The great art of corporate schmoosing

Updated: Nov 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
It may not be found in any dictionary but it is practised by a lot of business folk in India and around the world. When I came to India five years ago, I was a mere novice at how to schmoose effectively in India. For those not familiar with this technical term, it is not a profanity as it sounds but ones ability to mingle effortlessly in corporate gatherings and meet the right people, in the right fora, at the right time. Put politely, it is at one extreme social networking while at the other, it is aggressive personal selling.

The subtle but important difference between networking and schmoosing is that where the former centres around generating business contacts, the latter is about amassing business cards from influential people from every walk of life. You want to go on a walking holiday in the southern slopes of Uttaranchal and need a villa to stay in Well, you should know somebody who knows somebody with an available villa. You want that marketing contact at a large MNC because you have just acquired a stake in an advertising agency and need to give them business You should know how to get to them. In the west, this is referred to as the handshake principlehow many handshakes are you from the US president.

It is useful to remember that corporate schmoosers would eat up the Page 3 crowd in a heartbeat. They are rarely in the press but can probably get you an audience with whomsoever you want to meet in the business community or government. Those people respect them as they themselves avail of such introductions. I remember when I started my professional life a fair few years back as a trainee chartered accountant, buying my first card-holder was a real buzz.

One realised that there was a ritual in giving and receiving business cards. A definitive protocol per company, per culture, per country.

While I was working in Hong Kong or later when I was in China, the ritual was elaborate: present ones card held out in two hands, not one hand. Receive your clients/contacts card similarly and overly demonstrate that you are reading their details. Make sure you give your card to the most senior person first. In the UK, there was a whole fad of not having cards but merely to IR (infra-red) the card to the other partys device. Incidentally, this almost never worked; both sen-der and recipient being too embarrassed to admit it.

Years later in India, I find myself in a spot of bother. My office over the years will confirm the mutual pain of uploading, storing and sorting of business contacts. The sheer logistics of collecting, updating and follow up by contacting people to acknowledge encounters is a must have skill these days. It took a while before I could train myself (and my assistant) to be diligent with a process. Nevertheless, India is currently a nation of conferences. As soon as October rolls in, so do the conferences. With the conference season upon us, card printing presses must go into overdrive. Everyone wants to give you his or her card and expects one in return. That in itself is not an issue; its just that you end up running out of cards just when you meet a contact you really do want to share your coordinates with. And it really is not nice to make excuses and avoid giving cards only to be spotted later doing so.

I recently met the owner of a travel business which offers fractional ownership of jet planes to make travelling around India an easier affair. Now, it is not immediately a business card I felt I could use, though as my wife did point out later it would reduce the stress of taking children through domestic airports and the current inevitable flight delays. Anyway, only a few days later a friend from the UK wanted to leave Delhi one day go to Mumbai, then Bangalore, through Jaipur and back to Delhi on his own time schedule. Funny, I said to him, I know just the man to help you.

We are not Daniel Defoes Robinson Crusoe, cast away in solitude; we are surrounded by engaging individuals all the time. It may not appear to my closest colleagues, but I am by nature quite a reserved individual who would have in the past shunned contact with new faces. Until it occurred to me that some of these people may actually be quite interesting. Remember, I trained as an accountant so was never really surrounded by vibrant individuals all the time. I have had the good fortune to meet numerous contacts of great personal interest and of worldly importance over the years. Getting involved with industry bodies and associations, in addition to the occasional reception at the British High Commission, has given me a glimpse into the habits and habitats of the great and the good. All left an impre-ssionsome good, some average, but never a bad one, yet.

Building relationships is a powerful tool. How one uses them is another matter altogether. Whether the other party wants to connect with you also remains an interesting mystery until you try. In the current world of single-point connectivity, a mobile number is all you need. If they dont pick up when you call, you havent really connected with, either literally or emotionally. If they do, add that to your handshakes.

Dan Sandhu sits on a number of Indian company boards in the outsourcing, media and retails sectors. He has been living in India for five years and is known to occasionally schmoose. These are his personal views.