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How to Network Remotely During COVID-19

Learn about the dos and don'ts of networking remotely amid COVID-19 and how you can still build relationships from home.
Ben Winn
August 14, 2020
Customer Interview

Networking remotely (and effectively) is more than a possibility while professionals are stuck at home. In many ways, it's growing in importance while also being harder than it’s ever been because we can’t all be in the same room together. And that's exactly what we talked to Maranda Dziekonski about.

Maranda Dziekonski is a CS thought leader who is VP Customer Success & Operations at Swiftly, and on the governing council of the Customer Success Leadership Network, a resource that has become invaluable especially for those in our community affected by COVID-19.  

Watch as we talk with Maranda about how people can network from home during COVID-19, including dos & don’ts, tips & tricks, and some ridiculous stories.

Ben: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining today. My name is Ben Winn, I manage community and events at Catalyst Software. And today, I'm joined by Maranda Dziekosnki. Maranda, would you do a brief intro of yourself?

Maranda: Hi! I'm Maranda Dziekonski. I'm the Vice President of Customer Success and People Operations at Swiftly.

Ben: And you are also one of the leaders of the Customer Success Leadership Network, which means you’re obviously an expert on networking, which brought us here today!

Maranda: Yes I've been a member of the Customer Success Leadership Network for two years now. And when COVID hit, we all got together and we were trying to figure out what we could do to help serve our community. One of the thoughts we had was to start a Slack group. So, I went out and started the Slack group, and now we are over, I think 1,240 members-ish in about a three or four-month timeframe.

Why We’re Focusing On Remote Networking

Ben: Fantastic. So, that brings us to our topic for today, which is networking, remote networking I should say. So, obviously, networking has been a very important thing for all of us throughout our careers and we've had the advantage of doing that during non-COVID times where we can meet each other at events and we can go out for coffees. So, in a socially-distanced world, you know, building those relationships, finding those opportunities, building rapport with people is obviously something that's become much more difficult. It’s great to have you today because I want to dive deeper in with you about how people can still network remotely and some best practices for that. So, how to avoid sending someone a LinkedIn invitation that will make them cringe and never talk to you again. To kick things off, how have you found it recently? Have you noticed an uptick? Have you had any particularly weird or strange new LinkedIn invitations or emails out of nowhere?

How (Not) to Network from Home

Maranda: Yeah. You know, not just recently, but I think always. You know, I've had somebody ask me out on a date and then use the opening line of, "I would love to take you out for dinner and wine. But, if you're not open to that, I do think I have this tool that would be great for you to check out." Right?

Ben: What? That's a double pitch!

Maranda: It's like, honestly...I know they didn't want to take me to dinner and wine really, they were just trying to, you know, have that like, shock factor of “how do I get their attention”. Recently, and this was very recently, somebody said that they “love bananas” and they wrote their whole post around bananas, but they were selling some kind of marketing service or wanting my opinion on their marketing tools. You know, I appreciate the funniness of these things, but they never get me to reply. I know that it's kitchy and I know that they're sending that, not just to me, but they're sending it...they're just kind of like spraying and praying LinkedIn to try to get someone to respond...

Ben: That guy had a lot of dinner dates.

Maranda: Right, right. Yeah. Probably needed a part-time job to pay for the dinner and wine.

Ben: Exactly.

Maranda: So, yeah, I mean, we all probably get those really odd things where people are trying to be shocking and, you know, get your attention. But, you know, it doesn't always work. I would say the majority of the time, it probably doesn't work. You'd probably get a good chuckle from behind the screen, but you never know that because they don't reply back to you.

Ben: True. Very good point.

Getting a Response on LinkedIn

Maranda: The ones that I tend to reply to are folks that are genuinely looking for advice or help. I will say though, my LinkedIn has become like my spam inbox. And it's sad because I love LinkedIn. But now, I'm always trying to constantly navigate through, is this person trying to sell me something or do they really want to network with me? Do they really want to, you know, partner on things? And it's really sad to me that that's where I am with it and I think that's not just me. A lot of folks are finding that the selling on LinkedIn is a little like it's kind of taken on a life of its own. So, where LinkedIn is a very powerful tool and a fantastic networking tool, it can also have that bad side of it, like the ugly side of it.

Ben: Definitely. So, I mean, some still might come through on LinkedIn that are genuine or where they have done their research thoroughly and they are able to just fit that niche that you happen to be looking for. But going beyond LinkedIn, where else have you found to be, or where would you advise people to look, if there's someone who has been maybe unsuccessfully using LinkedIn, just kind of hitting people up with the title, VP Customer Success and not hearing anything back, where would you suggest they look as alternatives?

