As a child, I loved playing with cards. I challenged Mum at Canasta (she was impossible to beat), played solitaire, and spent countless hours building the largest card mansion I could before my little brother would come along and giggle mercilessly as he destroyed it in one wild movement.
Building a network with cardboard would be no less vulnerable to my little brother’s antics. We are unable to build a solid, responsive and reliable network on a deck of business cards. Your house will have no foundation or relationship to go with each one and hold it in place.
Solid networks are built on solid foundations. I have witnessed thousands of people network over the years and my conviction on this point is rock solid. The days of mindlessly handing out business cards at events is well and truly over. No one can have a relationship with a piece of cardboard and these usually end up in the bin.
Today, networking functions allow you the opportunity to meet like minded people with whom you can build a relationship. The key is to be curious about everyone and find those people who resonate with you.
Forget the sales pitch
People buy from those they like, and in today’s cluttered business world effective networking has become more important than ever. Solid relationships are vital for success in any industry, in any company and in any career.
To illustrate this, let’s meet two people Sally and Cathy (names have been changed). Cathy is someone I met at a function a number of years ago. Cathy and I got on well that day and have remained connected. During that first meeting Cathy told me what she was working on and asked me if I would be interested in supporting her. I wasn’t in a position to help at the time but asked to learn more out of politeness. After this we chatted and got to know each other a little bit. I did like her and we kept in touch but I was wary about referring her to others, as her sales tactics immediately put me on the defensive. Each time we have connected since I have been sold to, for one thing or another. It felt like I was only worth catching up with when she had something to sell.
My relationship with Cathy didn’t feel respected or validated. The crunch came when we caught up recently and, after the standard 5 minute small talk, she launched into a massive pitch for the latest project. If Cathy had said she wanted to talk to me about something I may have been prepared but she had invited me for coffee to catch up as “it had just been too long”. I was genuinely looking forward to catching up and left feeling deflated and used.
Sally, on the other hand, is a person I met at a networking function, also a few years ago. Sally took the initiative when we met to organise the first coffee catch up after the event. Sally and I had a great conversation that covered many topics. We did discuss business but at no point during that conversation did we enter into a sales process. It was simply a chance to get to know each other.
The next time we connected, we attended a networking function together. We agreed to go and meet others during the event and catch up for a coffee afterwards. Our conversation over coffee was inspired to say the least! The speaker had energised our thinking and we had both met some fascinating people. With our brains in high-gear we came up with some fantastic business strategies for both of us. Still, at no point, did we sell to each other.
One month later, Sally and I reconnected. In between coffees there had been a few emails to further refine our ideas and also to prod each other into action. At this meeting, Sally shared with me a contact of hers that was looking for coaching in my area of expertise. She was comfortable to refer me based on her knowledge of my ethics, even though we had never worked together, and she told her contact this. Similarly, I came across an opportunity for Sally not long after, and a few more times since.
Support your networks
Sally and I continue to catch up, either on the phone, by email or in person, and often she will join my table at a networking event. We have become supportive friends and have referred each other many times. Never have we tried to sell to each other, however if I ever had a need for someone with her expertise I would definitely call her first!
Do you see the difference? My relationship with Sally has been much more enjoyable and much more productive for both of us. Our connection was based on mutual respect and enjoying each other’s company. My relationship with Cathy has been uneven and sometimes tenuous and I have never referred her to anyone. Ever.
Leave selling for the sales appointment
Sales is sales. If you want to sell to someone then make a sales appointment and allow them to be prepared. Networking is about building strong relationships that provide a safety net, a knowledge network and a referral machine around you.
When you network, you search for people who you like, can learn from and push you to be better. You are not networking to sell to them. Play your cards right and you will create a supportive connection, enjoy yourself in the process and network with THEIR network. They are often the ones who will be chatting to your next big client – not you.