Going to events expecting to land new clients sets you up for failure and frustration.
Understanding that appropriate networking was different from jumping into the sales cycle was the turning point for a client who is the vice-president of an investment firm. Before we talked through his hesitations and he came to this realization, it was like pulling teeth to get him to engage in networking, even though his role required his presence in the community.
He was under the impression that each time he went out to an event, he had to catch a new client hook, line, and sinker. No wonder he wasn’t comfortable with networking—that’s a lot of pressure. Changing his perspective allowed him to genuinely enjoy the process of connecting with others.
This doesn’t mean you should never enter the sales process after meeting a new contact. If a person expresses interest in your product or there is an obvious fit to collaborate on a venture, then yes, the sales process or an appropriate course of action should begin.
When this clear link does not exist, focus on taking the next step toward a long-term relationship rather than making the sale. Over time, as you learn more about each other and establish a deeper bond, opportunities to work together will likely present themselves naturally. In the Fourth Pillar we’ll talk about where to go to be in target market–rich environments so when you do meet and connect with someone, there is a higher probability that he or she can become your client.
An associate dropped out of the “mainstream circuit” for a couple of years while he changed jobs and solidified his path. We ran into each other at a reception and I was sincerely pleased to hear he’d found passion and purpose through his new venture. He asked me to go for a coffee so we could reconnect.
The visit started off well. Then, the tone changed. I quickly understood our chat over coffee was actually a “sales” meeting—two totally different things. For 45 minutes he went into an elaborate sales pitch. He not only wanted me to become his client; he also wanted me to refer him to others.
Finally, when he came up for air, I explained that I wasn’t a qualified prospect. This was crucial information he would have known had he spent time asking me questions, listening to my answers, or been up front about his true intentions when we booked the get-together. Worst of all, since my red warning flags were raised because I felt like I was being cornered and used, he missed the opportunity to have me as an ally in his new venture. By jumping to “forceful selling” rather than figuring out if I was a qualified prospect, he lost the long-term potential.
Be up front and clear about your intentions for meeting rather than using backdoor, smoke-and-mirror tactics.
What is the likelihood that I’d go out for coffee again with him, let alone refer him to someone else? Zero.
Time is valuable, so to spend time listening to a pitch that had no relevance to me was simply annoying. I felt duped. If this had been my first exposure to the “networking process,” I would have been completely turned off because he hid behind the guise of networking when truthfully he was in full sales mode.
On another occasion, a gentleman asked me to meet with him to discuss his business and to see if I could help. The expectation in this situation was clear from the onset so there were no uncomfortable sales pitches. Even though there wasn’t a fit for me with his company, I was able and pleased to connect him with others who were better matched to his needs.
Two different meetings with different tactics, therefore different results. Be up front and clear about your intentions for meeting rather than using backdoor, smoke-and-mirror tactics.
Agenda-pushing also contributes to networking’s bad name. In life everyone has his or her own agenda. The sooner you understand that your agenda is not the same as anyone else’s, the easier it will be for you to take a step back and genuinely connect with people.
Another person’s priorities are rarely exactly in line with yours. Hitting a year-end sales target or raising money for a charity would rank differently for the seller or fundraiser than for the potential buyer or donor. Accepting this natural variance in priorities will help you identify the appropriate pace for building a relationship. Pushing your agenda onto someone else is a surefire way to trigger their fight-or-flight response.
When inevitable year-end crunch times occur you tap into your existing network. That’s not when you try to push new contacts into your master plan. There is a distinction between trying to close a deal with a new contact at a networking function and calling an established associate to ask to be referred to someone who may need your product or service.
Another negative networking image comes from those who try too hard.
The overt social climbers who are anxious to arrive at a new station in life are easily spotted. People can smell a phony a mile away. People will resent you and your success when they sense that you’re only out for yourself and that you will step on toes to get to the top. This may not be your intention, but if that’s how you’re perceived, then you have additional challenges to overcome.
If, before reading this, you have developed a negative impression of networking, either because you have been on the receiving end of unprofessional networking tactics or because you have been guilty of blurring these lines yourself, the time has come to accept and erase any such connotations.
A negative impression doesn’t diminish the importance of networking and the positive impact proper networking can have on your life. You can’t change the past. The key is to focus on the future. Even if you feel like you’ve blown it, don’t worry—you can recover.
Understanding common behavioral culprits that hinder networking success will help you avoid making these mistakes in the future and will set you on a path to become a master networker.
This article is an excerpt from From Business Cards to Business Relationships: Personal Branding and Profitable Networking Made Easy, 2nd Edition by Allison Graham (Wiley; May 2012; ISBN: 978-1-118-36418-5)