Nobody wants to have a ‘networking conversation,’ especially those who are at the highest levels of business. They are hungry for real conversations and real relationships. It has to be authentic, genuine and sincere.” - Rich Stromback
Even with a plethora of information, books, classes and generous experts, rooms are full of people who have yet to develop excellent communication skills (and who you prefer to avoid).
The Data - What Works?
The very nature of person-to-person business networking limits data by which to create a benchmark. CRM software is helpful but the information is propreitary and stays hidden. The lack of statistics keeps hope alive since there are no red flags or stories of failure but there is not a clear path to success for those who have not yet mastered their networking skills.
Leading a team to help them improve their networking skills is difficult because each person has a unique DISC personality, expertise and world view about business networking. As you evaluate your team, or think back to your own experiences, you might identify with Barney, Ralph and others:
100 Business Cards – Barney
One hundred people walk into room with 100 business cards in hand with the hope of delivering one to each person in the room. Barney’s simple math tells him: “Hand out 100 business cards over the course of the next two hours and five people should show interest.” This puts pressure on Barney since he needs to hand out one business car per minute with a couple of 10 minute breaks.
At the end of the evening, Barney ‘networker’ adds the names and email addresses from the newly acquired stack of business cards to his ‘list’ and CRM. As the CRM automation goes to work emailing the new contacts, Barney is already staking out his next event with another 100 business cards.
What I have just described is more like door hanging than business networking. If someone is consistent with visiting rooms and distributing business cards, it does increase the chance of meeting the right person at the right time - vs sitting in an office and waiting for the phone to ring.
Over the course of a year, Barney will tell others: “I have attended dozens of events. Business networking doesn’t work.” By his definition, Barney is correct.
The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work” – Robert Kiyosaki
Random Acts of Showing Up – Ralph
Ralph has met Barney during one of his business card distribution rounds. Ralph was not impressed but did find the business card handy as a coaster for his glass. Ralph is committed to showing up and believes that by showing up enough, someone will notice and speak with him... about him and his business.
Ralph knows the power of familiarity he thinks of as the ‘Oprah Affect’. When someone is seen and greeted often enough and there are no warning signs, it increases the possiblity that someone will be comfortable enough to have a conversation. Ralph has already practiced his script to introduce himself, his business and the products he is selling. He shows up and remains ready.
Ralph takes advantage of the new opportunities the Internet provides. He has studied the various event and meetup platforms and carefully selected the best events. He focuses especially on websites such as:
www.meetup.com (Ralph finds gold but it takes time to filter)
www.eventbrite.com (Which offers automation to keep Ralph up to date)
www.eventful.com (Ralph skips by the entertainment and looks to the networking events)
www.linkedin.com (LinkedIn Groups host networking events)
www.bizjournals.com/seattle/calendar (Local business newspapers offer events)
www.seattlebusinessmag.com/events (Local business magazines also offer events)
Ralph spends time at award events, trade shows, social events, niche industry events… and more. If there is an event where someone might use his products or services, he shows up.
Given enough time, it is possible and likely Ralph will connect to another who has similar beliefs. “Success is based on showing up.” Ralph relies on the public events 'anyone' can attend and is not aware of the exclusive events that exist beyond the eyes of the public, attended by invitation only.
Ralph does not use a CRM system. He prefers the more traditional method of keeping business cards in a file system. He does store them alphabetically and over the years his box is full. Since he is expecting success will come to him by showing up, he does not follow-up except when there is an obvious connection after an introduction. Even so, he looks at his organized box of business cards as a trophy, which is an indication of how many times he has shown up and someone has introduced themselves.
Ralph has not yet realized how many Barney’s exist and how they are on a mission to hand out business cards. The business card collection holds little value since business card owners have already forgotten Ralph or simply business card distributors.
Over the course of a year or more, Ralph will begin to track the numbers and reveal his truth: “Business networking does not work. I have hundreds of business cards and showed up to dozens of events. I have little to show for it.”
This study shows how 165 lawyers at a large North American law firm found their success depended on their ability to network effectively both internally (to get themselves assigned to choice clients) and externally (to bring business into the firm). Those who regarded these activities as distasteful and avoided them had fewer billable hours than their peers.
Barney and Ralph are only two examples of who you might meet at an event, trade show, awards dinner or Chamber meeting. There are many more, each with their own world view of “business networking.” (Note - the names used are all ficticious, for illustrative purposes only.)
Edwin – Looks at networking as a task because his boss tells him to do it. He attends and records his activities but expects nothing from it.
Liana – Attends events to practice her elevator pitch. She has no interest in any of the attendees but knows the value of practice.
Seymour – Who wants to attend because he must eat anyway, why not at the networking event?
Yvette – Is particularly interesting because she loves meeting new people, talking about almost anything and enjoys the crowd. Yvette has no direction or goal and uses networking events as a safer way to enjoy an evening out.
Sam – Salesman Sam is immediately annoying because his goal and mission is to cut to the chase as quickly as possible and tell you what he is selling and why it is time to buy.
Wally – Wally is either wily or obtuse. Wally shows up but adds “let me tell you my life story” and believes that if he reveals enough about himself, you will like him. The saying “They have to know you and like you before they buy from you” is at the top of his mind.
As a result, many attest to how they don't need business networking, it is a waste of time.
BUSINESS NETWORKING: Networking means connecting with other professionals for mutual benefit. This is usually undertaken to meet service providers, generate leads and keep abreast of industry best practice.
You will find leaders and decision makers at events. They attend knowing well that the room is full of business networkers who are not yet skilled, though passionate.
These valuable and insightful leaders understand the importance of serious relationships and know it is more than a business card or a LinkedIn connection. They look carefully for character first before they understand the skill, expertise or products.
The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Thus, good schmoozer’s are good listeners, not good talkers. - Guy Kawasaki
Events change lives. It is where everything can line up perfectly to create a moment of ‘ah-ha’, where a new idea is born and new collaborations formed. An in-person event can reveal who is selfish, arrogant and clueless… and it can also be where you meet the right person who becomes a fan, advocate and referral partner.
A business network is a source of partners, jobs, employees, referrals, testimonials, customers, friends or life partner. Consider your next big success that you are not yet aware of. Will your success come because of the people you currently know? Or will it come because of someone you meet in the future?
....relationships take time, getting to know folks requires patience, and people are generally cautious – if not fearful – of Johnny come lately that is asking, rather than giving. - Jeremiah Owyang, Sr. Analyst at Forrester
After 20 years in business, I can assure you there is not a technology that will replace the power of in-person relationship building. Introverts, extroverts and ambiverts can develop an ability to network effectively and create relationships for mutual benefit. A few of the networking skills seem simple on the surface. We are very aware that “your smile and handshake is important.”
The Networking Event Preparation Checklist will help you get the most from Andrew Sobel's principles. In his new book "Power Relationships", Andrew Sobel says the best place for all those business cards might be the circular file. His thesis is simple: When it comes to networking, quality trumps quantity. Sobel offers these tips:
- Figure out who matters most.
- Pick your next tier.
- Find easy ways to engage everyone else.
- If you want to connect with someone, find a way to help that person.
- Be intriguing.
- Think people, not positions.
- Give before you ask.
- Be generous.
Before you attend the next event, be sure to download and use my Networking Event Preparedness Checklist. This is my personal checklist and serves as a reminder to stay focused… even the simplest things matter. This Networking Event Preparedness Checklist can be used as a training tool for your business development or sales team to not just know the information, but to develop effective habits.
The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity. - Keith Ferrazzi