In my professional life, my biggest single engagement came after I knew the person who hired me for 10 years, and that was the first time they hired me. While this timespan from initial meeting to first hire may seem extreme, in many ways, it’s not, and it’s much more common than getting hired 10 minutes after you meet someone. The key was building the right rapport with the right people.
Too often, people have a limited view of networking. All I need to do is carry a bunch of business cards to an event and I will just rake in the business, they think. I bet you know how well this approach works. Simply, it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean that carrying cards does not make sense. Rather it means that networking — rising about the noise — is more nuanced that ever before, and the successful businessperson must be more saavy in order to maintain that success.
Those skills are hard to build overnight, but here are some tips to get you moving down the road:
- Listen more. Talk less.
I have learned over the years that no one really cares much about the people around them. Sounds harsh, I know, but let me fill in the blanks. We all walk around with our problems in our heads. Those problems can range from what I need to get from the grocery store to how am I going to deal with my aging mother’s medical issues. In order for your marketing/networking target to hear you, you will have to break through all of that noise.
That means a couple of things. First, you will need to listen for what the other person is really saying and what they really need. You may be the perfect person or have the perfect tool… or you may know the right person. You won’t know if all you talk about is you and your needs. And you’ll be kinda boring. Sorry. It’s true.
Second, you should recognize that even if you are the perfect person for them, they may not be ready to hear that or understand that. And you should be comfortable with that situation. It will require some patience from you, but in the end, it is always for the best.
Third, on a related point, you should also understand that rejection today is not permanent rejection, and, in fact, may not be related to you or your product in any way. As Scrooge says to the ghost of Marley in A Christmas Carol, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.” People have a lot going on, and their rejection of you could come from a plethora of reasons, starting with indigestion.
2. Understand that, to the ideal customer, you don’t have to sell.
Many a small businessperson is focused on selling to everyone. That’s a mistake. Before you go into a networking situation, you should have some idea — as specific as possible — about who you would like to meet. The more time you spend thinking about that, the better off you will be.
What does your ideal customer want from you? From life? For lunch? In some circles, this is called an avatar, and having this person or persons in mind is essential. It will allow you to find the right person at any event. It will allow others to introduce to that person, if they know someone who fits the bill. You can’t find what you don’t know you are looking for… so this is a worthwhile exercise all around.
The second part of this is knowing how your product or service helps the avatar in mind. That connection is also really important and will evolve as you and the avatar evolve. If you are doing it right, the avatar in front of you will buy before you even try to sell. That evolution will continue throughout your networking, and if you can keep these concepts and goals top of mind, you will soon see much better results.
3. Introduce and ask to be introduced.
I firmly believe that you never look better to someone than when you are introducing them to someone they need to know. Think about it this way: who would you rather meet? Someone who is “I am … I have … I do…” or someone who is “This person is… This person has… This person does.” I hope enough of us have been bored by the first type of person at parties to know that the second person is preferable. So, how does that apply to networking?
First, bring someone with you and talk about how great they are. That of course implies a couple of things. That they are great. And that you know how they are great. Luckily you are in control of both of those because you will only hang with people who are awesome and you will ask enough questions to know why they are awesome (see point 1 above).
Second, if you don’t have an awesome partner-in-crime, then you can ask people at your networking event the following question: “Who would you benefit most from if I introduced them to you?” No one asks that in business networking, so don’t be surprised if you get blank stares. Instead, start proposing answers — but leave your needs aside for the time being. Once you have a better understanding of the person or persons in front of you, you can network by introducing them, keeping in mind that sooner or later, people will ask you what you do (and then you can use the stuff you developed as part of point 2 above).
The steps won’t grow your customer base overnight, but over time, they will lead to a more successful and rewarding networking experience. Just remember to be patient, honest and earnest, and your success is virtually guaranteed.