Six Degrees of Networking

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A few years ago, my wife was heading the fundraising efforts for a summer music camp in Vermont, one with an excellent reputation and a broad reach. The thank-you letter she was working on read, "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Solzhenitsyn, I would like to thank you for your gift."

"You're writing to Alexander Solzhenitsyn? The writer?" "Yes." "Why?" His son, it turns out, goes to the school and the author contributed money. While in high school, she attended the same camp with Mathew Brubeck, son of Dave Brubeck, and Josh Mostel, son of Zero Mostel. Robin Batteau, who worked with her on the board of directors, is not terribly famous, but he wrote the Chevrolet jingle, "Listen to the heartbeat of America." Through the same circles, she knows someone who was taught to play guitar by Joan Baez.

The point is that the people who know people who count are often surprising. This is a premise of marketing that CPAs rely on all the time. It's a premise that Customer Relationship Management systemizes, and it helps firms who buy into the belief that marketing is scientific, a view articulated by Susan Sheridan, senior marketing vice president of Accpac. There are procedures, says Sheridan, that marketers follow that yield results, and those that don't. The results from such steps can be measured and often the results predicted.

Partner Insights

Technology can improve the scientific approach, and firms that use CRM are doing just that. In manufacturing circles, CRM is often applied as a sales automation: What is a customer's credit limit? How much is in inventory? What is the customers' payment history?

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Among accountants, the question is more often, Who knows who? What staff members went to school with potential clients? In which organizations are members of the firm and prospects rubbing shoulders? Which categories of business produced the most referrals and how did those results compare to the previous year? Measuring this helps measure the success of marketing, as well as suggesting areas in which marketing can be improved.

Technology also changes the dynamics of how firms operate. There is a real opportunity to democratize business and to find relationships that lead to new business. Maybe it's the receptionist who knows someone whose cousin went to school with someone who once worked somewhere.

There is a potential here to ennoble non-professional jobs, to make firms less partner-centric and more business-centric, to put the emphasis not so much on who does the work, but on who contributes to making the business work better.

Software does not just speed things up. It has the potential to change relationships and how we think.

So, you might have tapped my wife for contacts for a major fundraising effort (she went to camp with one of THE Cabots from New England). Me, I run in different circle. One of the childhood neighbors married Billie Ray Cyrus' cousin, and somebody nearby goes camping with country singer George Jones. Call me if you need to tap into the Nascar circuit. Or get you a deal on a used John Deere.

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