The Trouble With Tribbles©

We’re about to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before! If you’re my age (or older), you certainly remember the original Star Trek television series (1966-1969). If so, you likely remember the famous The Trouble With Tribbles episode in which little furry and adorable animals had one problem: they reproduced quickly and would eat a planet barren if their breeding was not controlled. Essentially, the trouble with tribbles was that too many was too much of a good thing and the same is true with the volume approach to networking.

In my business development training and coaching work, I often encounter the quantity mindset – people wanting to meet, network, and follow up (or attempt to) with as many people as they can. Their theory is that in creating an expanded network, they enhance the number of referral sources and opportunities. While this appears to be a solid theory, for a variety of reasons it doesn’t work … which is why it’s so important to focus instead on building a solid network of connected relationships with people that know, like and trust you. That means dealing with people who really understand what you do and for whom you do it, who want to help you, and who will proactively unearth opportunities for you.

One of the main defects of the volume approach to networking is that it’s difficult to maintain a network that is too large. We don’t have enough time to stay connected with the network in ways that will create our desired opportunities. Certainly, people will tell you that they’ll keep you in mind (and you’ll do the same). Still, we all know that “I’ll keep you mind” is the kiss of death. Rarely do you receive referrals or opportunities from these people. Rarely do you provide referrals or opportunities to them. Without a commitment to the building of the relationship, both sides are hoping for something that never comes to fruition.

More important than the sheer challenges of connecting meaningfully with large numbers of people, the volume approach to networking suffers from five specific shortcomings:

  1. People forget you
  2. People don’t know the breadth of what you or your business do
  3. People meet someone else that does what you do
  4. People only refer when specifically asked and it’s only an introduction (not an endorsement)
  5. People don’t seek opportunities for  you

Forget me? That’s not possible, you may say. But the truth is that people do forget us pretty easily, especially when all we have with them is an awareness of them (perhaps we met them at an event or even had a single face-to-face meeting with them). People are always meeting new people, just as you meet new people every day; and, despite best intentions, it doesn’t take very long to be forgotten when we aren’t committed to building a relationship based upon consistent communication and interaction.

Even if they don’t forget you, they never truly understand what you do, for whom you do it, and what your business does. They may have a general knowledge, but as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Most people need a deeper understanding in order to be willing to refer or introduce you. They also need this more detailed and intentionally shared information in order to “listen for” opportunities for you. In my work with clients, they regularly acknowledge that even people they know pretty well may not have a good understanding of what they do. This is one of those black and white points. If you can’t say with certainty that people are “educated” on your business, what you do and for whom, then they are not so educated. This lack of consistent and complete education will dramatically limit your potential for opportunities from and through your network.

Because we all live in a world in which we’re overwhelmed with information, chances are that without an invested relationship most of the people that you know will refer the person that they met most recently (assuming they liked them) when an opportunity does arise.

Perhaps the biggest lost opportunity with the volume approach to networking is that the people in your network only refer when they’re specifically asked, and even then, they usually only offer an introduction (markedly not the holy grail – an endorsement). In most cases, a mere network acquaintance will only think of you if someone asks for a referral (that is, if they remember you, remember what you do, and didn’t meet someone in the interim). For example: someone asks your network acquaintance if they know a divorce lawyer, an accountant, a web designer, a payroll company, a software programmer, etc. While this may seem good enough, the truth is that this rarely happens. When it does it’s helpful, but more often than not someone is dealing with an issue or problem (personal or business) and they talk to someone about it. Mere network acquaintances don’t suggest you into the conversation – relationships do.

For example, assume that someone is telling a friend that they’re having a problem with their marriage and that they’re considering a divorce. The network acquaintance usually waits for the ask, but the relationship will ask the friend if they have a lawyer to talk to for advice. If not, they’ll most likely strongly urge their friend to talk to you. Even if they do have a lawyer, the relationship connection will ask questions to ensure they have the right person for the job, and will strongly suggest that they talk to you to make sure they have the right person. In other words, give the endorsement.

Once the opportunity is there, a relationship connection will literally endorse you to the other person (“You have to hire Jane.” or “No matter what you do, at least talk to John.”), while a mere acquaintance will simply offer to make an introduction without any endorsement. Which do you want for your business?

The final piece of the puzzle is the fact that mere network connections only passively listen for opportunities, while relationship connections are always looking for opportunities, suggesting introductions, and even proactively creating opportunities for you. Relationship connections are not only committed to helping you succeed and are well-educated on what you do, they’re also educated on what to “listen for” in order to discover opportunities. Rather than waiting to be asked once a need has been identified, they know to listen for hints or indicators that someone might have a need that you can help with. They listen for these indicators and then take the initiative to ask more questions and then strongly suggest that the person talk to you … even if it’s just to better understand whatever situation they’re dealing with. What could be better than having people who are dedicated to helping you succeed and work not only at opening doors, but at finding “doors”… and then invite you in.

For many people, the volume networking approach seems easier … just get out there and meet lots of people, and hope things come their way. But its ease comes at the cost of effectiveness, productivity, and positive outcomes. When faced with the choice between meeting more people versus continuing to invest in existing or budding relationships, the latter will almost always be the most productive and profitable course of action. A smaller number of connected relationships (where you have a shared purpose, intention and commitment to helping each other) will be easier to build and maintain, will create more (and better) opportunities, and will open the door to your desired business and personal future.

The trouble with tribbles was that they were cute and appealing, but they ultimately didn’t add value and were destructive to the people and planet. Likewise, a network of many acquaintances may seem appealing and comforting, but it won’t feed you or your business in the way you desire. In order to best leverage your valuable time, efforts and energy, invest in building a network of connection relationships that can and will transform your business and your results.


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