The Networking Disconnect

I was at a big networking event with more than 500 people in the UK this summer, and the person who spoke before me asked the audience: “How many of you came here hoping to do some business–maybe make a sale?”  More than half the people in the audience raised their hands. He then asked, “How many of you are here hoping to buy something?”  No one raised a hand–not one single person! This is the networking disconnect.

If you are going to networking events hoping to sell something, you’re dreaming. Don’t confuse direct selling with networking. Effective networking is about developing relationships. I know, I know . . . there’s always someone out there who says, “But, Ivan, I’ve made a sale by attending a networking event!”  OK . . . I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen–it does.  I’m just saying it happens about as often as a solar eclipse. Face it, even a blind squirrel can find a nut. Any businessperson can stumble on some business at a networking meeting from time to time. However, when you have most of the people at an event trying to sell and virtually no one there to buy, you’re crazy if you think the odds are in your favor to “sell” at a networking event.

So why go?  You go because networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about developing relationships with other business professionals. Sometimes you go to a networking event to increase your visibility, sometimes you go to establish further credibility with people you know, and sometimes you may even go to meet a long-time referral partner and do some business. In any case, the true master networkers know that networking events are about moving through the VCP Process and not about closing deals.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Being ‘in Sync’ With Your Networking Partners

My wife, Beth, and I were in South Africa recently on safari at Camp Jabulani in the Kapama Reserve. Camp Jabulani has a beautiful suspension bridge between the main lodge and the guest suites. If you’ve ever walked over a suspension bridge, you know the feeling of the springiness under your feet as you walk. It was almost like wearing those Moon Boots I got for Christmas as a boy!

As we made our way over the suspension bridge, we noticed pretty quickly that when we did not walk in sync, the bridge’s flexing and bending jarred both of us as we tried to walk across. When we walked in sync, it was much easier to walk in a way that didn’t make us look like drunken sailors!

This started me thinking about networking relationships and the importance of being in sync with our referral and networking partners.

When I think about walking in sync with other businesspeople, I think of collaboration, cooperation, and maintaining a focus on how we can help each other (what I call Givers Gain). These three elements are critical for successful relationship marketing.

In order to build the kinds of mutually beneficial relationships you desire, it’s important to keep in mind what I call the proximity effect–networking is a contact sport. You must stay in contact with each other in order to benefit from a collaborative relationship. Profiting from a business relationship without staying in contact with one another is like getting a haircut over the phone—I have never seen that done!

Staying in touch can include holding one-on-one meetings with each other to learn more about each other’s business and referral needs, and to ask, “How can I help you?” Having a Givers Gain focus is the most effective way of supporting your referral partners.

We all need to make a commitment to maintain a focus on how we can help each other in business. This is a new thought pattern for most business owners. We aren’t schooled or trained in thinking “How can I help you?” when it comes to those with whom we are in a particular business community. More often than not, we think, “What can I get out of this relationship?” If you do business with a Givers Gain mentality, you will turn that thought pattern on its head.

Relationship networking is a good way to get business; it’s an even better way to do business. As you walk in this rhythm, you will find others getting in step with you, and everyone will do better business as a result.

Farming for Referrals

If I could impart one piece of wisdom regarding networking and getting more referrals, it would be this: Networking is about farming for new contacts, not hunting them.

It’s a point that needs to be made, because most business professionals go about networking the way our cave-dwelling ancestors went about hunting food–aggressively and carrying a big stick.

You’ll see them at any gathering of businesspeople. They’re so busy looking for the next big sale or trying to meet the “right” prospect that they approach networking simply as an exercise in sifting through crowds of people until they bag the ideal client, the big customer who can turn their business around. They don’t have time for regular people like us; they’re stalking the director of marketing, chief operating officer or other high-octane connection, looking for the big kill.

“Farmers take a different approach. They don’t waste time looking for the right person; instead, like those who plant seeds and patiently nurture their crops, they seek to form and build relationships wherever they can find them. If they get an immediate payoff, that’s fine, but it’s not their principal goal. They know that the effort expended upfront will pay off in a rich harvest later on–much richer then the hunter’s quick kill–and that truly profitable relationships can’t be rushed.

Share your thoughts OR experiences relating to farming vs. hunting in your networking activities.

Need Advice? Your Network Can Help!

Have you ever purposely sought advice from your network members?  If not, you should definitely take advantage of this opportunity because we all need advice at one time or another and seeking advice from your network is a win-win situation.

