Traditional networking is starving you of valuable work connections. Here’s what to do instead.
Traditional networking wasn’t built for this millennium. Wunderman found in a study that 56 percent of Americans want brands to know what matters to them. But that’s hard to achieve — let alone prove — if you haven’t made a genuine connection with your customer.
Holding stiff conversations at networking events, forcing banter during a team-building activity at a conference, and giving bad corporate gifts all seem like ways to alienate colleagues and customers alike, yet so many industries still rely on these failed tactics. Typical “catering” strategies, where people try to be who they think others want them to be, leave both parties disappointed with no real connection forged.
Faking who you are is a waste of everyone’s time. That’s especially true when it comes to building out a network of industry peers, which can make or break any business leader. Making a genuine effort in networking efforts lets your personality shine, and it draws people to you.
Building Authentic Relationships
When I discovered that Young Entrepreneur Council CEO Scott Gerber’s smartphone had broken just before a flight, for example, I stepped in. I arranged for a replacement iPhone, already set up with his carrier, to be ready for him at his next hotel.
My goal wasn’t to show off or to try and force him into becoming a client. I simply wanted to demonstrate that I walked the walk of out-of-this-world customer service. Gerber wasn’t put off by my show of sincerity and attention — we’re now a solid part of each other’s professional networks.
Even if you aren’t a gift giver by trade, you can build a strong network of genuine relationships. You just have to know how to get started.
1. Give gifts, but make them personal.
With so many aspects of our lives going digital, giving a tangible reminder of your relationship is a simple way to get noticed. Think about it: How many emails do you get in a day? Probably too many to count. But how many actual letters come to your physical mailbox in a day? Those are a lot more memorable. Receiving a gift that’s specific to a person’s interests really makes it click for him or her that you’ve put in the time, effort, and thought to do something memorable.
Continuously marking personal occasions or achievements with gifts can, over time, solidify your relationship. When I met Cameron Herold many years ago, I wanted him to know that I was a fan of his business savvy. But that wasn’t all: I also wanted to reciprocate value. Before we knew each other as well as we do now, I sent him gifts such as custom wine tools, handcrafted cutlery, and eco-friendly cleaning supplies to show him and his wife that I was thinking of them.
2. Remember their inner circle.
Nothing shows a more genuine interest in a person than caring about what matters to him or her outside of business hours. And what matters most to all of us? Our loved ones. Personalizing a gift or an interaction is one thing, but including your recipient’s spouse, partner, children, or even beloved pet is how you go above and beyond.
Spouses tend to be the unsung heroes behind any hardworking professional, especially when business travel is involved. When my team was working at a major corporate event — executives from companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Chevron were in attendance — we knew we had to stand out. So, on day two of the event, the spouses of every executive at the event received $250 in gifts along with a personalized, handwritten note thanking them for their support. The executives were blown away when they realized how happy their spouses were.
3. Brag about them on social media.
While social media shouldn’t be the only way you build a professional network, it is a valuable tool when used right. Sending out a mass email might be the right call in some cases, but it’s better to alternate impersonal interactions with one-on-one connections. As my friend and social media expert Nick Borelli teaches on stages all over the world, don’t use social media platforms solely to talk about yourself and your achievements: Use your accounts to brag about other people you know who are doing exciting things.
Talking about yourself all the time is also off-putting — and now science backs up that common knowledge. A study by psychologist Cara Palmer and others showed that people who consistently brag about their accomplishments online, especially when announcing a positive development, were also found to be less empathetic, less agreeable, and less conscientious.
Traditional networking just isn’t cutting it anymore. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still grow your professional circle. Follow these three steps to show your industry peers the real you. They’ll want to stick around.
John Ruhlin is a speaker, consultant, bestselling author, entrepreneur, and creator of “Giftology,” the systematic giving process that retains talent, delights customers, and opens endless doors for thoughtful business leaders. For his best tips and weekly stories on how you can use Giftology in your business, sign up — at no cost — for his Givers Edge Newsletter.