I have been networking for more than three years, and have been to more than 150 events (I have receipts), not including structured referral groups. From these experiences, I have realized that it’s very easy to make some catastrophic mistakes that can seriously hinder effective networking.
Successful networking results from professional behavior, attire, active listening and following up with the people you value. People of value are not only prospects but contacts, and eventually, maybe even friends. These people may be able to further connect you to additional prospects and contacts or may provide services that can help you, your clients or your contacts. Successful networking has given me the opportunity to meet many people from a diverse range of professions, and I have benefited from these encounters, both in increased business and in the satisfaction of being able to help others succeed.
Failed networking, on the other hand, results in nothing but wasted time. Sadly, I’ve seen networking failures at every event, they can comprise any of the following, many of which you may recognize.
NOTE: “You” does not mean YOU, the reader of this post. YOU are awesome. YOU are a networking MACHINE. Right? I hope so. If you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself, I hope they are an anomaly and not the norm, and that you can take some corrective actions to make the most of your networking dollars.
1) What are you wearing? In order to appeal to other professionals, dress like one. I once met a guy dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, which was great if we were at a luau. His lack of effort to appear professional may apply to his level of customer service: lackadaisical, and it was a red flag for me.
2) Wow! Free food. I saw what the food looked like before you put it in your mouth, so I don’t need to see it chewed as you talk to me. If you’re hungry, then eat before or after you’ve done your networking, free or not. And bring some mints.
3) Wine is relaxing. Do you drink while you work? Remember, this is netWORKing. I agree that one drink is OK to add a little social to your interactions, but if you’re slurring your words I’ve already lost interest, aside from the fact that I can’t understand you.
4) The business card drive-by. This describes that person who comes out of nowhere, shoves their card in my hand before even introducing themself, solicits me, asks nothing about my goals or my business and disappears into the crowd. Wow, I am so turned on I can’t wait to call them. Not.
5) Enough about me, let’s talk about…me. This is not a drive-by, this is extended torture. This person could care less about my business, but tells me about theirs, again and again in a deluge of words larger than a tsunami, leaving me drenched and forgotten by the time they’re through. Then they finally leave, thankfully. This is the same type that interrupts me during a conversation with someone else, yet won’t allow me into their monologue thrust upon some other hapless person unfortunate enough to meet them first.
I work hard not to “sell” at events, unless a person pursues me and really does ask to hear more. Which brings me to what pains me worst of all:
6) No really, I need your services. This person insists they have a need for my services and would like me to review their business and provide a quote, which can be time consuming – that’s great, right? Then I’m treated like a stalker when I follow up on the proposal. Is it guilt, sympathy, fear or loathing that makes them feel compelled to ask for something they have no intention of considering? I’ll never know, since they won’t let me. And since we are all in the business of sales in some capacity, shouldn’t we treat each other better than that?
Networking has many benefits, and not all of them are directly related to sales. You have the opportunity to practice your ‘elevator pitch’, you can learn about new professions, technology, ideas and practices you never would have heard of cooped up in your office, and you can expand your horizons. Networking works only if you have an open mind and a positive attitude. And you can’t hide behind the buffet, the bar or clothes that may encourage conversation, because it won’t be the kind of conversation you’re looking for.