I was interviewed by Paul Casey for his radio show “Six Steps to Business Success” on KKNW – 1150AM in Seattle. The very first question Paul asked was for me to give my definition of “networking”.
For a brief moment, I froze. My mind raced as I tried to think of the perfect definition of networking, after all, this interview was going to be on the radio and I wanted to make the soundbite ring with truth and sincerity.
And then it came to me in its simplest form: Networking is the art of building relationships with people for mutual benefit over time.
Some would say that networking is a necessary part of a business person’s marketing tool box. And I would agree with that. As long as the person doing the networking is focused on building relationships that will blossom over time. However, there are way too many people today who think that they are networking when in reality they are just on an extended “sales call”. I’m sure that you have run into this type of a person at an event or at a social mixer. This is the person who comes up to you, introduces themselves, and then launches into a pitch about their business and why you should buy from them.
This happened to a friend of mine recently. We were both at a women’s breakfast meeting. For the sake of this example, we’ll call my friend Sally. Sally is a fabulous gal and she is nearly 6 feet tall. Sally is a well known business woman, she dresses beautifully, and carries herself with a professional demeanor. Sally and I were chatting when a woman approached us and handed her business card to Sally and said, “What a becoming suit you have on. I sell women’s clothing and we carry a great line of women’s suits that are professional in cut and style. You should call me and I’ll help you dress well for success.” And then she turned and walked away.
Sally and I were stunned. What just happened? Was that networking? No. It was a sales pitch. Did the hit and run sales person take any time to get to know Sally as a person? No. She saw Sally as a target and she fired away. Sally was left wondering if there was an underlying message…”Was there something wrong with what Sally was wearing?” No, I assured her, she was dressed perfectly for the occasion. Sally took that lady’s business card and dropped it in the nearest waste basket. The woman had left a lasting impression … but not at all the one she had hoped for.
How could this have had a different outcome? Networking, first and foremost, is about building relationships. Networking is learning about the other person more than it is about selling yourself or your products. People buy from people they know, like, and trust. You really have to take the time to get to know people and let them get to know you before you can move from the introduction to the transaction. For this scenario to have had a different outcome a different approach would have been necessary.
Let’s call the clothing sales lady Jill. Jill could have approached us and waited to be included in the conversation. At that point she could have introduced herself and asked a general event specific question like, “What a great group of women this is, are you members or a guest like me?” That would have given us an opportunity to introduce ourselves. Then, Jill could have asked us what we do and upon learning the answer could have asked slightly more probing questions. At some point in the 2-3 minute conversation she could have asked for a business card from Sally or offered her own with a suggestion for a follow up conversation. Or not. She could have simply enjoyed the conversation and then followed up by sending Sally a “nice to meet you” handwritten note. And then a week or so later, she could have followed up again with Sally just to let her know that there is a trunk show of suits by a designer that specializes in clothing for tall women and would Sally like a personal invitation to attend? At any rate, Sally would more likely have held onto Jill’s business card and kept it for future reference had Jill approached Sally in this manner.
YES, it takes longer. YES, it’s more work. Networking is about building relationships. Never forget that. Building takes time. Bulldozing takes moments and leaves a swath of destruction in its path.
So do us all a favor. The next time you head out to network with others, be sure to have the goal in mind that you are there to build relationships that will blossom over time. Leave the bulldozer at home.