How many times have you been to a networking happy hour and nearly fallen asleep in your drink listening to a 20-minute long sales pitch?
How many times has someone told you, “Network, network, network—it’s the only way to build a business!” while you waste evening after evening at these events getting nowhere fast?
Despite what you may have heard, traditional networking sucks, and you’re wasting your time. Business folk may paint a rosy picture about the scads of clients and contacts you’ll get by working a room and singing the praises of your business or business idea with cards in hand, but the hard truth is that this approach works for just a few.
Now, having an actual network of people with likeminded business interests is unquestionably integral to a thriving business. The actual “network” a person could potentially build from “networking” is definitely an asset, but it’s the road you take to get there that will determine whether or not you have used your time wisely.
The Main Problem With Traditional Networking
Traditional networking has one major pitfall—You. What traditional networking has you do is approach people with your idea, your background, your story, your product. You give them your business card, you follow up, you let them know you’re ready to work. That’s a whole lot about you and not a whole lot about them, isn’t it?
While you might be a wonderful person with a fantastic business idea and fascinating backstory, in the end, potential contacts or clients aren’t thinking about you—they’re thinking about themselves. They’re wondering, “What’s in it for me?” And that’s the way networkers need to approach the situation.
The problem with directing the entire conversation to yourself and your own idea is that if you don’t meet an immediate need for the other person right then and there, chances are pretty good that they will forget your face in the sea of others met at that conference or cocktail hour. And the likelihood that you or your idea will be exactly what that person needs at that moment is quite slim—and certainly not enough of a chance for you to waste hour after hour at these so-called “networking events.”
But it’s not the networking event that’s at fault here—they can indeed by very conducive to business. It’s your method of networking that’s the problem. Instead of the more selfish context of “This is what I do,” you need to approach potential contacts and clients with the more successful, more likable and more memorable context of “This is what I can do for you.”
What You Should Do Instead
Instead of traditional “I/me/my” networking, the best thing you can do is listen to other people’s needs and explain how you can provide benefit to them. Framing the conversation in terms of their business rather than yours is the best place to start.
Once you have that down, the next—and perhaps even more important—step is to not only change your approach, but to adjust your mindset for a better outcome. Instead of eyeing faces in the crowd as future sales numbers, why not see them as people or businesses that might need a hand?
Your product or service may not be exactly what that other person needs in the immediate moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t potentially help that person or business in the future. To stay fresh and maintain a positive light in someone’s mind, the best thing you can do is help that person in some way, so that when he or she does need your services, you will be at the top of the list. And chances are, it will happen—more often than you might think.
How To Anti-Network
By doing the opposite of traditional networking, you’re throwing your own goals aside and focusing instead on the interests and goals of the person or people you’re speaking to as well as the challenges they face and foresee.
Now, say one of these people mentions having an issue that you recently read a great ebook on. Instead of following up your conversation with an email about your particular product or service, you could follow up with a link to that ebook and a brief takeaway of how the book can be of help. The same can be said of blogs, news articles, white papers, presentations, webinars and even other products and services. Any way that you can help somebody learn about or solve a problem is a great tactic for getting you and your business on that person’s radar—and the more genuine you are about it, the better.
By helping out this other person, you might be setting yourself up for a sales call in the future. But what you also could be doing is starting a chain reaction wherein after you help someone, he or she wants to help you back. Even if your product or service doesn’t meet his or her business’ needs at that time, that person may know of another person or business who could use assistance—and there’s your official recommendation. These are just a few ways that genuinely helping people, rather than telling your long, drawn-out sales pitch for the umpteenth time, can all come back to you in the end. Help you help yourself, as they say.
The Moral Of The Story
The moral of the story? Network = good. Networking = not so good.
It’s not that you should never attend a “networking event” again. But when you do, you need to think about the event and the opportunities it presents in a different way.
Toss traditional networking out the door. Keep the cards, you’ll still want to have them (they have to have some way of contacting you—just make sure you get theirs too!). But either shorten or drop the traditional elevator pitch, and retailor your approach to take the other person into consideration first and foremost. Instead of thinking about how they can help your sales numbers, think about how you can help them. Cultivate these relationships, and you will finally see the results you were looking for—just maybe not in the way that everyone taught you.
The next time you think about “networking,” approach it as an opportunity to actually meet people and learn about their interests, goals and challenges rather than just another chance to add cards to your Rolodex. If you take the more genuine approach, you’ll get a more genuine response. If you don’t expect anything in return, you’ll enjoy the business that starts rolling in that much more.