Networking – Not Connecting

It is inevitable, whether you like to be in groups or not, that for a small business to succeed you or someone representing you are  involved with some networking groups.  These groups are typically formed with the primary purpose of introducing people and collecting contacts and therefore, in theory, generating leads.  There are lots of these groups around pretty much anywhere you are; literally hundreds of them.  BNI groups abound, groups like WOAMTEC that cater to a specific gender or genre, community service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis have networking aspects to them, chambers of commerce sponsor groups, trade associations create them, and sometimes just someone with a mind for a target audience will create them.

I have belonged to several over time and visited many others.  They all have the their advantages and disadvantages and most are at least a little productive eventually.  The biggest issue I have with most of them is that the participants really don’t know what they are doing and it becomes more of a mingling than a networking.  The fatal flaw is that you aren’t connecting, you are simply meeting and greeting.  Some of the common mistakes I see are:

  • business card poker is NOT connectingPeople who show up and pass out their business cards like they are dealing poker.  Sometimes they include some type of greeting but usually it is just their brief pitch.  The assumption that I am going to do business with you or refer you to anyone else just because I have your business card is a fatal flaw.  That’s supporting your printer, not connecting.

Keep the card in your pocket, I don’t want it.

  • Shooting for quantity of contacts over quality.  I have seen people come in, make a point of talking to every single person in the room briefly, collect cards, and rush out confident that they have done their job.  Like the example of passing out the cards above, you have done nothing to further your cause other than collect some additional names you will probably add to your list to spam until they get sick of it.  Again, not connecting.
  • The assumption that you are going to do business with anyone in the room.  Yes, on a VERY RARE occasion that may happen, but it’s not the purpose of your being there.  Think about it:  did you go to the meeting to buy from anyone there?  What makes you think they did?  The purpose of networking is not to do business.  We’ll talk about that purpose (connecting) further down in the post.
  • Relying on your “elevator speech” as the entire moment of contact with anyone in the room.  I am not a big fan of elevator speeches for this very reason.  In case you don’t know what an elevator speech is, it works off the theory that if you were in an elevator with someone you really wanted to contact you basically have 30 seconds to impress so you need to present a clear, concise summary of who you are and what you do.  It works off the assumption that if someone in the elevator or at a networking group asks you what you do they really want to know.  Chances are they don’t; they really want to tell you what they do.

Connecting – Not Networking

I have spent time going around to networking groups and pointing out these fatal flaws and proposing that they do something different.  If you tire of this merry-go-round that gets nowhere, why not try connecting instead of networking.  Connecting is all about building REAL relationships with people, not just acquaintances or business card collections. You make friends, not contacts.  And that’s what networking is really all about.  You don’t have to go anywhere new, you can still attend the same events, but your intentions, purpose, and approach are different.  The only thing that will change is you.

The idea is that you want to spend more time being interested than interesting.  At the heart of it, people want to know that you find them fascinating.  They don’t want to know that you have a new, revolutionary product or service; they want to know that you can help them, that you care about them, and that they can trust you.  Take this approach and in just a short time I believe it will amaze you at how things change for the better.  Better authentic relationships with people, leading to better referrals and increase in closings.  Just changing this mindset makes a world of difference.  As Dale Carnegie said,

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Be one of the first to arrive and the last to leave to maximize your contact time.  Budget your time so that you aren’t rushed.  Being hurried shows up in your attitude, your speech, and your body language.  No one thinks you care for them when you are in a hurry and you aren’t really connecting if you are in a hurry.
  • Set your goal before you walk in the door to focus on 2-3 quality contacts.  If you meet more, and your certainly will, then great.  But focus on actually initiating a relationship with 2-3 people where you are really connecting with them.
  • Ditch the elevator speech.  Marketing Guru Seth Godin says no one buys anything in a elevator.  Give short, concise answers to inquiries about you and quickly turn it around to ask questions about them.  You want them to talk the majority of the time you spend with them.  People who let other people talk about themselves are regarded by them as the best conversationalist in the world.
  • When you do talk, share more personal information than business information.  Real connecting with people happens on common ground and that is always personal.  You may find you went to the same school, at both natives to the area, have kids, etc.

Commonality makes connections.

  • Here’s the biggie: instead of looking for what you are going to get from each relationship, look for what you can give.  What can you do for them, especially if unrelated to your business.  Can you connect them with someone who can solve a problem you don’t address?  Perhaps they need a good medical specialist or are looking for a new church or a good place that serves authentic viking food.  How can you add value to them.  Ironically, when you do that you will eventually receive value in return.  It is really true, what goes around comes around.

Action Plan

  1. Think about your next meeting.  Pick two or three people you will focus on building a relationship with this week.
  2. In your conversation with them, find one thing you can do for them THIS WEEK and then DO IT.