Good networking is a game-changer.
Notice I said the word “good”. Done the right way, networking will build your sales revenues, your client base and your business. Good networking will do more to grow your business, both short and long term, than cold calling, brochures, newsletters, mailings, advertisements and social media COMBINED!
The problem is, many people who think they’re networking really aren’t and they waste their time and effort while wondering, “Why is this highly touted ‘networking thing’ so frustrating?”
If you’re frustrated that your networking efforts aren’t bringing you more business and referrals, it’s time to try a different approach.
Are you confusing networking with socialising — and how would you know?
Well, if there’s no talk about how you can help each other, if there’s no opportunity created to pursue afterwards, if there’s no ‘next-step’ follow-up to continue to build the relationship, if there’s no agreement to do something or if there’s no exchange of valuable information you’re not networking, you’re socialising.
Don’t get me wrong. Good networking is fun and it should be social, but it must also be purposeful — with the aim of creating the need to talk further and gathering the pertinent information to make that happen.
Are you confusing networking with sales — and how would you know?
If you’re going to networking events focusing on getting clients, if you’re ‘elevator pitching’ your products or services to everyone you come into contact with, if you’re handing out as many business cards as possible at every opportunity, if you’re following up and staying in touch with people by making them a ‘special’ offer or promoting your offerings in some way, you aren’t networking, you’re in sales mode and you’re selling.
In a networking environments, it’s okay to talk about what you do or offer, the problems you solve and the outcomes you achieve for your clients, but where you cross the line is when you assume what you do is what they need and you start forcing your business into the conversation, slipping in bits and pieces of a sales pitch, trying to make a sale.
So what exactly is networking?
Fundamentally it’s about establishing and developing ongoing meaningful and beneficial relationships with people. It’s from these relationships that opportunities and business flows. Think relationships first, transactions second.
For many people, there’s a paradigm shift that needs to take place if they’re going to make networking really work them. That shift is to move from seeing their network contacts as prospects and potential clients or customers to seeing them as potential referral sources and advocates. Meaning, if you’re focusing solely on finding buyers of your products or services, you’ll miss out on making a lot of valuable ‘connections’. So the idea is to focus on getting to know people as “people” instead. They may not buy your product or service today, or ever, but in time they may send numerous others your way who could — if you develop a relationship with them.
The point is, not everyone is a prospect, but everyone could be a ‘connector’.
Let’s take this a bit further.
The majority of new business you will get in the future will not come directly from your network contacts. It will come indirectly as a result of your contacts dropping your name and saying how great you are over lunch, on the golf course, at parties and in numerous other situations to people THEY know.
This is what makes networking so powerful and why you need to make networking a priority — and why you need to be good at networking. Whether you’re a business owner, a professional with a practice to grow or in a sales or business development role, you want more friends out there saying how great you are to everyone they know. This word-of-mouth advertising leads to a referral — your best source of new business.
When you meet people you hit it off with, say at a networking or industry event, your goal is to develop a relationship with those people by following up and staying in touch with them. Over time, you want to ensure that they know what you do or offer, what problems you solve for what type of people and the typical results you tend to achieve. for your clients. If you get the relationship right and your message is easily understood, your networking associates will happily refer you and recommend you to the people they know. And, if they realise they need your product or service, they will happily buy from you too. That, in a nutshell, is how networking works.
Here’s some more healthy thinking about networking and how to make networking work for you.
- If you think handing out business cards is a numbers game, your wrong. Real wrong. Again, focus on getting to know people as people. Quality is far more important than quantity. When you meet someone interesting for the first time, initiate a ‘next-step’ get-together right there and then. You can chat your heart out but it won’t drive much action for yourself if you don’t open up the opportunity further conversation. It could be another 12 months before you run into your new friend again, at which point s/he’s probably forgotten you. Seize the day. “Let’s meet up for coffee. I want to know more about you and your business” or “Let’s meet up for coffee/lunch and find out more about each other’s work. What do you say?” or “I would love to get together as two business owners and explore how we might refer business to one another. How does that sound to you?”
- When you meet someone for the first time at a networking event, don’t jump in with what you do or offer. Think conversation, not selling. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your sales quota is, that you need your next client or how jobless you are, STOP SELLING! Slow down and concentrate on getting to know the person — Who are you? Why are you here? What’s your view? What do you do? Tell me about your business. What’s important to you? The reality is that few people are at that event to buy something and they certainly didn’t go there to be sold to by you or anyone else. Sure, they might need your product or service, but show some class and let THEM bring it up with you.
- Try to find ways to help people. There are so many ways to ask the question to find out how: How can I help you? How can I be of the greatest help to you? What can I do for you? Is there anything I can do that would be helpful? What can I do to help you? Is there anything I can do for you? How can I help you be successful? How can I help you get more business? Who can I introduce you to? I have built my business and my reputation on these simple questions. But you can’t just ask it. You have to mean it! And if someone does request your help, take action on it.
- A word on helping: Help in this context isn’t about selling your products and services. It’s about assisting people in ways that go beyond what you would send them a bill for. The key is to keep asking yourself, How can I help this person? What one piece of information or advice could I give this person? Who can I introduce this person to?
- And the payoff? Helping others be successful and prosperous — without expectations of how you will benefit in return — puts you in the middle of a bunch of successful and prosperous people, the perfect place to achieve your own success and prosperity.
- When you follow up with people you meet for the first time, don’t start selling them. Again, build the relationship by learning more about them. If it’s a follow-up meeting over coffee, pick up the conversation where you left off in your initial encounter. Try to find a way to help your new acquaintance. As the conversation develops over coffee, talking points might center on learning more about each other’s business, cross-selling opportunities and how you might be able to each other with introductions and referrals. Then of course, the conversation may have nothing to do with business at all. Unless you see no point in continuing your association together, don’t walk away from these initial follow up meetings without agreeing to do something or having exchanged some valuable information. Create a commitment or obligation to do something for each other. Set a date for the next coffee meeting. You get the idea.
- If your initial follow-up is by email, your goal is to solidify your new connection ― you want to reinforce the positive first impression you made on him or her and be remembered. Again, this is not the time to be selling anything. Nothing will put a person off faster than sending them your prospecting letter or marketing materials right after meeting them for the first time. If the person requested additional information about your business, send it under separate cover. Let your initial follow up communication stand on its own as a true “thank you for…”, “glad to meet you” or “great chatting with you” and, instead of a sales pitch, reference a point in your conversation and offer them something of value — an informational article, resource link or introduction. The idea is for you to be friendly and helpful, not salesy.
- Networking sounds like a good idea — until something else comes up. The thing is, something always comes up. Unless you make your networking activities a priority, they’ll fall somewhere behind tidying your sock draw and visiting the dentist. Set time aside for following up with new contacts and keeping in touch with the people who are important to your business. Schedule regular coffee and breakfast meetings and put monthly networking events in your diary. If you aren’t making time for networking your are losing to someone who does.
In the comments below, share how you go about getting results from your good networking.