Non-Linkedin Options for Networking Remotely

Maranda: So in pre-COVID times, I would say go to meetups. You know, go to meetups, you know, have those conversations, get exposure to folks. I am a believer that we will again one day be able to go to a meetup and, you know, have the free meat and cheese platter that's usually provided and get to know each other, right? But until then, I think places I would say to go are definitely attend virtual conferences, listen to webinars, and then reach out to the folks that gave those webinars and tell them what you learned about it or what you learned while you were on it and what you liked or ask questions. I know everybody's busy, but I do know that I personally try my best to reply when somebody reaches out and say, “hey, I saw this, you know, I saw this podcast or I listened to this podcast you did, I really liked this point.” You know, I at least will reply, "Thank you. Let's connect.” Slack communities are starting to become more and more of a thing. I really love it. The Customer Success Leadership Network is also doing mentorship hours. That's another great way to get exposure to people that you normally wouldn't even outside of your, you know, small area, like I'm in the San Francisco area, I'm now meeting people all over the world that wouldn't have been able to come to my meetups.

Ben: Right. True. It's a good silver lining.

Maranda: Those are all... It's a great silver lining, right? A little anecdote, I saw somebody post on my Facebook that they joined a Zoom networking event with some famous musician that they loved and were able to ask them questions, right?

Ben: That's so cool.

Maranda: So, these kinds of things are starting to come out now. And I think this is going to be like our next wave of how we network and how we get to meet people, while it's still via Zoom or video conferencing, it's networking, it's building relationships.

Ben: Yeah. And I think we're going to get better at it too. I think a lot of us were pretty rusty at the start of it to try to have those kinds of calls or conversations and get to know someone purely through a computer screen. But I feel like we've gotten better or we've just gotten more accustomed to it. What's your reaction to the phrase, "Picking your brain?"

“Picking Your Brain” And Other Yellow Flags

Maranda: It depends. I'll look at, you know, their profile and if they're in business development, or, you know, in sales. Sometimes I will disregard it, but if it's somebody in customer success or a fellow, you know, customer success leader, I'll hop on and talk to them. Yeah. I mean, it really depends. I think there's a better way to approach people. So, if that's what you're going to say, "I want to pick your brain." Great. But, you know, maybe saying, "I have these three things that I'm trying to think through, I think that you could potentially add some insights. Would you have 10 minutes you can spare?" Right? One of the things I hate, hate, hate, hate is when somebody sends me an email saying, "I want to pick your brain. Is Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. okay for you?" I know that they're trying to make it convenient for me because they've proposed a time, but it just feels very presumptuous. Rather than ingratiating yourself to say, do you have time available? Here's the time I actually want. I don't know why, there's just something about it that just sits bad with me. At least let me first say yes or no, and then we can figure out the time.

Ben: I think that's a great point. What are some other ways, I mean, if someone is job seeking right now, obviously there's still a ton of job seekers. If someone's looking for advice on job seeking or they're looking for good resources, what's the best way that they can reach out to, or that you would recommend they reach out to someone to ask for help. Because sometimes it's hard to ask for help, especially from someone that you don't know really well.

Maranda: Yeah. Well, let me tell you the wrong way, and then we can talk about the right way.

Ben: Sounds good, let’s do it!

The Wrong Way to Reach Out

Maranda: Yeah. So, right now, I have an opening and I have people messaging me left and right on LinkedIn and Slack. It's okay to send me a message, but don't send me three messages on LinkedIn, two or three on Slack, then find my email address and email me because this is happening, it's happening. And I get it. Like the human side of me, I understand like there's a high unemployment rate, if there is a job posting, there's a lot of competition to get that job. And these are scary times. I understand that. But annoying the hiring manager is not going to help. You have to assume that that hiring manager or the representative you're messaging is incredibly busy and they have a lot of candidates they're trying to get through. It's okay to respectfully message them once and say, "Hey, I applied, I just really love your company because of blah, blah, blah. Really passionate about the industry because of blah, blah, blah, and I really would like to be, you know, considered for a phone conversation to see if there's a mutual fit," move on. You know, right now, I have someone who is doing just what I said and now has just reached out to one of my team members. In the same way, saying “I've reached out to Maranda and I haven't heard back.” So, don't do that. That's just overly aggressive and it could potentially burn your chance to get that in.