You see, people like for others to listen to their opinions and advice.  By inviting your network members to talk, you can get better acquainted with their knowledge, decision-making ability, and attitudes.  Receiving someone’s advice also gives you a perfect reason to contact her again, thank her, and let her know what you plan to do.  This is a great way to keep your resources informed and, of course, to get their opinions about what you are doing.

When preparing to ask your network for advice, here are some important tips:

  • Ask your network member for advice or opinions on something she enjoys talking about and to which you expect her to have an answer.
  • Listen carefully and respond appropriately.
  • Direct your questions toward what your network member says in conversation.
  • Have a logical reason for wanting the information.
  • Avoid potentially controversial and sensitive issues.
  • Don’t ask your network member to give you advice that she would otherwise charge you for.
  • People are more likely to remember their own words than others so if you want someone to remember your conversation, let her do most of the talking.

Use Reporting to Strengthen Your Network

Playing the role of reporter by interviewing a member of your network for an article or while doing research on a subject he’s familiar with, for example, is a great way to elicit information and advice from members of your network.

How can this benefit you? The reporting approach benefits you in two ways. One, you learn more about your network member. Two, he appreciates the visibility you give him. Also, he will probably be more willing to meet and cooperate with you in other situations, thereby strengthening your relationship, and others will seek you out as an authority or ask you to do articles or research on them. People in business like exposure, especially if it’s free.

Here are some tips on how to properly begin playing the role of reporter and getting more from your network:

  • Interview your subject to get information worthy of being publicized–something he’s doing or has achieved, or simply his opinion.
  • Take pictures of, and with, your subject when appropriate.
  • Publish the information for its largest possible audience in school, church, community, local or national publications.
  • If appropriate, offer to include your network member’s name in any article or research to which he has contributed information.
  • Distribute complimentary copies of your articles or findings to people important to your targets.
  • Make no guarantees that what you write will be published.

After you’ve interviewed one or two of your network members and gotten some exposure for them, come back and leave a comment letting me know what occurred as a result of your efforts. I’m betting you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. 🙂

Clueless When It Comes To Conversing?–Four Tips

Networking is about building relationships and one of the main ways to build relationships with people is to have effective, productive conversations.  However, that can seem like a daunting task for some people who are at a total loss when it comes to the art of conversing.

If you shy away from going to networking events because you’re consumed by the fear of not knowing what to say, pay attention to these four conversation tips from my good friend Susan RoAne (a.k.a.: The Mingling Maven®):

  • Always keep in mind that a conversation should be balanced dialogue.  It’s good to ask questions that get people to talk about themselves, but remember: people who ask too many questions are sometimes perceived as prying probing busybodies.
  • If you haven’t brought something to the banquet of conversation, make an “ask” of yourself.  Though most people don’t mind a question, even two or three, if you are asking all the questions, there is no exchange, no real conversation, just an interrogation or Q&A.
  • Try reading local and national newspapers and a pop-culture blog or a popular magazine.  Pick three to five items to use as emergency restarters in case there’s a lull in conversation–national news, local topics, sports, fitness, movies, books, hobbies.  And food–everybody likes to talk about food.
  • Tell stories about things that have happened to you or others.  People connect with stories, not the factoids and figures of life.

If you liked these tips, you can find more of Susan’s networking advice and resources by visiting www.SusanRoAne.com

Guardian at the Gate

When I started my first business, I knew I wanted referrals to play a key part in my overall growth strategy, and I began to realize I wasn’t the only one trying to get more sales through referrals.  A lot of other business professionals were trying to do the same thing.

So I thought, “What if I became the hub?”  If all the other people out there were trying to do the same thing as I was, why couldn’t I position myself as the gatekeeper of sorts between other people’s networks? Then, if someone was buying a new home and needed a real estate agent but didn’t have one in her own network, she would come to me and see whom I knew.

How did that help my business?

1.  It encouraged me to continue building and deepening my relationships with others, even if I didn’t think they could help me right away. Our natural tendency is to nurture relationships with those we feel can help us the most. But the fact is, we never know whom another person knows, so we should take every opportunity to build relationships with all those we make contact with.  Bob Smith might not be a good referral partner for me, but he could be ideal for Jane Doe, another person I know.

2.  Becoming a gatekeeper had a positive effect on my credibility. I wanted to be the go-to guy in the business community–the person others came to if they needed a referral for anything.  This meant that I would be deepening relationships with people I might not otherwise have gotten to know.  Since people do business with the people they like and trust, whom do you think got their referrals when they needed someone with my products and services? . . . Bingo! 🙂

When you’re networking, make an effort to build relationships with people who may be good referral partners for others in your network, and try to connect them with each other.  I guarantee if you do this consistently, you’ll get more referrals in the long run.

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