It’s April, the weather is FINALLY getting warmer (at least in New York) and that means we are more likely to actually go to the networking events we sign up for. Most of us can adamantly prove that “networking sucks,” and, more than likely, that “networking doesn’t work.” We’ve all been to loads of events, and met lots of bad networkers, or, met some potential prospects, only to find that nothing comes of it, and now we go back to thought 1 – “networking sucks”.
Actually, it may be your networking skills that suck. I have thought for a long time that “networking sucks” but last year, did some major shifts in how I go about it. It made me see how I was being a lousy networker, and, it’s also made me accutely aware of some of the CRAZY BAD networking tactics I experience. Each time I do, I ask myself where might I be doing this, and make sure I make a mental note never to do it again. So, let me present some core bad behaviors, and what to do about them if, in fact, you find yourself in any of them:
You think networking is about handing out as many cards as possible. Somehow, you’ve gotten the idea that networking events are like a newspaper route. You walk in, walk up to every person at the event, shove your card in their face, ask for theirs, and walk away. (Yes, this still happens – if this is you PAY ATTENTION – you are literally throwing business out the window!) I was recently at an event, engrossed in conversation with a lovely attendee, and we were rudely, very rudely, interrupted by “Carl” (protecting names of the innocent”.) Carl, with no apology for the interruption, or regard for our conversation, stuck his cards out at both of us, said “Can I have yours?” and then walked away.
Impact: Here is what happens when you do this. You make us feel that we are a nameless, faceless person and all you want is our money for your business. If, and when you follow up, we will probably ignore you, and if you add us to your mailing list, we will probably unsubscribe. You have made no effort to connect, no effort to be of service, and no effort to understand us. If this is how you behave at a networking event, why would any of us want to believe you care about us in a follow-up conversation?
Solution: First, approach people who seem available rather than breaking in to people’s conversation. When you do, have a conversation with them before you hand over cards. Maybe you guys aren’t even a good fit!
You think the only reason we’re at a networking event is to listen to you drone on and on, and on, and on about your business. You go to networking events and you talk for 10 minutes about your business, graciously letting someone ask you questions about it, give them your card, and then walk away, possibly without even asking the name of the person you’ve just talked the ear off of. (Or, you may be wondering why “every” person you talk to seems to excuse themselves for the bathroom or for a glass of wine in the middle of what YOU thought was a great conversation. HINT – it wasn’t great for them.) Then you’re off to the next person, on a mission to tell everyone how great your business is, and give out your card.
Impact: At least you don’t just hand your card over and walk away! The problem is, none of us like spending lots of time with, or referring business leads to, someone that is just going to drone on and on about himself or herself. So, first of all, you’re turning off potential referral sources, because you’ve made the entire conversation about you. Also, it leaves us feeling like you have zero interest either in our business, in helping us
Solution: Practice explaining what you do within 60 – 120 seconds. Ask the person you’re talking to what they do, within that time, and then give an example of how what you do ties in to what they do. Make a habit of asking every person you meet at least 5 questions about what they do, and find some common ground from which to continue the conversation at a later point in time.
You don’t follow up. The primary reason you hate networking is because you think it ends when you leave the room.
Impact: Potential leads and referral sources will rarely happen for you because you don’t bother to expand the relationship.
Solution: Bring a pen to events and take regular breaks from networking to write notes on the cards of the people you feel are great leads or referral sources. Within the next 24 hours, follow up with ALL of them. (Just the ones you feel are a good fit, not EVERY person you meet. You should know who they are because, as previously mentioned, you’ve taken the time to ask questions about THEIR business, and gotten an idea of where you might be able to help them.) Yes, yes, you’re going to tell me that doesn’t work. You know why? Because you think follow up means one email, or a nice note on LinkedIn and a Connection request. Then you drop it. What? If you think someone is a lead, pick up the phone and CALL them within a week of meeting them (unless you’ve sorted out a meeting time and date by email) and make a plan to meet up.
When you do follow up, you use a mass email approach. No matter whether or not you have formed any sort of connection with people you meet at an event, you decide to save time, and send one email to EVERY person you met, and address it “dear colleague” (or some form of that). And, the entire scope of the message is about YOU and YOUR services, makes NO attempt to ask me about my business, or suggest that you’d even like to help me. Oh, and don’t get me started on offering me a referral fee on top of all this!
Impact: I’m always stunned by this one. It just happened to me recently – I bumped in to someone at an event, reminded them of how we met the first time round, discussed their business with them to make sure I remembered, and actually called them with an opportunity the next day. Nonetheless, I got the “group message” with no personality whatsoever, and it was the same as when I met them the first time round and offered me a referral fee! Impact? Tossed in email garbage! When you do this, we assume you are either too lazy to bother and wonder how you get business. Or, we assume that if you are so busy you can’t even personalize an email to us, you must be too busy to take on new business. A referral fee feels really off base when we don’t know much about your reliability, consistency and performance – don’t make the referral request about money, because most of us only hand over referrals to people we know, like, and trust. If I hardly know you, I can’t determine if I like you, and I certainly don’t have enough experience of you to establish if I trust you – referral fees unfortunately don’t do any of that.
Solution: It’s obvious, but, don’t send mass emails! If you want to send fewer messages, then choose only the people that really stood out to you at an event. Focus just on the people that you had a nice connection with, or that seemed like a good lead or referral source for you. At the very LEAST, write “Dear XXXX” where you insert our actual name! My name is not “colleague, friend, fellow networker,…” Instead of offering a referral fee, set up time for a mutual run through of services, and explain who you help most often, and how, and stay in touch.
When you meet for a follow-up, you pitch your services, and then disappear. Yup, it happens. Worse yet, you make it sound like you actually want to connect because you thought we were a great person, and then the moment we sit down, we get a sales pitch about your service and why we really must find a way to buy from you. When we don’t buy, we never hear from you again.
Impact. Cringing. Neausea. Feeling misled. When you tell someone you want to meet to connect, and then you do an uninvited sales pitch, it’s bad for both of us. First – we feel misled and less likely to want to work with you because we thought we were getting to know you better, and you took us off guard, and we put up all our barriers to doing business with you. Second – you feel you’ve wasted your time, because you apparently thought you were going to close a client, and probably feel disappointed that we didn’t sign on.
Solution: If the sole purpose, for you, to meet up, is to pitch us, just be up front about it. That way we can graciously decline your offer. Better yet – if when making a coffee appointment with us, you ASK whether we’d be interested in hearing more about your business, and we say YES, then at least you’ve gotten an invitation. Ideally, when we meet, you’ll also make time for connection and good conversation outside of your pitch.
At the end of the day, I have found that the best networking involves showing up as a service person. If we ALL have the same goal of understanding each other’s business, take the time to get to know one another briefly, figure out if we might be ideal to discuss working together or referring each other, and then develop a rapport over time, we are more likely to create a great network of resources, partners, and clients.