I’ve learned some things about networking in recent years that I wish I’d known a long time ago.
If I’d known 20 years ago, I’d be rich now, and my work-life (which I’ve liked) would have been more fulfilling. Networking is different from prospecting. (And, by the way, even my prospecting looks more now like networking than simply looking for business.)
When I go to a networking event, I hope I’ll meet people with whom I’ll be able to do business. Doing business is how I eat. Most people “do networking” from within that hope. And they hate networking. And therefore, networking doesn’t work for most people like it works for those few high performers who seem to close business out of nowhere without breaking a sweat.
I used to suck at networking. I didn’t understand that in order to be effective, networking must be separate from the hope that it’ll lead to business.
We’re told, “add value,” and, “just meet people.” We’re told, “Ask people about themselves.” We’re admonished, “Don’t be pushy.” And, “Be authentic, genuine.” Almost nobody tells us how, or even what those things mean. They don’t tell us that when we try to be authentic, the trying prohibits authenticity.
We don’t know that when we speak with people while holding a specific hope, we come off desperate and turn people off. In fact, many of your sales managers push you to close sales in a way that breeds feelings of desperation and prevents you from building rapport and closing business. No one tells us what to do with the profound desire to get business and make money.
THE HIGH PERFORMER’S DIFFERENCE
The highest performers are driven by the desire to make money, and they don’t allow that desire to co-opt their conversations. Their conversations are about people, and about being of help. Their conversations are not about how they’ll make quota.
The key is to step aside from hope when talking with others — whether in a sales conversation or simply networking. You can hope, of course. Don’t let me take that away from you. Heck, you can’t help it. To hope is human. Just let hope be a passenger, not a driver. You may have heard the adage, “Hope is not a strategy.” Hope isn’t a healthy relationship driver either.
Drive your networking and your connecting instead with faith. Hope is specific. I hope you like me. I hope you’re a good prospect for me. I hope we can do business. I really hope I leave this event with at least one strong lead. It’s pretty easy to have your hopes dashed. So it’s pretty easy to come across as desperate or manipulative — salesy — as you pursue your hopes.
Faith is more general. It’s not so easily dashed. I have faith that if I do the right things, I’ll be successful. I have faith that if I help whomever is in front of me, some people I help will want what I sell, and want it from me. I have faith that I’ll close deals, even if I don’t close the particular deal in front of me now. I have faith that the deals I do close will be with the right people for the right reasons at the right time.
The profound connections I make with people through that authentic, calm, confident standpoint will lead to more business. When I do go to close the deal, with faith as my context, I’ll close because it’s the best way to help the prospect, not because I need the sale.
I spent two hours in a large room full of business people and left without a single substantial lead. I did not gain even one prospect who’s likely to ever buy the training packages that are my bread and butter.
It was one of the absolute best nights of networking of my life.
I told Thomas about every substantial conversation I had last night. Here, edited just a bit for clarity, is the email I sent him recounting my great success. (In parenthesis below, is a bit of commentary I’m adding now.)
8 STRATEGIES TO POWER-UP YOUR NETWORKING
What I did all in one very fruitful evening:
1. Remember people who aren’t there.
I met two people who mentioned they do business with maritime clients – I’m connecting them with an excellent maritime photographer I know. (That adds value to the people I met since they can refer their clients to a resource. It adds value to photographer Mihael Blikshteyn because he may get business through my recommendation.)
2. Compliment people where you see strengths they don’t.
One of the people I’m connecting with Mihael is an attorney who feels she is, “not good with people…” But she can be. Based on my experience — she was good with me — I told her, “You’re better with people than you think.” (I was being honest. She could sense that. That adds value to her by starting to replace a limiting belief that she told me hampers her ability to attract new business.)
