Powerful Networking Approach for Sales - And for Everything Else

I’ve learned some things about networking in recent years that I wish I’d known a long time ago.

LOST OPPORTUNITY

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.


A STORY

This morning, Thomas Tomasevic, an accountability buddy of mine asked, “How was the networking event you went to last night?”

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.


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A PERSPECTIVE

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.

Escape Self-Consciousness

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?”

Cultivate Gratitude

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.


Ditch This Destructive Sales Approach Today

Most of the sales people I work with have the best interests of their clients at heart. They’re looking to make deals that’ll be great for all parties involved. But that’s not universal. I’m glad to say that the attitude I’m about to tell you about is rare and getting rarer. But it’s still out there, and it should be eradicated.

This attitude is bad. It’s bad for your relationships. It’s bad for your image. It’s bad for your business. It’s bad for your sales. In fact, I recently met a salesman who offered me an incredible deal on something I’ve been interested in for a long time. And, rather than give him the sale, I’d prefer to go without. By revealing this common sales approach, he lost a slam-dunk sale and a potentially powerful referrer.

The Setup

Last week at an event, I met two guys in sales. I learned from talking with them that they both sell group entertainment packages, each for a different company. Mark (names changed to protect the innocent) sells short, local cruises. He talked about the relationships he had with clients and prospects and about the experiences groups have when working with his company. He showed genuine interest in the work I do, and saw value in it for himself and his team. I’ll refer him business whenever I can.

John (names changed to protect the guilty) sells a thrilling, unique, and amazing ride-like experience to groups. I’ve known about the existence of his product for some time, and I have always thought, “I’m gonna do that. That looks fun!” At the end of our ten minute conversation, John failed to make one of the world’s easiest sales. He offered me the opportunity to do something I very much want to do. He offered it for free. A free thrilling, unique, amazing ride-like experience I’ve wanted to try, offered for free, and I will not accept his offer. I probably will never refer any business to him either.

Why?

At the beginning of our conversation, John told Mark and me the secret to sales. “The secret to sales,” he said, “is to make people feel obligated to you.” That’s the sales approach I’ve been talking about. I wondered immediately if he really meant that, and my improv training kicked in.

My job in improv is to make my partner look good. John was my partner in improv. I thought that statement didn’t make him look too hot, so I offered him an easy-shift alternative. “Yeah,” I said, almost as though I agreed with him. “Gratitude works for me. Express gratitude. Treat people in ways I’d be grateful to be treated. Offer whatever support I can. People respond well.”

“Gratitude, yeah,” replied John. “I guess it’s good to feel gratitude. Obligation, though. That’s the stuff. People feel like they owe you something, so they buy what you’re selling. Works no matter what.”

Ten minutes later, John gave Mark and me his card and offered both of us a free ride, “any time.” I want the ride. But I do not want a relationship where the currency is obligation. John had already pulled back the curtain to show the inner workings of his offer. It’s a spider web. He gives a free ride. He expects I’ll feel obligated to him for giving me something of value for free. And then, out of a sense of IOU, I’ll buy a group experience, and/or, I’ll refer others to him so he can sell them a group experience.

The thing is, I value relationships above all other resources in business and beyond. I’ll never send John business because I won’t deliberately expose anyone I care about to his spider web of expected obligation.

Relationships Matter

Obligation lives right next to resentment. When we feel obligated, that often leads us to feeling resentful of the obligation. “Crap. I’ve got to go do this thing for this person. I wish I didn’t have to.” By contrast, when we’re motivated by gratitude, the story we tell ourselves is different. “I’d like to go do this thing for this person. I’ll feel good to give back to someone who’s given to me.”

If I give to another with no expectations of obligation, then we are equals throughout the transaction, from beginning to end. The transaction is complete immediately after I’ve given. But the transaction stretches on with barbed hooks when I have an expectation of obligation. The transaction is only half complete after I’ve given, even if there’s no cash fee for my service. I’m left in a perpetual state of waiting, of incompleteness until you return the favor. I’ll exact my fee one day. And I’ll resent you if the return doesn’t come within my arbitrarily sensed frame of “right timing.”

