028: The Inner Circle Group could be more powerful than your extended network with Derrick Van Mell

Derrick is Principal of Van Mell Associates, which he founded 25 years ago. They are executive advisors for planning and projects; their core service is called Question-Based Planning, a plain-English, streamlined alternative to traditional strategic planning. Derrick and his team work both as facilitators with the C-Suite and one-on-one advisors to CEOs.


Their mission is to help leaders win the fight for focus; they believe clarity and simplicity are the leader's keys to success. Van Mell Associates' clients are mostly privately-held, established businesses. Derrick has a BA in Economics, an MBA and an MA in English. He is the author of two books, has been published in dozens of journals and has spoken in the US, Europe, and Asia.


Derrick is married to Susan and they have two grown children. Derrick's personal interests include travel, hiking and serving as a mentor to new businesses. He is an admirer of Winston Churchill, who insisted that every memo be no longer than one page.

How do you go about networking differently in a new market?

·         “I realized it wasn’t efficient for me to try and grow a network in Milwaukee when I lived in Madison because I just didn’t have the time since I was commuting. In the end, I chose to focus on the top 6 people in my network. I call this group the Inner Circle Group and since using it in Milwaukee, I’ve brought it back to Madison to do it there too.”


Do you think networking is marketing or sales?

·         “It depends on how you define those two terms. A friend of mine defined marketing as everything you do something to sell something. Sales had the definition, get the meeting, don’t mess up the meeting. If you can get to know a small number of people well, it’s as much sales as it is marketing.”


How would I go about creating an Inner Circle?

·         “Start with the people that you know and have a good standing with. What you might discover is that you can get to know them even better and establish something to work on together like a shared pool of targets or perfecting your elevator pitch.”


Share with us one of your best networking stories

·         “Inside of one of my inner circle groups there’s one person in particular who I know I’ve connected him with clients, other members of the group have connected to help both of them together, and we’ve also developed some joint marketing programs.”


How do you stay in front of your network or community?

·         “I hold regular meetings with my groups and having that regular, monthly contact is of great benefit. Now, that’s certainly a tradeoff of staying closely in touch with one smaller group instead of meeting lots of people.”


What advice do you have for business professionals looking to grow their networks?

·         “I think that they should consider deeply whether they’re more introverted or extroverted. Get to know yourself and don’t force yourself into something that’s uncomfortable for you.”


Digital networking or traditional networking?

·         “I’m of the school that a lot of social or digital networking is human avoidance software and there is a place for it but I think people need to meet face-to-face. We live in an age of distraction, on average people check their smartphones 240 times a day.”


If you could go back 20 years, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of regarding your career?

·         “I would do what I tell my children to do and that is to think of life in your 20s as adventure travel rather than a career choice. Personally seek out people in very different fields than what you think you’re interested in.”


Who would you love to connect with and do you think you could do it within 6 degrees?

·         “I would absolutely love to be a fly on the wall between a conversation of the president in this country and the president of another country. I want to know how a conversation goes in the Whitehouse or any Whitehouse, that would be really interesting. I think that within 6 degrees I could probably do it too.”


What book are you reading right now?

·         “A book that I just finished was by David McCullough called ‘A Path Between the Seas’ and it’s just an amazing story about hose under Roosevelt there were two project managers overseeing the Panama Canal and how their styles were different but they both lead well. Overall, it has some great lessons about what is a manager, what is a leader, and how they overlap.”


Any final words of advice for our listeners??

·         “I think that the central idea for me is always the question, how can I be helpful? If you keep that question in mind with the people you meet and what you ask them to do, that will give you a lasting benefit.”


You can get in contact with Derrick at:

Call him at 608-260-9300


On LinkedIn / online at DerrickVanMell.com