Networking WTF

Years ago, a college professor challenged me to find a book on networking — no, not computer networking, which is what you get when you Google the term. And yes, this was before Kindles and blogs. I was unable to find the book so I lost the bet and treated him to lunch.

Ten years later he emailed me a gift-card for a book on networking, and at the fear that he’d quiz me on it, I read it in less than two days. Well, it was a small paperback, but I was also eager to evaluate the book, as I’d become what I thought of as a “professional networker.” Not to boast, but I had my first box of glossy business cards in Junior High. Yup, I was that cool.

But I digress. Networking is often categorized as “working the room” or “working a crowd.” And the ritual only becomes official when the act of exchanging business cards is performed. But I beg to differ. I am convinced that networking is about earning someone’s trust, being the first to give, and only then asking for the business. It’s what I call (as of the day this blog went live) the Wow Them First (WTF) approach.

So, here are a few anchors for creating relationships that lead to business:

  • Listen First. The ratio one should speak versus listen is in direct proportion to the number of ears and mouth one has. The point is you listen, more than you speak. When you listen you get insight about the other person; do they practice yoga, do they have kids, likes, their lingo, and yes — even their dislikes. This is all information crucial to tailoring your pitch.
  • Feed it Back. Once you’ve heard the general details of a person’s business and their role, try and repeat it to them in your own words. This clarifies what you think you know versus what they actually do. More importantly, you are able to align any opportunities you’re aware of with what the person does. Remember, the point is to be a resource, not a drain.
  • What’s Your Name Again? There is nothing sweeter to a person than the sound of their own name. Use it! This serves two purposes; one, you are remembering a person’s name (remember how most of us can’t remember), and two, you are dialing in to the person’s sense of self. Because most ‘networkers’ don’t do this, you are making a connection with people beyond the superficial mingling level. 
  • Beat Them to the Punch. You met someone recently at a networking event that could be a great client for you, or perhaps they might refer you some good ones. What do you do? Ask! Actually, no, not yet. Instead, provide a referral. Request to meet with this person, qualify them for the referral, and then hand it over. It is amazing how well this works. Remember, those who give, get.
  • Follow Up! This is the Achilles heel of most networkers. But no more, right? Follow-ups should be short and sweet, and because you paid attention at the beginning you’ll be able to work in your personal connection. For example, you could say, “we met at the #Latism Conference, it was a great event, and those Porto’s pastries…wow! Also, I may have a referral for you and I’d like to discuss exchanging leads with you before I send additional information – can we talk this Wednesday or Friday morning?”

That’s it! You earn business through trust, and people’s trust by doing the right thing. It’s a simple but meaningful idea to do business by. And as my business mentor thaught me: “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

If you have a different and successful way to network please do share your experiences with me. Leave a comment.

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