Successful networking comes from holding conversations with people in which they are your primary focus of attention. Networking events are a great forum for meeting new people and making new connections. For them to bear fruit, your new connections need to be nurtured after the networking event to build the necessary understanding and trust to move the relationship up to the next level.
Online networking using, for example, LinkedIn operates in a similar manner. You start with a simple online message and develop the conversation over time to the point at which both participants know what help the other needs. You add value to relationships by introducing people who can help each other.
Provided geographical constraints allow, I would strongly suggest you look to meet your new contacts face-to-face. You can cover far more ground in discussions over coffee than you could by email. To bridge larger distances, you will be restricted to telephone calls or Skype calls. These are better than nothing, but not ideal.
Over time, perhaps after several face-to-face meetings, your new connection becomes a far stronger relationship. You understand their business, their target markets and their specific pressures in enough detail to be confident in sharing your ideas and offering introductions that will benefit them.
At no time in the process of developing a new connection into a trusted relationship should selling appear. In the majority of cases, your new connection is not a prospect and never will be. They can, however, help your business in a myriad of other ways – so long as you aren’t completely blinkered to such a wide array of opportunities. Before they offer any real assistance, though, they have to be comfortable with your business ethics and trust you as an individual.
If you turn up to a networking event with the primary aim of finding sales opportunities, you are likely to leave feeling disappointed. True networkers will be looking for new connections, new relationships and new opportunities to help others. These true networkers don’t want to meet people whose primary goal is to find sales opportunities. They want to meet other like-minded people looking to develop mutually-beneficial relationships.
I will stress again, these mutually-beneficial relationships are far more than the relationship you have with your prospects. You can probably help each other in many different ways, so it is essential that you start each dialogue with a completely open mind.
Sometimes, it becomes clear that you will be unable to help the person you are getting to know. This doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the embryonic relationship. After all, they may be able to help you. It is well worth persevering with your dialogue and be prepared to accept help from these people – even though you can’t offer them much in return.
I said in the very first sentence that “Successful networking comes from holding conversations with people in which they are your primary focus of attention”. Let’s look at this in a little more detail.
There is only one way you can do this and that is to ask questions. Questions turn the spotlight away from you and onto them. You are interested in learning as much about them as you can, without the conversation turning into some form of interrogation.
Of course, the people who are looking for prospects will also ask questions. They will ask different questions and will only superficially listen to the replies. Their focus is listening for what I will call “trigger words” which indicate the person they are talking to could be a sales prospect.
The rest of the time, they will be talking about their company, their products, why their customers think they are wonderful. The focus is much more about them. So instead of the other person being the focus of attention, they have reversed the situation and “me, me, me” becomes the focus.
These people make no attempt to understand the other person and have no intention of helping them – unless it involves selling some of their product.
As you can see, the connection isn’t going to develop into a mutually-beneficial relationship. In fact, if you met a salesperson acting like this then your first thought is likely to be “How do I escape?” rather than “How can I help them achieve their goals?”
Networking should not be about selling. Many people you meet at networking events won’t be interested in your products/services. They will, most likely, know people who might be interested.
You can benefit if you develop your new connection into a trusted relationship. When the other person likes and trusts you, they are likely to help you by giving introductions to others in their network who might buy from you.
Your job is to be liked and trusted. Your goal is to encourage these introductions to be given. It is not something that will happen quickly and, in some cases, it may not happen at all. Be nice to people and help others whenever you can. What goes around comes around. Someone, somewhere will give you the help you need in return.
- Focus more on getting to know the other person’s situation and explore how you might be able to help them.
- Prepare some good open-ended questions before each networking event that will engage the people you meet. Don’t assume you will think of them on the spur of the moment at the event, you won’t.
- Prepare responses to the common questions you are asked to reduce the risk of you slipping into “sales mode” at the event.