As a veteran sales professional I did a lot of networking.
However, I found the “how to network” advice I got throughout my career had some flaws. I had to figure out for myself what worked and what didn’t. Most of the tips I gathered from networking experts were about keeping in touch with people, not meeting them. At least the really useful tips. Essentially what these well meaning coaches talk about most when they talk about networking is really relationship management.
Don’t get me wrong, relationship management is a critical aspect of being in business. It is also an important part of the networking process. However, if you start off your networking process with those techniques you’re going to be very disappointed. Those tips don’t help you meet people in the first place and get connected.
Here’s what I mean…
Let’s say you’re at a business event and you meet someone. We’ll call her Virginia. Because you’re following the traditional advice on networking you do what most people do. You deliver your elevator speech and then you ask her for her business card, and you give her yours.
Then you try and figure out how to talk as much about how you can help her do whatever it is that you do for the rest of the conversation. Eventually it’s time to go.
When you get back to your office you add her to your newsletter mailing list, send a thank you email and maybe call to try and set up an appointment. Your call probably isn’t answered, nor returned, and neither is the email. So you repeat the process hoping to catch her in the office. Why? So you can “get together” to discuss the things you didn’t when you first met her. Usually about how you can “help her”.
So what’s wrong with this approach?
What’s wrong is that you’re behaving as if you’re in a business relationship… and you’re not. Jumping ahead to activities that help you “stay connected” when you were never connected in the first place is presumptuous and a waste of time, for both of you. You don’t know her problems yet, how can you help? Why would she let you? She doesn’t even know what you really do yet. Networking has a process. A 5 stage process to be precise.
Keeping in mind how difficult it can be to start the networking process, I want to share a list of ten networking tips… tips that you should ignore when you first meet people. These ten things will not help you when you’re in the early stages of the networking process. They might actually hinder your attempts to network effectively.
Ten Networking Tips to Ignore
1. Decide How Much Time You’re Going to Talk.
Giving time limits on conversations is a bad idea. You’re trying to start a conversation here, not attend a speed dating event. You can’t determine in advance how long it will take to engage someone in a conversation. What if it’s going really well? “I’m sorry you’re 5 minutes are up. It was nice meeting you, here’s my card. I’m going to talk to someone else now.” Really? I don’t recommend it. Quality over quantity people, quality over quantity.
2. Praise Instead of Asking for Something.
Half right. When you’re trying to get to know someone do not ask for anything until it is appropriate. Period. It’s presumptuous and rude. If they are open to introducing you to someone, you’ll know. If you’re unclear, don’t ask. As far as giving praise is concerned, if you just met this person what on earth could you praise about this person that won’t sound like you’re trying to kiss their rear? Throw this one in the “once I’m in a relationship” pile and practice some active listening instead.
3. Keep Your Emails Short.
GONG! First, your emails should always be short. But the real question is… why are you sending her an email right after you met her anyway? If you didn’t truly connect with her she’s not going to read the email. Regardless of how long it is. So skip the email altogether. If it’s obvious to both of you that there is more to talk about then send the email… to set up the meeting you talked about in person.
4. Provide a Lot of Value to the Other Person.
I love this one. Value for what? You just met this person. This is all about what you do AFTER you’re in a relationship with someone. You can’t provide value until you know if you can help them or not. Instead, focus on finding out if there’s a connection. If there is, then you can move along to finding out what you can do to help her out.
5. Make Your Business Card “Flashy” or a Bright Color.
I’m sorry but I hate this one. It goes right up there with wearing a huge hat, or a crazy tie, or ruby slippers. It’s a gimmick. No one is going to call you because your business card is purple. She will call you because she is interested in what you can do… for her. Spend your time learning how to have a great conversation with someone instead of looking for light up, sparkly, eye glasses.
6. Decide How Many People You’ll Talk to in Advance.
Wrong… this is a conversation killer. It puts a heap of extra pressure on you. I understand the desire to “encourage” yourself to network. Networking is difficult for many of us. But think about it. If you’re “forcing” yourself to network”, how effective are you going to be? Really? If you don’t want to talk to someone, they will know. So it’s better to truly prepare yourself instead of using ‘tricks’. Learn how to be confident and comfortable before you get to the event. That way you’re not forced to trick yourself into talking to people. Y ou’ll know how to simply have a conversation.
7. Organize Your Own Event.
I thought this one was interesting so I’m including it. If you’re into organizing events then this might be okay. However, if you are the event organizer are you really going to be out there networking with people who come? Or are you actually going to be busy with all the logistics of running the event? This sounds like a way to trick yourself into networking. I’m not saying don’t host events. That might work perfectly with your networking strategy. And yes, you should plan your networking strategy. Hosting could just give you one more excuse to avoid really networking with people… all while pretending that you’re networking. Just learn to network, it’s easier.
8. Be Interested, Not Interesting.
This also got it half right. You do need to be interested in people you talk to. No question. However, if you’re only listening to them and they learn nothing about you then why on earth would they take your call next week when you follow up? “I’m that really good listener you met at the event last week.” Silence. “Remember?” “Uh, no actually I don’t. What do you do again?” That’s called back to square one. You have to know how to tell them about yourself while making the conversation about them. It can be learned.
9. Follow Up with Everyone You meet.
Nope, not a great idea. Sure if you had a conversation with someone and it went well, certainly follow up. That’s part of the process. And even if you meet someone, spoke briefly and wanted to say “it was nice meeting you” that’s okay. But, if all you did was say “hi” and grab a business card why on earth would they want to hear from you? That’s all about you… not them. They’ll likely just delete your voice mail. So don’t waste your time. Again, focusing on having a productive conversation in the first place is much more effective.
10. Use Social Media to Follow Up with People.
It all depends on what you mean by “follow up”. If you’re just shifting your “get the business cards and call for a meeting” strategy to LinkedIn or Facebook, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. If they don’t want to take your phone call then why do they want to like your Facebook page… or link with you on LinkedIn? So you can send them even more messages they didn’t ask for? The power of social media isn’t that it is another way to send out information you’d send in an email. When used at the appropriate stage of the process social media can be very effective. Everything in it’s time and place will get you much farther than spinning your wheels. Learning how to follow up effectively, when it’s time, will get you much better results.