The key to a successful network is empathy

HTGF Partner Claudia Raber, who is responsible for relationship management at the company, explains the art of successful networking, the amount of time that should be invested in building relationships, and why empathy is so important.

Claudia, you’ve been in charge of relationship management at HGTF for over a decade now. What does that involve exactly?

Claudia Raber: It’s been a core element of HTGF from day one. Alongside the various other benefits we provide, one of the things we need and indeed aspire to do for our start-ups is to open doors to other potential investors and customers from industry and the SME landscape. This is a critical success factor, both for portfolio companies and HTGF itself – it’s in our DNA.

How do you build your network?

Claudia Raber: By adopting a highly strategic mindset. And that’s something that we need to have, given the diverse areas in which we invest. A lot of our work involves active market screening. We identify which players are active where, and what they’re interested in. The support landscape for start-ups has grown considerably in recent years. There’s a lot going on. We’re frequently seeing new players coming in, while others are disappearing. We keep an eye on all these developments and identify which benefits the individual players have to offer – both for us and for our start-ups.

How do you keep in touch and manage your network?

Claudia Raber: We’ve come up with special instruments such as HTGF events aimed at different target groups: the HTGF Family Day for our investors and selected market partners; the High-Tech Partnering Conference, where we bring together potential customers and cooperation partners; and the Private Investor Circle, which we designed specifically for private investors. On top of that there are also regular industry events on a smaller scale.

In a nutshell – what is the key to successful networking?

Claudia Raber: Over the years, we’ve learnt seven principles that have proven effective time and again:

  1. Know your own targets and set priorities before you focus on setting up a network. Start-ups for instance should talk to potential customers first and then approach potential investors with the knowledge they have gained.
  2. Be ready to network at any time, in any place – you never know, this might be your only chance to win somebody over. My advice for start-ups would be: Make sure you absolutely nail your elevator pitch!
  3. Use the relevant channels. That could include conventional events, but sometimes social media communication and creative mailings can be suitable options. Strategic access is the focus here as well. If you’re involved in active ingredient development, for instance, then you’re probably more likely to focus on specialist congresses than on Instagram and Twitter.
  4. Be authentic – know your own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to take centre stage, you might need to look for a different opportunity to communicate creatively. If you’re more at home in the lab, you might not be the right person to be pitching the product at conferences.
  5. Make use of promoters and try to identify early on the people in your own network who can open doors to new customers or investors.
  6. Even though it might be important to cast your net wide when starting out – in the long term you need to focus on quality over quantity. Out of the many contacts you made at the start, you need to identify those who are going to be relevant in the long run.
  7. Be on the ball and be proactive – if a few weeks have passed and somebody still hasn’t responded, you need to follow up. Be creative about it, and look for new reasons to get back in touch with them. There’s an art to maintaining frequent contact without being overbearing.

Okay, but point seven sounds tricky. How do I deal with people who don’t respond?

Claudia Raber: Try to put yourselves in their shoes and understand their interests. Take a look at what’s happening around them. This will often lead you to opportunities for a follow-up. Sometimes you’ll meet the person you’re trying to get in touch with at events, and then you can talk to them personally. Be authentic and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

A lot of events have been cancelled of late though. Does that still work in the digital domain?

Claudia Raber: It certainly does. We tried this ourselves with the HTGF Family Day, which we had to turn into a purely digital event due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. And what’s more, the digital arena also provides great opportunities for one-on-one meetings and pitch sessions.

How should I prepare for events?

Claudia Raber: Identify 20 people you find are important, and try and talk to 10 of them. If you then get one or two long-term contacts out of it, I’d class that as a successful event.

How much time should you invest in networking?

Claudia Raber: In many cases it depends. A CEO, for instance, will most likely invest between a fifth and a third of their time in networking. Generally though, if you really want to build a successful network, you need to show dedication – as networking is not about just keeping in touch with others. It’s more about forming a long-lasting, living structure in which different people are constantly interacting with one another. This active give and take ensures that you all benefit from each other in the long term. And it’s just as important to connect other people together, as this helps build trust. In a nutshell: There may well be less time-consuming activities out there, but you are rewarded for the effort you put in.

And now to my final question – what message should readers take away from our discussion on networking?

Claudia Raber: That the key to successful networking is empathy. If you start talking to somebody and your only goal is to get your message across, you won’t be successful. You can only expect to get something in return if you show genuine interest in what the other person’s saying, ask questions and pay attention.

Thanks, Claudia!