How to collect 200 business cards, on Zoom

By Nili Goldfein

Three years ago, Brigadier Dan Klein (fictional name, true story) had just completed a 36- year career in the IDF’s military intelligence and was discharged with honors. A skilled commander and engineer with vast experience in complex intelligence processes, the hightech talent market was waiting for him with open arms. Soon enough, a large company presented him an irresistible job offer of CTO, with a fast-track promotion to CEO in two years’ time. Dan accepted, and I was appointed his consultant to prepare him for his expedited transition.

Huston, we have a problem

When I first met Dan, he came across as the typical military intelligence commander: a brilliant, analytical, and fast learner, who kept to himself and shared information only on a need-to-know basis. But soon enough it became evident that while he was an outstanding manager of structures, processes, and technology, when it came to making small talk - he was clueless. He would never initiate a conversation with strangers, nor have coffee or lunch with a prospective contact. But that’s not how you conduct business.

From no sense of humor to a crazy challenge

A few months later, I prepared Dan for his first business trip to a three-day media exhibition in Barcelona. Among other expected business goals, I also asked that he engage in networking. “If you want me to continue being your consultant, bring back 200 business cards from prospective clients”, I joked. Lucky for me, army generals have no sense of humor and to my great surprise, he accepted the challenge and promised to collect 200 different business cards in the three days.

This was back in 2019, before the Covid-19 outbreak, when global exhibitions were considered the best place for business development. People flew in from all over the world and invested time and money in dinners, golf, cocktails and meetings to connect. All of this was way outside Dan’s comfort zone, but he was an obedient solder, determined to complete his mission.

Mission Accomplished

Dan returned from the exhibition with 200 business cards, happy and enthusiastic like a kid who just learned how to ride a bike.

“At lunch, I walked into the huge dining hall and couldn’t find an empty table”, he began. “I was about to give up lunch altogether, when I remembered I was still missing 188 business cards. I took a deep breath, spotted a guy eating alone, walked over to his table, introduced myself and asked if I could join him. At first making conversation felt forced, but then he turned out to be an important potential client and a friendly, down to earth kind of guy. Soon enough we got down to business, and I began to realize that networking wasn’t that horrible after all.”

With that same spirit of determination, Dan was promoted to CEO in 2021. To this day, he despises small talk and networking, but applies the rules of the game like an obedient soldier. Despite the pandemic outbreak, he still prefers to fly to meetings and can’t stand virtual sessions, but after 5 business trips that resulted in 5 rounds of quarantine, he asked me to teach him how to collect 200 business cards on Zoom.

Remote Global Networking #101:

Covid-19 forced us to replace our investment in global exhibitions, whiskey, business, and cigars, with a new kind of networking, aligned with a ‘big opportunities come in small virtual packages’ approach. It’s complicated, it’s challenging, but the show must go on. Here are some useful insights for cultivating new and ongoing relationships in our new post-corona online reality:

  1. Keep it going: an ongoing, close relationship with both existing and potential customers is important and helpful, especially in times of crisis. Make a point of touching base with your clients regularly, even when there’s no deal in the background.
  2. Be compassionate: The more you show genuine interest and compassion toward your clients, the better chance they’ll choose to do business with you when the time comes.
  3. Boast less, listen more: It’s far more challenging to listen from afar, and while our primal instinct is to make a “grand entrance”, it doesn’t work that way online and can even backfire. Instead, focus on listening carefully to what your contacts are saying and be attentive to their challenges, constraints and needs.
  4. Content is your business card: Take part in relevant online seminars and exhibitions, as speakers, presenters, and listeners. A strong content-based presence will benefit both your personal and corporate branding and create future business opportunities.
  5. Flex & Stretch: Covid-19 has presented the need for fundamental change in how we do business. Apply short, simple, and flexible processes, avoid bureaucratic bottlenecks, and give your managers the freedom to stretch their creativity and solve new problems differently.

Nili Goldfein — EVP Marketing & Business Development at NGG Global Consulting Solutions, specializing in Leadership and Management in a World of Disruption.

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Nili Goldfein

Nili Goldfein

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Nili Goldfein is EVP Business Development & Marketing for NGG Global Consulting. With over 30 years in the field she is creating and running global business.