How Plugged In Are You Really?

In a recent editorial, talking about the importance of vendor reps making face-to-face contact with their dealer base, I mentioned shop-talk as one reason why: Finding things out through the grapevine that might not learn any other way, especially sitting in your office waiting for the phone to ring.

Keeping an ear to the ground, a thumb on the pulse or any other analogy doesn’t just apply to vendor reps, but to everyone in the industry who needs to know what’s really going on.

As an AV pro, you don’t exist in a vacuum. You’re part of a network of relationships between your peers, partners and rivals, not to mention existing and prospective clients.

Everyone keeps tabs on what’s going on in his or her market, one way or another. Whether it’s casual gossip or making a more concerted effort to find out in-depth information, it’s beneficial.

I know that I beat this drum all the time — that you need to evaluate every aspect of your business and strive towards making all your functions best practices, and that applies to being plugged in to your network. Maybe it’s because I love gossip, but I’ll assert that the only difference between a personal strength and a character flaw is whether or not it pays off for you.

We all have stories about how a rumor or casual comment from a peer paid off as being actionable intelligence that led directly to a new business opportunity. That should underscore the importance of cultivating your network and actively working it for information.

As I mentioned earlier and in fact, mention all the time, everything you do at work should have a process and gathering information is no different. I break the process down into three steps.

The first is collection. You can find things out in two ways. First, people bring information to you. Second, you go out and find it for yourself.

That’s why it’s important to keep in touch with your network. Whether you’re having a business meeting or just catching up over coffee. Make the effort to reach out on a regular basis to stay in the loop.

I like the analogy of fishing: Cast your reel out again and again and see what you can catch.

I’d like to stress the importance of keeping an open mind when you hear things. Not everything you hear is always going to be obviously crucial.

Read between the lines and puzzle out of there’s more to the story — which leads to the next point.

Corroborate your information. Odds are, when you hear a story or rumor, there’s at least one other person in your network who’s heard it or has another piece of the puzzle.

Just for example, when I heard from an unlikely source that a major player in my channel was closing eight locations in Alberta, the first thing I did was reach out to people I know who are involved with that company who would be able to tell me more.

Once you’ve confirmed your information you need to decide what you’re going to do with it. Whether it’s a lead you need to follow, or a competitive threat you need to address, forewarned is forearmed.