For an entrepreneur with a B2B product or service, networking events can be valuable. Face time (real face time, not the iPhone feature) is powerful. Instead of analyzing data, you get to analyze reactions in real-time, through an actual conversation, as a human, not a machine.
Sure, algorithms can crunch way more numbers, at ever-increasing speeds, but they serve a different purpose. Humans have intuition, and the ability to form quick, genuine, and lasting relationships. With digital marketing campaigns, prospective customers do not get a firm sense of the mind behind the campaign. And there is no singular mind. It’s an elaborate orchestration of data, creativity, and automation.
Real-life, “old school” networking is different. You get to build rapport. You can notice small details in non-verbal communication. You can perceive someone’s tone and discern their intent, without confusion. You can capture a person’s undivided focus. You can identify common ground. And as your network of contacts grows, you can leverage that network for sales. Of course, this goes against today’s temptation to digitize and automate everything. However, it could be the key in finding the right product/market fit.
By jumping straight to a Google campaign in order to test and analyze market demand, entrepreneurs could miss out on more in-depth, direct, and informative interactions. A critical comment from an actual person, face-to-face, might allow for a business model to be fine-tuned, before money is poured into the already deep pockets of Google and Facebook.
Camiel Roex, a growth hacking trainer at Growth Tribe, told me that startups can glean valuable information about market demand through real interactions.
“Many startups use growth hacking as an excuse,” said Roex. “They focus on getting a lot of traffic to a product that doesn’t have product-market fit yet, let alone problem-solution fit. This can be compared to pouring water into a leaky bucket. The water will just leak out of the bucket. Instead of pouring more water into it, the bucket needs to be fixed! Growth hacking is data-driven. When people think about data, they immediately think about numbers. But, the data that we care about is not only hard, measurable, quantitative data. It’s also soft, unstructured, qualitative data. That’s exactly the type of data you get from talking to people. Of course, I wouldn’t be a growth hacker if I didn’t also use online tools to gather this qualitative data.”
Roex conceded that growth hacking sometimes has a negative connotation, due to shady, black-hat attempts to drive traffic to websites. However, true growth hacking is about a process of experimentation, not sleazy tactics.
“It’s all about validating assumptions. Ideas might seem amazing at first, but turn out to be garbage once you test them,” he said.
This process of experimentation could also include meeting with possible clients and building relationships. Roex proposed that even this can be measured.
“Let’s say that you want at least 10 business cards, 15 LinkedIn connections, and thereby 25 new leads,” he said. “Now you’re able to compare the effort and money you put into this experiment to the results you’re getting. Is it worth it? If so, ask yourself how you can scale this experiment. If not, tweak your strategy.”
Previous generations had to maintain a Rolodex and nurture relationships on the golf course. They couldn’t scale their businesses as quickly or tap into international markets with minimal investment. But they still achieved results. They still experimented. (And they got to play more golf.)
Aaron Glazer, co-founder and CEO of Taplytics, told DMN that even “new school” techniques become old once they are widely adopted. Overall, a successful strategy needs to be built upon the awareness that time is a crucial and limited resource.
“There needs to be a balance between time spent on analysis, and on execution and learning,” said Glazer. “If you only run a campaign once you have all of the information and know exactly how it’s going to perform, you’ve waited too long and lost market position.”