Drop This Sales Approach

When I began this article, I expected my guidance would be, “Drop this “obligation” approach to selling. I realize now, as I close, that it’s bigger than that. The expectation of obligation is a symptom of a much bigger disease. The disease is viewing business and sales as a zero sum game. In a zero sum game, there is often seen to be a winner and a loser, but that’s not the only way of creating a zero-sum.

Here’s another zero-sum approach. If I give you something, then I am in the negative and you are in the positive. The world is out of balance until you right the imbalance by giving back to me. You owe me. If you owe me, I resent you. Every time.

A Giving Alternative

If I give to you with no expectation from you, we’re both increased. You’ve gotten my gift. I’ve got the reward of having made a difference in your day or in your life. And I’ve built good will in my community. On last week’s episode of our podcast, Mighty Good Work, guest Chris Free said that if you treat people in your community well, “they’ll call you when they need help. And sometimes… they pay you for that help.”

When you pour generosity into your community without specific expectation, then you find yourself in a community of gratitude and generosity. And, you’ve given people a sample of the value you have to give. It comes back.

In the world we now live in, of white papers and free webinars, and free-mium SaaS products, maybe this isn’t news. But not everyone is here yet in the win-win world we occupy. Sales isn’t zero sum. Win-win isn’t everyone sacrificing equally. The best business transactions elevate everyone’s position.We can both have the better end of the deal.

Be Equal

If John, with a genuine smile, had offered me a free ride, I would have taken it in a twinkling. And I’d have been grateful. He’d have lost nothing (one ride doesn’t cost much for them to provide). I would have gained a thrilling experience. He’d have the pleasure of giving. I’d have the pleasure of feeling grateful. And he’d have the added benefit that I’d be looking for opportunities to refer business to him. I’m a connector.

As it stands, I won’t refer him business, even though he’s made that same offer. His sales approach is toxic. And I won’t poison my relationships.

John’s not a bad guy. He just hasn’t learned to be equal. Business, sales, exists as an opportunity to increase everyone’s position all at once.


Surpass Your Goals Without Breaking a Sweat

Great Goals Are Bigger Than You

I’ve been looking back at my 2015, and in a life I’m proud of, this may be my best year yet for setting and reaching goals. I’ve watched and nurtured my baby daughter grow into a gregarious, curious, and precocious toddler. I’ve watched and nurtured our baby company grow, get noticed, and deliver on promised results for 100% of our clients — those that hired us for a 1 hour improv “taste”, and those that hired us for in-depth, multi-day training. I’ve met awesome people and established meaningful connections around the world and in sectors ranging from community service to industrial manufacturing giants to elite military trainers and beyond. I met and exceeded most of my goals and accomplished things I hadn’t even thought to dream of yet — and it was easy (in a way).

And it’s not because I’m great.

It’s because I’m finally starting to realize two truths on a deeper level than I ever have before. My daughter taught me. She’s twenty months old.

  • I can’t do it on my own.  And…
  • Humans like to help.

All the greatest strides I’ve made this year for myself and my company have come through the help of others. People all around me are bending over backwards to help. They always have been, though I haven’t always noticed, and haven’t always believed them. But get this. It’s true. They mean it. Just like I mean it when I offer to help. I take great satisfaction in being of service to others.

For instance… This week, I’ll cook a meal — big enough to provide tons of left-overs — for a friend. He’s launching a business and could use a no-fuss home-cooked meal so he can concentrate on the sprint he’s running. This year, I connected four job seekers with their dream employers because I could, and I wanted to see them succeed. I introduced podcast hosts whose work I enjoy to guests I know they’d value having on their shows. I did it because I like to help. And I’m not at all unusual. You probably get off on helping others too, even with no promise or likelihood of payback. It just feels good.

So, because I can’t do it on my own, I started accepting the help others were offering me more than I ever have before. Some of that help I paid for, as it came in the form of professional services rendered. In exchange for some of the help, however, I simply said, “thank you.”

This second lesson about how profoundly true it is that humans like to help, I learned only by fully embracing the first lesson: I can’t do it on my own. Like so many of us do, I played my goals close to my vest. I didn’t share the small ones. And I didn’t share the big ones. I didn’t share with many people where I was, and where I was hoping to get. So how could people possibly help me achieve my goals? Few people knew, so few even offered.

