You can pick up a vintage Rolodex on ebay for under $30.00 if you want to have a dust-collector cluttering your desk.
Show a 21 year old a picture of a Rolodex and ask them to describe what they see and why someone would use one and you will get some hilarious responses. Rolodexes have been eclipsed by far more advanced organization and productivity tools, but you already knew that.
Which begs the question: why in the world you ever say, “and they have to have a Rolodex” when recruiting sales people (or anyone who is client-facing)?
If you have used the term Rolodex in conjunction with requirements for a job, you are probably thinking, “oh you know what I mean when I say Rolodex…I mean contacts: Decision makers who can be called by a sales person who wants to make a sale.” Sigh.
Others of you might be thinking, ‘no one says Rolodex anymore…’ Um, yes they do which is why this post is necessary.
Let’s clear up a couple of things: First, a Rolodex is not a skill. Second, the term Rolodex has connotations associated with the past.
Rolodexes, like defecting spies, belong back in the Soviet Era. For those of you who have read spy novels, you know exactly what I mean. The utility of a spy declines precipitously after one debrief. That’s right: once your contacts are extracted you’re not much use.
In the world of B2B sales, knowing certain people may accelerate a step or two in the sales cycle, but ask any sales effectiveness guru which steps in the sales process you can skip in order to close a deal faster and you’ll be told, “none.” Even if you are best friends with the CEO of a company, or you are responding to a really, really warm sales lead, you will still have to work through a sales process. Knowing someone in the company may give you an automatic spot at the starting line, and it may eliminate some competition, but you must still complete the race. There are no short cuts to the finish line in sales.
Networking is the New Black
Broadening your thinking about what you mean when you say Rolodex will serve you well as a hiring manager. Remember, a Rolodex is not a skill, but networking is—one that can be developed and refined over the course of a career. Once you understand that Rolodex = Deals Closed is a false equation, you will open up a new world of hiring possibilities and you will enhance your interviewing skills in the process. You will also sound a lot more modern. Millennials don’t say Rolodex. In fact, some of them don’t even know what one is.
We are in a new era of networking. As we all know, LinkedIn changed everything. With more than 400 million members, it is a networking juggernaut. More than a social media site, LinkedIn is an important business tool. Like all tools, using it effectively will produce desired outcomes.
Beyond LinkedIn, there are other social media platforms that can be useful networking tools. There is also a wealth of information available on teh topic of networking. In his book, Networking Is Not Working, Derrick Coburn talks about how it is possible to build rich and meaningful business relationships through proper networking. Needless to say, as a networking strategist, Derrick is not a fan of the traditional cattle call, business card-exchanging event (for those of you who have never owned a Rolodex, back in the day some people actually stapled business cards to their Rolodex cards; hysterical, I know). He sees events like these as a waste of time. Rather, Derrick advocates for a distinct approach to networking where you become a connector and "the ultimate resource" which enables you to "enhance the value you deliver for your best clients." Derrick’s approach to networking is all about giving before you ask for or receive anything. And if someone does something for you, you need to quickly think of a strategic way to reciprocate.
Diane Darling has written two books on the subject--The Networking Survival Guide and Networking for Career Success--and regularly speaks and presents on the topic. Diane is a self-described “extraverted introvert” and thus understands that networking does not come easily to everyone. She also asserts that it is a skill one can learn and, if practiced properly, reap obvious rewards such as business leads and career advancement.
It's not really a stretch to use Metcalfe's Law to help illustrate the point that Rolodexing is not a skill, but Networking on the other hand is a skill (because it embodies a series of actions and interactions that involve learning, using, and mastering tools and platforms):
Here’s your “aha” moment: networking is skill that requires mastery. A Rolodex is a companion to the rotary telephone.
Much like other skills you may evaluate in a sales setting, orienting a series of interview questions around how a candidate networks will land so much better than the cringe-worthy, “tell me about your Rolodex.” With this fresh thinking about how to conduct an interview that showcases your heightened awareness about networking, here are some suggested interview questions that will help you get the information you seek:
- How have you gone about building your network?
- Can you give me an example of how you effectively leveraged someone in your network to advance a step in your sales process at some point in your career? (notice I didn’t say skip a step)
- How do you nurture contacts on LinkedIn?
- Whom do you accept into your LinkedIn network and why?
- Do you attend networking events (either in-person or online)?
- When someone in your network has helped you in some way, how have you reciprocated?
- Tell me about your follow up strategy when you meet someone at a networking event, trade show or conference.
By the way, there are no right or wrong answers here. Only opinions and personal standards that will enable you to understand where someone is on their journey toward networking mastery.
If you are hiring someone with the expectation that he or she will start calling everyone to whom they’ve ever sold within the first couple of weeks of arriving at your company, I implore you to rethink this requirement and unwind that expectation. Effective networking is all about immediately establishing value, expertise and the ability to make helpful connections for others first.
If your average deal time is four months, six months or even a year, your new hire with strong networking skills will need to be completely oriented to your company, its offerings, and the value your company brings before they are ready to start leveraging their network. And even then remember: Networking requires a “what may I do for you?” approach, not an “enough about you let’s talk about me and my stuff” proposition. Networking is about nuance, grace, class, and giving.
Part of improving the acquisition of sales talent in your company requires improving and modernizing your interviewing skills. Along with throwing out old notions about what you think constitutes a “good” sales person, throw out old fashioned terminology that stops short of accurately expressing what you mean. Very few people can pick up the phone, call a contact and close a deal. As we’ve seen from the two networking experts highlighted in this post, it is a skill that takes time and that must be cultivated.
Bear in mind, because networking is a necessary business skill, if you are a hiring manager you should be thinking about how skilled you are at networking. Don’t have outsized expectations of your candidates or your employees if you aren’t willing to improve upon this skill and, as you do, you’ll need to make a promise to your future self that you will extract the word Rolodex from your vocabulary once and for all.
At the risk of putting too fine a point on things, here are a few final thoughts:
- Pick your decade: Rolodexes are so 1960s/70s/80s so let’s move on from using that term in recruiting.
- In case you missed it in the first sentence, here’s a link to that vintage Rolodex on ebay.
- If you still own your Rolodex, send it to the Smithsonian!