The definition of networking is the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
So, if you think networking is going to a function and meeting some people, that is probably just a waste of time if there is no thought behind it. What I mean is, know why you are going and have a purpose.
I know a lot of people who attend events, interact and exchange their details with other people and then classify their networks as friends and close associates. But will these networks do business with them?
You see, networking does not necessarily mean you are developing strong connections. You may have hundreds of contacts who will take your call and be happy to have a coffee with you, but they will never do business with you.
When I ran my executive search business, candidates from a sales background would name drop all the time and brag about how strong their networks were. I know this person and that person. It may have been true but knowing someone is only the start.
We are so focused on how many connections we have; we don’t focus on how we maintain quality connections.
I was at a function recently and saw a business development person work the room. In their mind they were doing their job and saying hello to as many people as they could for all of what seemed like 10 seconds. It looked like they were saying – “Hi XYZ nice to see you, we must catch up soon for coffee” then off they were to the next one – it looked like they were speed dating. They were exchanging basic information, but they weren’t strengthening their professional contacts. In fact, some of those contacts may have been put off by the flippant process of hi/bye as if they were not important enough to make eye contact and have a real conversation.
Great networkers know why they are there and who they want to speak to as their priority. It may not happen this way as their target person may not show or they may be engaged in conversation with someone else. If this happens to you then don’t assume the person who is standing next to you isn’t worthy of your conversation. Assuming someone is not important enough is a bad idea. The best networkers (who are also the best salespeople and what I would classify as the Top 10 Percenters) make every person feel like they are interested in their story. Spend the time to have a quality conversation. I never outwardly sell when I am having a conversation with someone at an event, however I close all the time. My close is to get the appointment so I can meet with them professionally. At the end of the conversation, I simply say – “It has been great speaking to you, would it be alright if I give you a call next week and make a time for a coffee so we can discuss what you are doing and tell you more about XYZ?”. Very rarely will someone say, no you can’t call me. They may say I really don’t have a need for XYZ (better to know now if that is the case) or more than likely if you have been developing a rapport with them in conversation they will want to meet again.
What I would recommend is the following for networking:
- When you are speaking to someone at an event, be present in the conversation – don’t scan the room while pretending to listen – make eye contact with them and engage
- Don’t jump into a sales pitch the minute you meet someone, however, know your elevator pitch if you are asked or when appropriate to mention
- Be interested in what the other person does and ask questions
- Don’t rush the conversation just so you can work the room
- Turn your phone on silent and don’t take a call when you are speaking to someone
- Close with a thank you and an action
Remember, people prefer to give business to people they like and trust. The soft skills are so important in building relationships, fine tune those and you will see a big difference.
People do notice bad behaviour and it goes towards your brand, so be aware of it at every event you go to.