Do you ever wonder about those people who show up at networking events with a stack of business cards and spin around the room like dervishs -- shaking hands, offering their cards, demanding a card in return then moving on with barely time for “seeyalaterbye?”
I wonder about them too, but I wonder more about the people who make it clear they’re prequalifying buyers instead of getting to know people. The ones whose eyes get vague and whose glasses are suddenly uncomfortably empty when they realize you’re not a prospect for what they’re there to sell. Really, what are they thinking?
But most of the time I realize that both those types are only doing what they’ve been conditioned to do. Because they believe that the goal of meeting people is to either catch as many in the net as possible or keep the bait on the hook until the really big fish shows up and swallows it.
I believe what we’re really out there to do, whether it’s at a live networking function or in an online group or forum, is to build bridges. Because bridges make destinations possible that would have been out of reach without them. And they're a two-way street.
A client told me today that he’d had the opportunity to share some of this philosophy with another colleague. We don’t know how it happened that his friend, who has owned and run his own mid-sized business for at least a decade, had never been to a networking meeting of any kind, but he’d asked my client for help getting his toe into the sometimes tricky waters of meeting prospects in a social environment.
Almost as soon as they arrived this guy was looking for people he thought were good prospects for his business. Not because he’s selfish, but because he really thought that was what he was supposed to do. So my client took him aside and told him the story of how he’d connected with his number one referral source.
It was a fairly common story of meeting one person; someone who had no reason to become his client and whom he had no reason to hire, and introducing them to someone else. Then being introduced by that person to yet another person, who said, “You should know my friend.” And at last meeting someone in a related field who has since referred so many clients it has nearly tripled his bottom line, in spite of his adding two staff members to help him handle the influx of business. All because he took time to get to know someone he would never hire and who would not hire him.
Fortunately, his friend not only got it, it helped him to relax, show up as his passionate and engaging self, and make some great connections.
I’ve had similar experiences, and I’m sure you have too. My best clients are usually referred by people who have no need of my services. I’ve found that there are three principles that are vital to building a referral-based business by getting to know people who may never hire you.
1. Assume everyone has value.
Because of course they do. That means when you meet someone you engage with them as though they were the most interesting, and the most influential, person in the world. You don’t have to be a captive audience for long, learn the art of graciously extracting yourself from a conversation if you find that you cannot be authentic and interested in them, but for the time you are in conversation with them treat them as valuable.
2. Assume everyone knows someone.
Again, because of course they do. More than that, assume they know someone you might want to meet. Or someone who knows someone you might want to meet. Assume that they won’t ever introduce you to those people unless they trust you. And no one trusts someone who spins into their circle just long enough to trade business cards or who extracts themselves from the conversation as quickly as possible when they learn they aren’t talking to a prospect.
3. Assume everyone needs something.
Often people don’t know what they need, or even that they need something. But they do. Maybe they need someone to listen, maybe they need an introduction to someone you know, maybe they need a solution for a problem that is plaguing them. Make that need your focus, meet that need if possible, and you will have put down the first girders for the bridge you need to build.
Networking as an activity can be fully deserving of the eye-roll it often elicits. But if you focus on building a bridge instead of looking at people for their potential as stepping stones, you’ll end up having a lot more fun and gaining a lot more business.
Related: 7 Ways to Network Like a Millionaire