Business networking can be a great way to let people know who you are and what you do—accelerating sales, referrals, and profits.
You do want more sales, referrals, and profits, don’t you?
The sad truth, though, is that most networking sucks the life out of people because of the way it feels. Selfish. Icky. But, as Michael Port writes in his best-selling Book Yourself Solid, there is a better way.
Here are just a few ways to improve the way you network so that you can build all the solid business relationships you want without ever feeling icky, and without ever giving an elevator speech.
Have a conversation. Under no circumstances should you give your elevator speech (or thirty-second commercial). People hate them. They are clutter, not conversation. Instead, introduce yourself. Connect, but remember they are a person, not just a connection.
Ask for their business card instead of handing them yours. If you want to connect and build a relationship, stop asking the other person to do the heavy lifting. You ask for their card instead, so you can be the one to follow up. Unless they ask for your card, keep it in your pocket.
Think about how you can help them. They are at that networking meeting for a reason. Think about how you could answer a question or introduce them to someone. Think about listening to them instead of waiting to jump in with how they could help you. People notice if you’re listening, if you’re really paying attention. So do.
Make a promise and keep it. Tell the person you’ve met (if it’s true), “I’ve enjoyed getting to talk with you, and it seems like we have some things in common. I’d like to follow up with you next week to see if we can get to know each other a little better.” Then do it. The sad truth is, promises made in networking meetings are usually forgotten before the last cookies are eaten. Keep your promises and you will stand out.
Keep in touch. After your initial conversation, you need to keep in touch with the people you meet. At the same time, you have to strike the right balance between stalking and disappearing. Frequency will vary depending on the relationship, but you should decide how often you want to stay in contact with someone and schedule it in advance. I recommend Contactually.com because it’s easy and effective, but you can use note cards in a file box or a simple spreadsheet.
Have a plan for what to say when you keep in touch. Here is the secret to good networking and relationship building: only make requests and offers proportionate to the amount of trust you have earned. How do you feel when someone you just met delivers their elevator speech and then asks you for the sale? Uncomfortable, right? Maybe even icky? And how do you feel when you press someone you hardly know for the sale (or the referral)? Definitely icky.
The truth is, as Tim Sanders suggests in Love is the Killer App, you can share your knowledge, compassion and connections with someone, demonstrate your good intentions and credibility, and earn their trust at the same time. Then, if the relationship develops and the time is right, it will be natural for you to do business together or give and receive referrals.
That’s okay, though. Because that’s when you have not just a one-off sale, but a partner, an ally, and maybe even a friend.
And what would happen if you followed all of these simple strategies for building solid, rewarding business relationships? You’d stop feeling icky, learn to love networking, and develop a ton of new friends. And when that happens, people will want to do business with you and send their friends to you.by