This has become a bit of a hobby-horse of mine after attending numerous networking events and being on the receiving end of countless sales pitches. I have been networking for over 10 years and along the way the experience has changed.
There have always been the manic networkers who measure a successful event by the number of business cards that were exchanged. These were pretty harmless as they moved on within minutes of introducing themselves and there was rarely any follow-up after the networking event. It was similar to being buzzed by a wasp – a short-lived irritant.
Networking is really about making worthwhile connections with people you could help and who could help you – nothing to do with either person being a prospect for the other. It should be more about giving introductions, providing information and generally “giving value”.
In many ways, the phrase “Give to Get” encapsulates how people used to network a few years ago. You gave value to others and, in return, others gave value to you. It was accepted that the people you helped were not necessarily the ones who helped you. Consequently, networkers needed to master two skills – the ability to give freely (without obligation from the recipient) and the ability to receive.
Many people I met were brilliant at finding ways to help others but found receiving help very difficult to accept. For Give to Get to work, you have to be receptive when others want to give something to you – otherwise it turns into Give, Give, Give which is fairly exhausting and unproductive as far as finding your own opportunities.
Give to Get is a great way to operate but it only works when the vast majority of people you network with operate with the same mindset. With everyone looking to help others, it doesn’t take long for you to receive something that helps you to progress your business – an introduction, recommendation or enquiry.
Networking took off when direct mail campaigns were beginning to lose their effectiveness and telephone cold calling was getting a bad reputation. Networking with a Give to Get mindset was a great way to find prospects (eventually).
This was the downside. It was a slow process. Few people would risk giving you an introduction to someone in their network until they had got to know you pretty well. It was easy to damage a hard-earned reputation by giving an introduction to someone you had recently met, who subsequently turned out to be less competent than you had thought.
It takes time to build people’s confidence. Every introduction they gave you was monitored carefully to ensure you did everything you could to maintain their reputation.
Networking has moved on. Now there are many more people who see networking events as prospecting events. They are there to find people to sell to and the concept of helping others first has been lost. Networking events seem to be full of people whose businesses are struggling and who are so desperate for sales their sole focus is on finding a prospect.
Making connections, building relationships, helping others and generally spreading good karma have all given way to giving sales pitches and searching for prospects. I wonder if this mindset has been encouraged by speed networking, where the focus seems to be on qualifying the people you meet as prospect potential or not.
Sales from networking will not happen quickly. Networking is not the place to go to find prospects. The networking process works best if people move from connections to trusted relationships from which you gain introductions to potential prospects.
It is unlikely you will find too many prospects at networking events. In fact, the last place you will find someone who is looking to buy a product/service is a networking event. They will spend their time qualifying potential suppliers by reviewing websites, studying product specifications and contacting the suppliers’ existing clients.
Your objective when networking is to meet people who understand Give to Get and who will give you introductions to potential prospects. It is getting as hard to find these sort of people as it is to find true prospects. It is no wonder enthusiasm for networking events is diminishing.
- At your next networking event(s), forget about selling and prospecting. Try to focus on making connections and learning something about each person you meet.
- Follow up each event with an email to those people who seemed to grasp the Give to Get concept. Suggest you hold a 1-to-1 discussion with them.
- Have answers pre-prepared for when your new connections ask “How could I help you?” If they understand networking, this question will certainly arise.