Back in the day, the size of someone's rolodex was supposed to be an indication of their ability to open doors. Today it would probably be the number of people in your LinkedIn network. But that's just a measure of breadth, not depth. And when it comes to getting things done, it's depth that counts.
If you're trying to establish a presence in a new sector or simply expand in your traditional markets, your network might contain exactly the right people, in the right customer organisations, with the right issues and money to spend but it's unlikely. So the temptation is to hire the owner of the perfect rolodex.
I’ve seen it happen. All over. Sometimes it works. Sometimes.
The better approach is to go for depth over breadth. Put in the effort necessary to build trusted relationships and develop a nurtured network. These are the people who know you care about them and their business. They trust you because you've earned that trust. They understand what you do and the value you bring. These relationships are the result of giving without an immediate expectation of return or reward. And that means you won't have hundreds of them. You'll be lucky if you have a dozen - maybe two. But in turn your dozen will have a dozen.
It takes time and effort to build relationships that allow you to really get things done, to form connections and alliances, to make a ruckus. Get to know what each person cares about. Make sure every meeting or contact is useful to them (rather than just to you) – this requires extra care to avoid the passage of time withering the relationship. Think about what you want to say and why they’ll find it interesting, useful or relevant. You’re making an investment to build capital – relationship capital. It’s as important to your business as financial capital and the results of not having enough are similar.
If you're going to hire people to open doors, choose those who recognise the hard work needed to build long-term relationships with the right people and offer value beyond the perceived quick fix. That way you'll be more likely to find yourself part of the conversations in which opportunities are formed rather than burning time on meaningless interactions generated by superficial contacts. Without relationship capital, a guy with a rolodex is just a guy with a rolodex.