The Right Way to Reach Out

Maranda (Cont'd): Now, that being said, it is okay to reach out, do set up your LinkedIn profile. You know, "This is who I am, I wanted to ping you here on LinkedIn because, you know, my LinkedIn profile speaks to a lot about who I am and what I represent. I'm really excited to see you or hear from you in the future." Boom. "If I'm not a fit for this, I would love it if you could maybe direct me somewhere that you know may be hiring," right? You know, don't burn bridges, like, you know, leave it open because not everyone's going to be a fit for that one role. So, just keep the door open for that. Also, tools like Slack and things like that are fantastic, but don't abuse it, once again. Don't abuse it. I am incredibly honored and that I am connected with so many awesome people on LinkedIn and in the Slack group that we've created. And if I'm going to reach out, I'm going to do it seldom enough to where if I'm reaching out it's for something important. Because I know that, you know, everybody's busy. So, that would be my advice to candidates, like don't abuse that privilege of having that direct connection.

Ben: Definitely. You have a limited number of shots, right? Before that bridge is burned. So, you know, once, twice, you know, people are cool. And then I think once you get north of three or four, you know, it's that awareness that should be kicking in and people need to be aware of that. And there's a reason that you're not hearing back.

Maranda: Well, the reason could be the person is busy, right? It's not personal, it's just that they're busy. And they haven't gotten to your resume yet. But now when they get to your resume, they're definitely gonna know who you are and it might not be for good reasons, right? So just be careful about that. I would say, lastly, you know, a great way to think about it if you're a candidate is, think about your public persona. If you're trying to get into a company or you're trying to break into another industry, think about the story your LinkedIn profile tells about you. You know, especially when you're not able to go on-site and, you know, get that face-to-face time with people. Think about the story that your LinkedIn profile tells about you. Does it tell the story that you want it to? Are you showing potential hiring managers or folks that you would be networking with the best of you? Are you putting content out there? Are you, you know, sharing others' work, things that you find interesting, right? Just interact with people and build out that LinkedIn profile. I think that's incredibly helpful when both networking and looking for your next role.

Ben: Awesome. Those are all fantastic pieces of advice. What about for people who are networking more for, let's say you want to have some problem solved at work or something like that, or you want some more advice on how to maybe assess a customer success software, or, you know, what to look for in your new hires and that sort of thing. Again, I think a lot of people in CS are actually quite good at being emotionally intelligent, and we're always thinking about how other people are going to receive things, so sometimes that can make us cautious to reach out to ask for help because you don't want to be in a weird position and everyone's busy right now.

Networking For Problem-Solving

Maranda: I mean, if you're looking for advice, one of the great things about customer success professionals is they love to talk, they love to give advice.

Ben: Clearly.

Maranda: Yes. Clearly. So, where I usually start is, I would just do a LinkedIn post and say, have some advice that I'm looking for on X, Y, and Z, or go into a Slack group and ask for advice in a Slack group. And you know what? People jump all over that. They jump all over the opportunity. Now, if you're more private and you have advice maybe on something confidential or strategic, feel free to reach out to folks like myself or others if you have a problem. But, be okay with them not having time for that. And start out with that. Start out with, "I know you're busy and I completely understand if you don't have time to help me with this problem, but if you do, I would be very appreciative. Here's my problem. And if you don't have time, do you know somebody that I could possibly talk to?"

Ben: Fantastic. I think we covered a lot there. Are there any final parting words of wisdom you'd like to share with the world?

Keep Your Head Up & Help Others!

Maranda: I want everybody just to kind of keep their head up and keep their chin up. I know that this is a tough time, but really tap into your network. Build a network, put yourself out there, be helpful. I wrote a post about this yesterday, but be kind, you know, so I think it's just a really important time right now. Everybody's struggling one way or another, whether it's with employment or being stuck in our homes for months on end, so I think it's just having that extra level of empathy, but also having a sense of humor.

Ben: Definitely. I love that. And I think one of the important things you touched on there, all of them are, but, being helpful to others I think is huge. And I think that goes not only for executives like yourself, but if you're someone who's job-hunting or you're looking for help for yourself. The best way to get it is to give it and, you know, put that out into the world, see if you can offer your help to other people or to organizations and just volunteer your time or your energy for something. And just even putting that energy out, you know, putting something into the community will, I think, bring a lot back.

Maranda: Absolutely. One hundred percent.

Ben: Awesome. Well, Maranda, thank you so, so much for your time. Everyone should check out the Customer Success Leadership Network. It's fantastic, and hopefully we can chat again soon.

Maranda: Thank you so much, Ben. It was my pleasure.

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