You may have thousands of contacts in your professional network, but how many of them are you actually influencing?
In the age of big data, “vanity metrics” are a plague that affect every profession. Anyone who has a website, for example, will know that page views and “likes” may make you feel good, but are very difficult to link with key business drivers.
Vanity metrics to watch out for in procurement might include measuring team activity, counting your total POs, your number of suppliers, or number of projects without actually measuring the value that they’re delivering. A team member who brags that they’ve had 100 meetings with key suppliers in the past six months is talking about a vanity metric, but if that same person provides numbers around the savings and other value flowing from those meetings, then we’re talking about real value.
Online networking is another area rife with vanity metrics. No matter whether you have 500, 5000 or 10,000 connections across LinkedIn, Procurious and other platforms, your network risks being nothing more than a dormant asset unless you contribute. By “contribute”, I don’t mean that you “like” something they wrote or share photos of your holiday – I mean that you share your mastery, your insights and your experience. For the majority of us, it’s rare that we contribute meaningfully to our networks.
Remove the collection addiction
I believe we have a collection addiction in the business world. In previous years we collected piles of business cards wrapped in rubber bands – which often (if you’re anything like me) ended up gathering dust on a forgotten corner of the desk. These days it’s about racking up the number of connections either online or within our databases.
Both these situations have the same outcome – a massive potential network and no influence. I would rather you have 50 people who are highly engaged in everything that you do – commenting, joining the conversation and sharing your insights among their own networks – than 5000 people on a list that have never been touched.
In other words, popularity is the wrong metric – focus instead on influence. Focus on having people engaged enough with what you’re doing – so much so that they would happily share your ideas, insights and achievements with everybody that they know. In other words influence is the ability to say ‘look over there’ and have people engaged enough to look. Your responsibility then becomes making sure that what you point them towards, what you contribute, is and valuable as possible.
Engage rather than collect
While collecting contacts is a vanity metric, engaging with contacts is a value-driving activity. The best way I know how to engage with others online is to become the ‘primary translator’ of your space.
A translator is someone who goes out into the areas where others don’t have the time, nor the bandwidth, nor the experience to go, and bring relevant information back for their network in a language they understand. If you want to stand out and build your influence, you need to become the translator of valuable information for your target audience. What does that look like? The best place to start is to make a list of the top questions the people you are wanting to influence are asking in relation to your area of expertise. If you’re not sure – ask! Then systematically go through that list and find the best way to contribute the answers. It might be in the form of articles, videos, internal presentations, checklists, how to guides, insight reports or even preparing in advance in order to contribute more actively in meetings.
Another good exercise is to take a moment to think about the translators that you follow. Whose work do you consistently follow or read? Now think about what they translate for you; the value they bring, and how they go about it – do they present the information in essay-length blog articles, or bite-sized posts? If you consistently give them your valuable attention – I guarantee you they effectively translate something important to your world.
Speak the language of the business
You’ll notice I mentioned that the first step in becoming the translator – is getting to know what questions are important to the people you’re trying to reach. For procurement professionals this means understanding what questions your business stakeholders are asking. What are their challenges? What are their opportunities? That they may or may not have seen? Then it’s up to you to access your own expertise and bring that information back to them – not in procurement technical language, but in their language – in the language they already speak.
Translators know that they need to be able to speak the language of the business, and also understand that a multitude of languages exist within every organisation. This is often referred to as ‘charismatic language’. Every group and community of people has one. Your finance function, for example, will speak a very different language – use very different and specific words – than your stakeholders in marketing. What they do have in common, however, is that neither group of stakeholders will want to hear you talk about RFPs, RFXs, or tenders.
Become the trusted authority
Take time to revisit your network of stakeholder (both online and in the office) and think about what subjects you can translate for them – within your area of expertise. Doing so will capture their attention and help build their perception of you as an influential subject matter expert. However – much larger than that. They will know that you care about – and have real value to share in relation to – the issues that are important to them.
It’s this decision – to become your organisations primary translator and contribute your mastery in a format that resonates – that will quickly accelerate you to the role of trusted authority.
Now that’s the metric of real influence.