Whatever your business, you should always be prospecting. And networking is, without question, the single most potent prospecting tool that a small business owner, salesperson or professional has. It’s low-cost and high-return with a great deal of flexibility. It even gives you an advantage over your larger competitors because people typically prefer to do business with someone they know, rather than a large, faceless entity. But like any tool, it is most effective when used properly. Recognizing some fundamental truths about networking will help you be more successful at it.
First of all, let’s be clear about what networking is and is not. Networking is not selling. As a prospecting tactic, networking is part of the selling process, but only the first part. Don’t try to sell people something at a networking event. They’re there to meet people, not to buy anything.
This does not mean that if you dash into a room, hand out forty business cards, and race back to your office to wait for the phone to ring, that you’re a good networker. On the contrary, networking, like other forms of prospecting, requires commitment, repetition, and a long-term focus. Consequently, my definition of networking is: Meeting people and building long-term relationships with them.
So, how do you create and maintain successful networking relationships? The same way that you create and maintain any other relationship—by focusing on the needs of the other person. Think about it. What makes a successful marriage, business partnership, or friendship? Each person looks out for the other one. If you always focus on yourself and your needs, then nobody else will. After all, who wants to be around a selfish, insensitive, egotist? By contrast, if you always focus on other people and their needs, they will in turn focus on you. People who give, in turn, receive. And whatever you give out, you will receive back. (I call this the “Fruitcake Principle.”)
Once you adopt this mindset, everything about networking becomes easier and more productive. Take, for example, what is the most daunting part of networking for many people: walking up to a complete stranger and starting a conversation. The solution is to figure out what that person would most like to talk about. That’s easy—we are all our own favorite subjects! So ask about the other person’s business, kids, golf game, whatever is appropriate for the circumstances. Asking questions demonstrates that you are interested in the other person and gives you an opportunity to learn potentially valuable information. And it is a fact of human nature that if you give people a chance to talk about themselves, they’ll think you’re a great conversationalist!
After you have met somebody, it is then critical to follow up. Remember, people will usually need to feel like they know you and trust you before they buy from you. This requires time and repeated contact. Send letters, make phone calls, and give referrals whenever possible. If you have a newsletter, ask if you can put them on your mailing list. (Don’t do it without their permission!) And even though prospecting is all about finding good prospects, don’t ignore someone just because you don’t think they are. You never know who might become a referral source, an information provider, or a lead to another valuable contact. Treat every person you meet with respect, warmth, and kindness. Your goal should be to build friendships first—everything else will follow naturally.
By following these rules diligently, you can become a powerful networker. If you consistently give without the expectation of something in return, you will receive the admiration, respect, and trust of the people around you. As a result, you can create a loyal team of unpaid advisors, consultants, and salespeople who will be more valuable to you than anyone you could possibly pay. No other prospecting tool has this potential, which is why networking should have a prominent place in your toolkit. Get out to some networking events as soon as possible and start putting these ideas into practice.
Learn more about Don Cooper.