Monday, March 19, 2018

Business Networking is About Relationships and Not Transactions

I have been networking for over ten years now and have run my own group for the past five years, however even with my experience, I feel like I am always in learning mode when it comes to the right way to network at business events.    Going to a business networking event can be awkward especially if you are not a natural extrovert or have been through vigorous sales training where they teach you how to talk to people.

Business Networking is a profession and the correct way to network is a skill that you develop over time.   The correct way to look at networking is that is it one of ways that you can help build your personal brand and expand your career or business opportunities.   It is important to have a plan and make the most of the time that you spend at events.   After all, you need time for follow-ups and client work, right?

There is of course the wrong approach to networking and the correct approach.

Here is an example of what not to do.   I will use a recent experience I had with a fellow networker.

I was at an event in Boston and briefly met a young professional who appeared nervous and was giving out his business cards faster than a blackjack dealer at the casino, hoping he can close some deals that night and report back to his boss the next day.    I received a Linkedin connection request from him at 11:55pm that night.    Of course, I was still up doing work and connected to him right away.   At the stroke of midnight, I received a length follow-up message from him explaining to me everything about his company and asking me for a meeting so I can buy his service right away.    His service?  Digital Marketing.  What is my business?  Digital Marketing.    How about, it was nice to meet you Jeff and I enjoyed learning about you and your goals.   You can see dollar signs in his message and no personal references whatsoever.

If you go to business networking events with the sole purpose of closing deals, it is not going to work, plain and simple.    Savvy networkers can sense this a mile away.   It is like a bad cold call.

Instead of the "all about me" approach, when you meet someone at an event or even on social media, build a personal relationship first.   Ask how they are doing?  What brings them to the event that night?  What are YOUR goals?    This will immediately build trust and make the person think, you genuinely care.   At some point, they might even be the one to follow-up and ask to meet for coffee before you even mention to them what you do.   

When you build a professional relationship with someone, over time, the transaction (i.e. the potential to do business) is easier and less forced.  You would feel more comfortable asking for the sale and in return you help them with their business.

I will close with some quick tips to complement what I mentioned earlier:

  • Only talk to between 4-6 people at a networking event.   Don't be a mayor and shake everyone's hand at the event.    You want people to remember you for good reasons.
  • Do not, I repeat DO NOT send a Linkedin request to someone and then immediately send a sales pitch.   Instead, simply say Hi and How you can help without mentioning what you do.
  • Go to a networking event with a plan.  Your plan can be to make between 4-6 new friends that evening and that is it.  Your plan can be to simply help 3 people tonight with their business.
  • Become the one people gravitate to, not run away from.  If you are a magnet, the business will come with less effort.
  • Understand second level networking.    That person that you build a great personal relationship may know someone that can be an ideal client for you.  Powerful stuff!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How does Business Networking and Relationship Building compare in 1985 to 2018?

Even though, my family has had its fair share of sales professionals and entrepreneurs over time, it is interesting that I originally took the route of a Corporate Information Technology career after I graduated college.  I eventually "smarten up" and have since ventured into business ownership and am proud to have carried the torch held by my entrepreneurial family.


One grandfather was an insurance salesman and my dad was a food salesman.  My other grandfather was part owner of a jewelry company in the what was the at one time the Jewelry Capital of the World, Providence, RI.   I also had cousins that owned businesses and others that simply did not take the typical route through Corporate America.   Entrepreneurship was alive and well back in 1985 but it was how you built your business that was different than today.

I remembered growing up in the 1980s and how both my dad and grandfather had a gift of gab and the ability to relate to all types of people.  My Dad was a food salesman, so he frequently the many restaurants in Rhode Island and it seems every time we went somewhere, he would engage in multiple conversations with just about anyone that was within three feet of him.  He was the ultimate extrovert.  He demonstrated networking before there was networking.   Back in 1985, there was no such thing as social media or formal business networking.  I think BNI was around, but that was about it.    When you were in sales, you had to really hustle like my Dad did or go door-to-door selling insurance like my grandfather did.



The difference today is that we have so many tools available from social media and email campaigns that even the introvert can venture into sales.  Imagine what my dad or grandfather could have done with a smartphone?

So how does 1985 compare to 2018 when it comes to business networking?

In 1985,  door-to-door sales and cold calling were king.  The local newspaper was your main method of mass advertising and your networking event was your local church group or soccer field.   I think it was a better time to network since there were no smartphones and people actually had to get out of their shell and talk to people.   Another networking scene that was pretty prevalent back in 1985 was your local pub or restaurant.   Case in point with my dad, he closed a lot of his deals over a scotch and made more of his connections meeting people that led to more people that would match anyone today with tools available.   In 1985, there was no Facebook, Twitter or texting.   You had to pick up a phone with a cord and call people.  Relationship building was easier since you really got to know someone and understood their reaction right away.  Today, you can never know the tone from an email or a text message.   Thinking back to 1985, the world was more social and interactive.  Relationship building was happening in places that today would not be thought of.    You mean, I need to pick up a phone?


Fast forward to today, you have everything I mentioned that we had in 1985, plus social media and formal business networking.   So why does it seem things are harder today?   Yes, there is relationship building like back in 1985, but it is now normally done through a screen.  The cold call simply does not work and the pub scene is not like it was in 1985.  The soccer field is a big click.  The culprit seems to be that damn smart phone.  Go to any bar or sports event today, what do you see?   Everyone's hand is glued to some device.  Relationship building is harder despite the many options to meet people and potential business prospects but because of all the technology, everyone seems to be introverted and simply afraid to pick up the phone, go door-to-door or go to a business event.

So in summary, the difference between 1985 and 2018 is simple.    1985 was all about personal interaction and instant reaction.  Networking was not know as networking.  It was socializing.    2018 was all about using technology to cover up the fear of interaction and people's reaction to your inquiry.   There are a lot more business networking events today, but it is forced.   You can tell by all of the elevator pitches you hear at an event and LinkedIn requests you get after the event.  One way communication, no interaction and immediate reaction.   Now does LinkedIn help you pick up the phone and call someone?   Not really.     Sometimes, I think, take me back to 1985.



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