When I ask an audience, “How many of you are here hoping to possibly sell something?” almost everyone raises their hands. When I ask that same audience, “How many of you are here to possibly buy something?” nobody raises their hands.
Ever. Not one person.
This is what I call the networking disconnect. Too often, people show up at networking events wanting to sell something but nobody ever goes wanting to buy something. This is how networking can be done badly.
So, it didn’t surprise me when I recently read an article entitled “Stop Networking.” It went on to explain how the process of networking is so “mercenary.” The problem is that every example the author gave about how networking doesn’t work was an example of really bad networking! The conclusion was to stop networking. Instead of networking, the author said you should do these five things:
1. Focus on relationships, not transactions.
2. Don’t ask for something before you give something.
3. Don’t make the process about you.
4. Strive for quality, not quantity, in your relationships.
5. Volunteer for leadership roles in organizations you belong to.
Hello! Does anyone notice that the emperor has no clothes? I would argue that all five of these strategies are, in fact, all about networking – but about networking done the right way. In this article, bad networking tactics were presented as the reasons that people should stop networking altogether. Networking can certainly be done badly, but networking itself isn’t bad. In fact, when it’s done right, almost everyone agrees it’s the best way to build a business.
Don’t stop networking. Just start networking right:
Relationships, not transactions.
The key for networking events is to make solid connections with individuals so they will remember who you are when you do follow up with them. You want them to be interested to meet with you for coffee or lunch. If you go to networking events with the intention of just trying to sell to people, they won’t want to meet with you later because they know you’re going to pitch to them.
Invest in some social capital.
If you want people to be eager to meet with you after networking events, the key is to find ways to help them. Think back to the people in my audience. Think about all the relationships that had the possibility of forming and how many of them most likely didn’t. If everyone focused on learning who they could help, as opposed to who they could sell to, imagine the relationships that might have been. Good networking is all about investing in some social capital before asking for a withdrawal.
Be interested, not interesting.
It’s not all about you. Do you want to make a connection (especially if you are networking up to someone more successful than you)? If so, be interested in what they are doing. Don’t pitch them the moment you meet them. But wait, it never hurts to ask, right? Wrong! Contrary to popular belief, it is does hurt to ask for business before there’s any kind of relationship.
Related: Networking Is a Contact Sport
Quality over quantity.
The only thing more important than the size of your network is the quality of your network. It’s a people puzzle, not a numbers game. It’s about finding out about the people you’re meeting with. It’s not about collecting as many cards as you can. If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, you’ll never have a powerful personal network at your disposal.
Become engaged in the groups you belong to.
If you really want to stand out in a network, volunteer and become a leader in it. It is amazing how much exposure you can receive when you are helping to run a group that you are active in. However, remember two things. First, just being a leader doesn’t mean you’ll get business. At some point, when you have developed a relationship, you do have to let people know that you’d like to do business with them. Second, whatever you do, don’t step down from a leadership role and then immediately quit the group. That really makes it look like you were there for only one reason (and the wrong one at that). Being a leader in a group is about giving back. The secondary benefit is that you can build great credibility.
I’ve built a global company with offices in more than 60 countries and I’ve done almost all of it by building relationships, networking, and getting referrals. My advice to you is, don’t stop networking. Just start networking right.
(Author's Note: The above was based on material from Avoiding the Networking Disconnect by Dr. Ivan Misner and Brennan Scanlon.)