3. Your network is like your brain. It’s not just about making new connections. Strengthen existing ones too.
I ran into at least five people I already knew and deepened those connections: I impressed one with the value I gave to someone else by shifting her perspective and offering to help with a problem she was facing. I promised another person whose services I’d used that I’d make a LinkedIn recommendation of praise I’d emailed to him privately. With another, I talked about valuable sources of content online, and we traded valuable business boosting resources. The fourth, I smiled at, shook his hand, and told him I’d missed him at the last Wednesday morning meeting we both frequently attend. With the fifth, I asked if he’d done business with a lead I’d sent his way that wasn’t a fit for my company, and asked if there was anything I could do to help with that lead.
4. Trite as it is, look for the win-win (and the win-win-win).
I met the corporate giving manager of a major Seattle theater, and started the relationship off strong. I shared with her my passion for theater, and agreed to mention her and her theater to leaders I meet who care about the arts. She agreed to send me podcast guests for “Mighty Good Work“. (That’s good for both of us. By introducing them to me, her donors get a free platform to tell their stories. I get a shortcut to creating the content my listeners want, and I expand the network of leaders I’m connected to.)
This was her first Seattle Chamber event, and she asked me if I thought they’d be useful to her. I gave her some counsel about how to approach choosing which events to attend and how to meet the C-Suite folks in the crowd who can help her expand her network of leaders and grow her donor base.
5. Make promises that you will later keep. Think long term.
I met a young guy from Boeing whose job I didn’t understand. He gave me some insight about selling into Boeing. He’s going to be looking for a new position, and I told him to reach out when he starts. (I’ll gladly help him land in a great situation for him. I’m glad to know a little more about how to succeed in pitching Boeing.)
6. People love help. They love to give it. They love to get it. Create relationships between others where there’s no direct benefit to you.
I met a young woman who’s a financial advisor. I helped her shift her thinking about sales from, “I must convince them,” to, “I must simply support and offer expertise – educating without judgment.” She’ll grow her business by being valuable, gaining trust, and building rapport without raising people’s defenses. She heaved a sigh of relief to have a new, more authentic way of thinking about sales. I learned she’s feeling daunted and lonely in the male dominant field. I promised to connect her with a dynamic woman who’s an experienced veteran in the same industry who will enjoy being a mentor to her. (This connection is already made, and they are both grateful for the opportunity to get to know one another. They’ll be talking in a few days.)
7. Help build others’ businesses.
The venue this event was held in had a unique character – I sought out the event sales person for the venue, and promised to connect her with a significant Seattle event planner I know who’s never held an event there, but who will appreciate the character of the venue. (Both the venue and the event planner will derive value — one gets new business. The other has new inventory to offer her clients that’s unique in the marketplace.)
8. Recognize opportunity.
The manager of programs and partnerships at the Seattle Chamber saw me in passing, and I smiled and said, “Hi!” Unprompted, she promised to call me next month. She’d like to have me give a presentation or two at upcoming chamber events.
I’m likely to get no business directly from any of the connections I made last night. Even so, I view it as one of my most successful nights of networking. I didn’t change the world. Not their worlds, and not mine.
A different KPI
And… The number of people upon whom I made a positive impression… The number of people for whom I made a notable difference… That’s the KPI by which I’m measuring my success and giving my performance full marks. I’m still trying to give value as a result of the evening. You may have noticed all the links in this post helping you find the people I met.
All connections are good connections. They’re all promising connections. You never know what’ll come of the seeds of goodwill sewn indiscriminately.
And, I had fun. I felt very few moments of self-consciousness all night.
Some people are very self-conscious about networking, about approaching strangers, about telling people what they do, and about asking for business. Until recently, I was self-conscious about all that.
The opposite of self-conscious is you-conscious. Be conscious of the other person and how you can help them. It’s an easier approach, free of self-consciousness, if you begin each encounter with the thought, “Who are you? How can I help?”
There’s a reason a book entitled The Go Giver is so popular among top performers. Gratitude is a currency.
Are you building and banking gratitude in your network? What shifts do you need to make to your expectations and intentions around networking in order to enjoy it more and to provide more value? Are you approaching your business relationships from an improviser’s mentality — where your plan is specific enough to drive your behavior, and open enough to accommodate serendipity and allow you to recognize subtle opportunities?
Resolve to put some gratitude in the bank today, and tomorrow. And tomorrow.