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Advisors, Private Equity

How to Integrate Online and Offline Networking


Pick an industry — shopping, education, hospitality, dating, healthcare, labor, transportation — and odds are good the internet is disrupting it.

In a previous post, we posited one reason businesses like AirBnB, Kickstarter, and Uber have prospered despite initial skepticism: “They have deliberately and systematically highlighted the positive connections and successful transactions completed on their networks.”

For networks, what better endorsement than showing users and potential users the very real benefits of using their platforms? But for all the millennials and early adopters who flock gleefully and seemingly without reserve to new networks, there are plenty of others who remain dubious.

At Axial, we’re bringing the private capital markets online. We encounter our fair share of skeptics in our outreach. M&A is a relationships game, and dealmakers have a reputation (fair or not) for being about as old-school as they come. Connections have historically been premised on geographic proximity and six degrees of separation. Newbies are taught to establish a network and stick with it for life.

Traditional networking (conferences, cocktails, direct referrals) will never go away. Nothing rivals a firm handshake and prolonged eye contact when it comes to establishing trust.

But on the other hand… it’s hard to argue with closed deals.

It’s Not All or Nothing

Going online doesn’t mean you stop your offline business development and networking channels. The most successful business development professionals integrate traditional and online strategies to expand both the breadth and depth of their relationships.

As Trevor Young points out, expanding your online presence “will in all likelihood provide more chances for you to extend your influence and authority offline.” Opportunities include invitations to speaking events, in-person meetings arranged online, and a more visible and sought-after presence at conferences.

Visualize Success

Just as you should have clear goals for what you want to get out of trade shows or conferences — e.g., number of meetings scheduled, number of contacts made — so you should outline specific aims for online channels.

If you’re trying out content marketing, keep track of the analytics for every blog post you publish, whether on your own site or on a platform like LinkedIn. How many people are viewing your post? How many are commenting on it? If you’re active on Twitter, track your follower count and engagement with each tweet. This will help you plan outreach and figure out what type of content resonates best.

On Axial, take note of how many investors or business owners you’re connecting with. How many firms pursue your deals, or how many deals are others sharing with you? Small steps like adjusting the messaging in your investment teaser or refining your criteria can make a big difference.

Be Proactive

If you sit in the corner of a conference hall for eight hours staring at your iPhone, chances are good you’re not going to develop much new business (but you might win a few levels of CandyCrush).

Same goes for lurking online. Unless you put yourself out there, the positive impact on your business will be minimal. This might mean retweeting links to helpful articles, publishing your own blog posts or sharing others’, or sending a private message to an intriguing business owner on Axial.

At Axial, we’re always working to make it easier for members to find and pursue more promising relationships. Our new advanced search tools allow members to save specific search terms (e.g., “steel products in the Midwest”), and run searches on a regular basis to ensure you never miss out on new relevant connections. Members will also be able to search on a much more granular level for companies and deals. For example, are you only interested in private equity firms with active platform campaigns? Do you only want to see deals above $20 million in revenue? Advanced search allows you to find only those members and deals who fit that specific profile.

Consistency is Key

The M&A funnel is by nature wide at the top — to get a dozen deals to LOI or due diligence, you need to source at least several times that number.

Just as with deals sourced offline, not every deal sourced online will close. Maintaining a consistent online strategy, regardless of initial results, is crucial. As you continue to build up your online presence and hone your networking and outreach strategies, success is bound to follow.

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