Why networking doesn’t work for a lot of people — and the solution for it.

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? What about you?

Networking, according to those who are successful at doing it — 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 “who you know who knows who you want to meet”.

Good networkers do not view the attendees they meet at an event as their prospects. That is unless an attendee says, “I should probably hire you!”

Remember, those attendees are at the event to grow their own business.

If anything, attendees  at networking events, conferences, cocktail parties, etc. are potential referral sources. They know hundreds perhaps even thousands of other people and may potentially connect you to your next prospect and maybe even many more prospects after that.

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 a bit of networking. In some cases, you will. I’m just saying it won’t happen as often as you would like. Nor am I saying that your networking associates won’t ever buy from you. Some will, but not 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 meet in a networking environment. 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.


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 who can refer business your way.

To make networking work for you, think beyond is this person a client/customer for me or can this person hire me when you meet people. The person you’re talking to may not need your services but someone or several some-ones in their network may. The idea is to develop a trusting relationship with the people you meet 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 — it takes time; one cup of coffee is never enough — and you have a good enough message about your offerings (i.e. it’s 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 or 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”.

Think of every person you meet as someone who could refer business your way or help you gain valuable information.

Build relationships with people so that they will refer others in their networks who need your services.


It’s easy to dismiss people after talking to them for 60 seconds if they don’t fit the profile of our perfect client or customer. It’s easy to think, “I should cut this conversation short and move on. This person doesn’t need what I sell.” It’s easy to forget that this person knows a lot of other people. For example, their best friend maybe the owner of a business that is an ideal prospect for your services. Instead of eliminating this person, you can build an friendly rapport with them and have a warm referral (or even hot personal introduction) to a great prospect.


One of the biggest turnoffs at networking events is people that are solely there to build their own businesses. Don’t get me wrong ― that’s a reason we’re all there! I’m talking about the person who is keen to talk about what they do and explore how you can help them but they never ask about what you do and how they may reciprocate. The most successful networking conversations are win-win, give-and-take encounters. By focusing on how you can help others, people will be drawn to you and want to help you back. It’s human nature.

Those who are successful at networking don’t build relationships to “get”, they build them to “give”.

So 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 company. 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. And 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 winning 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.

I have said it repeatedly, networking is all about building relationships. I’m not trying to directly sell my services to “potential clients”. I look at networking as attempting to build relationships with people who could refer me business. I don’t have to sell directly to people I meet because if they need my services, they’ll find me; they’ll let me know.

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.

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 ensuring 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!

For further help on how to establish and build relationships with advocates that actually generate high-quality referrals, read my article, Building Referral Partnerships.

Does networking work for you or not? What problems do you face? Share in the comments below…

Comments 3

  1. Nice to meet you today Ron. This is a great article and it clarifies everything you were describing to me – thanks again!

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