6th Sense: How Technology is Transforming Networking

The higher bandwidth of face-to-face interactions still delivers benefits: creativity, productivity & the development of bonds of trust.

http://www.bookofthefuture.co.uk/services/share-the-vision/futurist-speaker/This morning I gave a talk about the future (and history) of business networking for the 30th anniversary of the GM Chamber Stockport Breakfast Club meeting. Here’s a rough script and the presentation – click here to view the deck.

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This year I have sent or received 143 emails suggesting we meet and chat over a coffee. The power of the digital age means that give or take a small margin of error on my search terms, I can know this.

Technology increases the reach and the sophistication of my networking – and it is going to do a lot more in the future.

This morning I want to talk about the impact that technology has already has on the way people, and particularly, I network. And the impact that I see it having in the future. But really this is as much about the way that we all work, and the nature of that work in the future.

My name is Tom Cheesewright and these days I work as an Applied Futurist. If you don’t know what that means I quite understand, it’s a totally made up job. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

I created this business because I strongly believe that we live and work in an age where change is happening faster than ever before. Change has always been accelerating but now that we appear to be in the elbow of an exponential curve, it is more challenging than ever for organisations to respond at the rate required to help them to thrive, or even survive.

What makes me think I can help people? Well some people might say I have a short attention span. But I’d argue I’m quite good at change.

10 years ago when I first came to this event, it was to promote my second business. An idea called EggHeads.eggheads

EggHeads was designed to be a home IT support franchise, helping people to choose, buy and use modern technology. It failed.

It was perhaps slightly ahead of its time, and it had some other fundamental flaws: finding people who are good with technology is easy. Finding people who are good with people is slightly harder, but they’re out there. Finding people who are good with people AND technology? Not so easy.

To promote Eggheads I visited just about every networking event in Greater Manchester. I didn’t care if it was BforB or BNI, Chamber or Simply Networking, I got out there. I still have eight A5 books of business cards, mostly filled with people I met on that tour.

This was networking circa 2005.

Things changed rapidly in the following years. I tried a few other start-up ideas, and in 2008 started two new businesses.

The first one was a content marketing agency. Again this was slightly ahead of its time: if you’re in marketing these days you’ll know you hear about little else but content-driven marketing these days. Well back in 2008 I got together with a web designer and we wrote a manifesto. For a short while we ranked number one in the UK on Google for the term ‘content-driven marketing’. Think about what that would be worth now. But back then no-one was searching for it.

At The Lever we tackled the issue of networking in two very different ways, one very serious, one a little more fun and very ambitious.

netrecordsWe decided to take on MySpace. Despite that fact that at the time neither of us could code. This was my first experience of outsourcing to India. Suffice to say this wasn’t a great success. But it was hugely educational.

We recognised that the way that people discovered and bought music was changing. One of the most fascinating effects of the early Internet was disintermediation – the removal of layers of middle men. Instead now we have giant, largely open platforms on which anyone can connect: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. We wanted to create this for music, giving bands the chance to find an audience and sell their music directly rather than relying on record labels to pick the winners.

Today most of us use platforms like this as part of our business networking. Our sales and marketing strategy.

At roughly the same time we started Net Records, we started to recognise a problem in the campaigns we were running for our clients at The Lever.

We were helping clients to communicate with their prospects across a range of channels. They might be speaking at an event like this. They might have a website (we found a surprising number of companies that didn’t). They might be doing email campaigns. And they might be active on social media. We were sending things out in the post for clients, where these things didn’t hit the mark. And we were running telemarketing campaigns.

One day a client said to me: “Where are my prospects up to?” Not ‘how’s my email campaign going?” Or “how are the telemarketers doing?” He wanted to know the current status of his relationship with all of the people we were reaching out to.

And we had no way to tell him.

I spent 17 hours over the next few days trying to mashup the completely different report formats that I had from all of the different campaign elements to try to give him a single, simple answer. I learned a lot about Excel that week.

But what I came up with wasn’t really satisfactory. So I started another company.

CANDDi pulls in data from your website, from social networks and from every email you send and receive to give you a much richer view of all the people you interact with. With CANDDi we raised around half a million in venture capital and last year its revenues grew 83%.

But CANDDi isn’t the complete answer.

When I started Book of the Future a couple of years ago I wanted to take another crack at this problem. How can we try to unify all of the information about the people we network with on and offline in a single place?

The classic answer is a CRM system. Who here uses a CRM system to keep track of all their contacts?

Personally I use Capsule, partly because they’re based in Manchester and nice people, and partly because it’s a great product.

But it suffers the same problems as all CRM systems: it’s only as good as the data you put in it. If you rely on people to put data in manually, it will always be out of date.

So I decided to automate as much as possible.

Does anyone in here use Zapier?

Zapier is like super-glue for the web. If you want to stick two different things together, you use Zapier to connect them up in a really, really simple way.

Now in our business we have a lot of different touchpoints with people. The biggest one is probably Twitter, where we add around a hundred followers every week. We have a few hundred subscribers to the blog via email, plus the people we email individually. There’s LinkedIn where I usually add contacts that I meet at events like this, and there’s a few thousand visitors to the website every month.

funnelWe can organise these into a very rough funnel: the reality is that the funnel doesn’t really look like this and there’s lots of stuff we can’t track. But it’s nice to have this idea that the first thing people do when they discover s at an event like this, on the telly or the radio or online, is follow us on Twitter.

Then they subscribe to the blog.

Then we connect on LinkedIn.

Then we meet for coffee, or they buy one of our tools from the website.

Now this is all nice in theory and is starting to work well in practice, but it’s still a little clunky, particularly here in the real world.

I’ll give you good example.

When people ask me for a business card I have to point out that as a futurist, it feels a little odd carrying around little slips of paper. So I connect with people on LinkedIn there and then. This means hoping that I have a decent internet connection then fiddling with my phone for a while. What I really want is for things to be slick, automatic.

Imagine all of the information stored in my CRM system overlaid automatically on my vision. Imagine a heatmap showing how hot every prospect in the room was, and tips about how to talk to them. Imagine a handshake being captured and automatically triggering a LinkedIn invitation.

Some of this you will find frankly horrifying. I understand the fear factor. But if you plot the direction of travel of current technology, you can see how we might get there.

Take Crystal, a system that analyses personality profiles to help you to write more effective emails tailored to getting the desired response from recipients. Or look at Google Translate on smart glasses, overlaying information in a language you can understand upon the real world. Microsoft’s Hololens takes this to the extreme.

But with all of this digital intelligence, the ultimate goal will still be a physical interaction. All the evidence shows that the higher bandwidth of our face-to-face interactions still delivers benefits: greater creativity and productivity. The development of bonds of trust. This is what networking is about, today, and in the future.

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You can book futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright for your event. Find out more here.

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