For many business people and professionals, networking is their primary source of business, while many others frequently claim to put a lot of effort into networking without seeing much return. What’s going on here? Why does networking work for some people, but not for others? And what about you? Does networking work for you?
Networking, according to those who do it successfully — meaning they actually can attribute significant new business from the activity of networking — is NOT about finding people who may be good prospects for your products and services. It’s NOT about looking for potential new clients and customers for your firm. It’s NOT!
Successful networking is about finding and developing ongoing relationships with “advocates” — people who will refer you, recommend you and introduce you to potential buyers of your products and services. It’s not just “who you know”. It’s “who you know who knows who you want to meet”.Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you won’t ever find a new client or customer while you’re out there doing some networking. In some cases, you will. I’m just saying it won’t happen as often as you would like. Nor am I saying your networking associates won’t ever buy from you. Some will, but not nearly enough of them.
The reality is the lion’s share of your future new business will not come directly from the people you know. It will come indirectly as a result of those people talking about how great you are to the people THEY know. This word-of-mouth advertising leads to a referral — your best, most profitable source of new business.
So here’s the rub. If networking is not working for you it means you don’t have enough advocates out there dropping your name and bragging about you and your business to their friends and associates.
YOU NEED MORE ADVOCATES!
For anyone that claims to put a lot of effort into networking without seeing much return, there’s a paradigm shift that needs to take place if they’re going to get the results they’d like to get. That shift is to move from looking for “prospects” to looking for “advocates”. Meaning, if you’re focusing solely on finding your next client or customer, you’ll miss out on making a lot of valuable connections that can send business your way.
To make networking work for you, think referrals, think introductions, think word-of-mouth recommendations. Think about who can make those happen for you. In other words, focus on finding and meeting potential advocates — and if you find a good prospect for your firm, that’s a bonus!
An advocate may be the CEO of your local chamber of commerce. S/he may be in the marketing, finance or human resources department. They might be another business owner or professional. They might be responsible for sales or business development in a non-competing firm. They might be a supplier to your business. They may sit on a committee at your surf club or head up a not-for-profit. Typically, they are well-connected and well-regarded.
Advocates may not buy your product or service today, or ever, but in time they may put you in touch with numerous others who could.
One advocate can bring you 5, 10 or more clients while if you pursue one potential prospect you will often end up frustrated and with zero new sales. Successful networking requires a shift in focus from trying to meet prospects to trying to find and meet advocates.
Approaching networking in this way takes the pressure off you to “sell” and means the other person feels no pressure to “buy”. You won’t be “elevator pitching” your products and services to everyone you come into contact with, trying to make a sale. You won’t be spraying your business cards around like confetti. You won’t be turning people off. Instead, you’ll be better received, you’ll make better connections and, ultimately, you’ll have much more success in gaining new business.
If you just go looking for clients and customers, there is always that tension that you are sizing people up and down, trying to figure out if it is worth investing time in someone.
Take the stress out of your conversations altogether. Rather than looking to turn your contacts into clients, look to turn THEIR relationships into clients.
The real power of networking is in who THEY know: there are many more opportunities there.
The process for successful networking is as follows: Identify and reach out to other business people and professionals who are in regular contact with your target clients and customers.
Then your goal is to develop trusting relationships with those people by following up and staying in touch with them. Over time, you want to ensure that they know what your products/services/solutions are, what problems they 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, they will happily refer you and recommend you to the people they know. And if they see your product or service as a solution to their problem, the means to achieving their goal, they’ll happily buy from you too.
Remember, it’s “who you know who knows who you want to meet”.
So who are your potential advocates? Think about the businesses, the people who are in regular touch with your ideal clients or customers. How will you find them and when you do find them how will you approach them and what will you say to connect with them? Then how will you go about getting the relationship right with them and ensure they understand the value you bring to the table so they will want to refer you and recommend you? It takes some work and patience, but it pays off big time!