When Nancy accepted an overseas assignment in Japan, she recalled that her uncle’s neighbor just came back from an assignment there. She contacted her uncle to re-connect with the neighbor and learn more about doing business in Tokyo.
To sum up, Advocates believe in your character and competence because they have seen and heard you in action. Advocates can talk about your successes in some detail because you’ve told them stories about the time you saved the day, solved the problem, or served the client. Advocates have evidence of your expertise because you’ve demonstrated your talents and capabilities to them. Advocates look for opportunities for you because you’ve shared with them what you are looking for and what would be valuable to you. Advocates respond quickly – usually in 48 hours. And, most valuable of all, Advocates recommend you without reservation.
About The Authors:
Andre Alphonso is a Partner at Contacts Count LLC and co-author of the best-selling book on business networking entitled Strategic Connections: The New Face of Networking in a Collaborative World (AMACOM, 2015). Alphonso has also held a number of leadership and training roles in The Forum Corporation from General Manager of Forum in Sydney, Australia to Managing Director of Forum in the Asia-Pacific Region.
Lynne Waymon is founding partner of Contacts Count LLC, the international training firm that specializes in business networking skills for professional service firms. She is co-author of Strategic Connections: The New Face of Networking in a Collaborative World (AMACOM, 2015) a book that focuses on how to connect, converse, and collaborate for business results.