In 2015, I made a change. I started telling everyone (everyone) about my goals: large and small, personal and professional. I didn’t tell every person every goal. I wasn’t dramatic about it. I told everyone about at least one goal. And I told them in a matter of fact manner without any expectation.

It goes like this, “I’m looking for some dinner.” And like this, “I want my company to bring the communication, collaboration, and decision-making awesome of improv to law enforcement.”

As soon as I started to share my goals with people that way, they started offering to help in ways large and small.  Not everyone, but lots of people.

I also became more generous with myself. I’m offering my help more, and I enjoy it. Helping nourishes me, teaches me, and leaves me fulfilled. Where I once feared that helping others would diminish the time I could devote to my own goals, I’m finding that what goes around comes around in the most unexpected of ways. And with that experience of fulfillment and value in my own heart and mind, when others say they want to help me, I believe them.

How can you surpass your goals without breaking a sweat?

Here’s my challenge to you, and my delivery of the no-sweat promise of this article’s title.

 

THE GOAL-SMASHING, HOPE-SURPASSING CHALLENGE

A. You can’t do it on your own:

  1. Start telling your goals — large and small, personal and professional — to everyone (everyone). This may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, but it’ll get easier. And you’ll find that people are truly grateful to you for opening a meaningful conversation. This has two incredibly powerful benefits. First, once you tell people, you are accountable to those goals. Second, people will offer to help.
  2. When people offer to help, take them up on it. Believe that they actually want to help. The great majority of them do. They are not just being polite. It’s easy enough to be polite without offering to help, so the offer is genuine. It is, in fact, not polite to disbelieve what people tell you about their own desires.
  3. Remind them of their offer to help. Do this politely, gently, infrequently… But do it. Remind them. I know this is challenging. It’s part of believing them when they told you they wanted to help. Offer to help them help you. For example, if someone says, “I should introduce you to Bob.” A week later, if you haven’t heard from them, drop them an email. “Thanks for your kind offer to introduce me to Bob. Here are some times I’m available for coffee with you both.”

 

B. Humans like to help:

  1. Ask other people what their goals are — large and small, personal and professional. Ask people you know. Ask people you don’t know. You don’t need to get a laundry list. One or two goals per person is plenty.
  2. Help in any way you can. If your profession lines up with their goals, offer to help in a professional capacity, and trade your help for their money. If not, find a way to help anyway. Keep an open mind about what would be helpful. (Introductions, referrals, book recommendations, a friendly ear, a quarter.) Your help might be very indirectly related to their goals. (My friend is working his tail off to launch a business. That launch is his goal. But, in passing, he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to eat this week.” I offered to cook.) Maybe your help will be minor, maybe major. Either way, it could tip the scale. You needn’t put yourself out a great deal to make a great difference.
  3. If you can’t see a way to help, ask. Heck, even if you can see a way to help, it could still pay to ask. The question is simple, “How can I help?”

 

C. Start helping the people you know by sharing this challenge today:

  1. Share this article. Use email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever social media you’ve got. If you see value here, so will others. Or, just share its ideas in conversation. Let’s shatter not just our own goals, but the goals of everyone we come in contact with.
  2. Share your goals (as described above).
  3. Ask about their goals.
  4. Help.

 

Priming the Pump

I’ll start the ball rolling.  Here are a few of my goals (some larger than others) going into the new year:

  • Inspire 100 people to tell me their goals in just the first week of 2016, and help each one of them in some way.
  • Double the number of clients in our subscription-model company-culture upkeep program.
  • Bring the communication, collaboration, and decision making awesome of improv to law enforcement agencies in at least three communities.
  • Create a world in which my daughter is destined to have a workplace she loves, a work product she’s proud of, and a vocation she can look at and say, “That’s worth the life I’ve given it.”

Tell me a few of your goals. Whether I know you or not, I truly will help if I can. This is your chance to start the New Year off powerfully. Don’t let this opportunity go by.

Help me reach my first goal: