Networking is NOT an Event

When networking…

Do you spend most or all of the time doing the talking?

Are you waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can share your next thought, essentially not really hearing what others are sharing?

Do you focus on telling others about your product or services, and you share little or nothing about the value you can add to their business or lives?

Do you tell others what products and services your company offers, you hear what they do, and then you rush to end the conversation for the purpose of exchanging business cards?

When you are talking with someone who you realize will not buy from you, does your mind begin to wander or, even worse, your eyes begin to look around the room making it obvious to the person across from you that your interest now lies in seeking out the next prospect?

“I don’t get much from networking”

If you answered yes to any of these questions (at one point in my career I could answer yes to all), then you probably find yourself often thinking that you don’t get much from networking – you are not experiencing positive outcomes and seeing the results you are seeking, which is making sales.  And the reason is that you may be networking with the wrong expectations and/or your approach is misguided.

Too often what people call networking is really a disguised version of tit for tat, a type of interpersonal accounting system that measures favors given against favors given in return.  One of the most important points to remember about networking is that it is never about you, it is always about the other person.

The people who gain the most from networking are those who have a genuine interest in people.  They grow strong networks because they focus their attention and actions on looking out for the other person’s interests, uncovering and then serving their needs.  They understand that is not about the product or service they are selling, and it’s definitely not about them and their sales technique – it’s about the other person and the problems they have that need to be solved.

It’s not about rapport – it’s about connecting

Before you earn the right to solve people’s problems, let alone learn about them, you must first make a true, genuine connection.  Unfortunately, far too many people just go through the motions to check “Build Rapport” off their sales-process list so they can get down to selling.  The people you are talking to are not fooled.  They will find these attempts at rapport building to be gratuitous and insincere.  If you want to connect with others, forget about building rapport and instead focus on connecting.

The true path to connecting is simple: It is making others feel important.  The real secret to making others feel important is also simple: Listen to them.  The more you listen, the more connected others will feel to you.  When you listen, you make people feel important, valued, and appreciated.

Unfortunately, few of us really listen.  Why?  People typically think of sales as a talking business.  We would rather think about and talk about ourselves – what we do, what our wants and needs are, how we can make the sale, etc.  Just go to any networking event – If people are not talking over each other in their eagerness to express their own self-important point of view, they are probably waiting impatiently for the other person to stop talking so they can share their next thought.

Conventional sales training focuses on the presentation: how you talk about your product.  Therefore, we have been taught that we are supposed to look for the earliest opportunity to tell people about what we do – or to create that opportunity with a clever “turn question.”  You ask the person what they do in order to subtly maneuver them into asking you what you do, and then you launch your cleverly scripted elevator pitch.

In reality, the secret to a perfect sales pitch is to have no sales pitch.  You should spend less time talking and more time listening. Instead, ask great questions and keep the conversation focused on others.

Selling is Giving

That doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it?  But it’s true.  In fact, the word sell comes from the Old English word sellan, which means “to give.”  Selling at its core is the giving of time, attention, counsel, education, empathy, and value, and even a gift – not the product or service to be purchased.

Ask people questions, learn about them, find ways you can help them, serve them, fill a need, share a resource, provide a referral, introduce potential strategic partners, introduce them to others, etc.

If you place the other person’s interests first, your interests will always be taken care of.  This is because people by nature want to help others who have helped them.  Givers attract other givers.

Yes, skills and techniques can be a valuable part of your sales life, but they need to be kept in perspective.  When in doubt, be yourself, make a connection, and add value.  Make a concerted effort to help people get what they want and need; if you do that well, sales will naturally find their way to you.

The Law of 250

Every person knows on average about 250 people.  For those who are well connected and emphasize building relationships through effective networking, this number could be higher.  So when you are networking, never make the mistake of “sizing-up” a person, because even though that particular person may not be in the market to buy what you are selling, there is a strong chance that one of the 250 people they know is in need of what you sell.

This means that every time you meet one new person and build a relationship with that person to the point where they know, like, and trust you, you have just increased your own personal sphere of influence not by one but by 250 or more.

These people might never buy from you, but their lives may be impacted and blessed just for knowing you.  They will always have you in the back of their minds and will be personally invested in seeing you succeed.  They are your army of personal walking ambassadors.  When you have your own army of personal walking ambassadors, you’ll have referrals coming your way faster than you can handle them.

Networking is a process

You can’t just go to a networking event, meet some people, and then expect the sales to just roll in.  Networking is not an event, it’s a process – it takes an investment of time as well as an investment in others.  People need to trust you and feel a connection to you before they feel comfortable referring you to others – and this does not happen with one interaction.

Your aim should be to have fun, make friends, establish connections, and ultimately, build relationships over time that may lead to strategic or referral partnerships.  Do not network for the purpose of presenting to others or sorting and qualifying them.  You’re not meeting people in order to make them customers.  You’re meeting people because you are interested in their lives.  Some will turn out to be interested in your product or service while others will become excellent sources of referrals.  But it is important to let those results unfold in their own time.

The point is not to sell as much as possible, nor is it to sell to as many people as possible.  It is to add value, to give for the sake of giving, and make an impact on others’ lives. The direct sales that may result are simply a by-product – an unexpected gift and bonus.