Read Ian’s articles on Forbes.com

The old adage says, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Building a valuable network can help drive a successful career. However, having knowledge about who and what is often less important the facts surrounding when. It seems that today, timing is everything. Perhaps the adage should change to It’s Not who or what you know, it’s WHEN.

The Problem With WHAT You Know

I have a client who has a great cloud-based service offering for a specific industry. Their service is head and shoulders above the competition. Yet, that’s not enough. I know professionals with amazing talents, that would be a tremendous asset to another company to fill an important employment position. Yet, their talents are not sufficient. So, perhaps it comes down to who you know (or whom).

The Challenge With WHO You Know

Perhaps you sell expert witness services to law firms and insurance companies. Maybe your family is best friends with the general counsel for the insurance company. How about if you run an advertising agency, and your old college roommate is a brand manager for a large company? Those connections certainly would be valuable, but they are still not enough.

If the insurance company doesn’t have cases that align with the expertise you offer, or the brand manager already picked an agency one month ago, then knowing the people is not so valuable. Timing, once again, is most important.

WHEN Matters Most

In my interview with Dave Currie of The List, Dave shared the importance of getting what they call actionable sales intelligence. Actionable intelligence indicates opportunities for business. “The biggest shift is from a one-to-many sales approach to a one-to-one sales approach,” says Currie. He adds, “One easy data point is a senior-level executive shift in an organization. Anytime there is a change in that position, there is an opportunity to approach the organization where the person just arrived. Often, companies may not realize that there is an even larger and immediate opportunity in the company from which the employee departed.” Old-school methods rely on basic demographic data like company size, and employees. In the new age, you seek triggers that spark decisions.

Don’t Stop There

The easiest way to grow business is to NOT lose your existing accounts. One of the surprises that The List has seen in the recent year is a client reversing the intended use of their tool a bit. Historically, their clients would use their service to research new business opportunities. Dave shares, “Many of our clients have started using our tools to monitor their existing customers.” This gave me an Ah-Ha moment. It is easy to focus on pursuing new business and almost ignoring your existing clients. If your competitors keep an eye on your existing clients and you are not, then you could have your best customer slip right through your fingers.

Concrete Examples

A commercial real-estate company used to simply seek companies where they had a lease expiring in the upcoming couple of years. Today, you might see that a building has been sold, and approach the tenants. You might see that a company launched a new product offering, and might need new space to show off that product.

The cloud-hosting company might look for a company who just had a major system outage or had their systems hacked. If you serve law firms, you might look for a change in personnel at the law firm or in their technology staff. You might monitor social media for complaints by the employees about their existing vendors.

In just about any industry, look for a big play by one company, and seek out discussion with their competitors. You might say, “I see that XYZ just launched a new product. We have some ideas on how you might be able to leapfrog their offering. Is it worth a discussion?”

By having actionable intelligence that indicates the right timing, what you know and who you know can be incredibly valuable. Once you know the iron is hot, then you can leverage your contacts and skills to strike at the right time.

It’s Your Turn

What are some of the trigger points for your product or service? Post them on LinkedIn or Twitter and maybe you’ll capture the attention of your ideal client.

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