Is Networking Enough

September 18, 2014

Written by Debbie Mrazek

So you’ve decided to do some networking. You attend an after-hours event, arriving early with a stack of business cards. By the end of the evening you’ve met a lot of people and exchanged a lot of business cards. On the way home, the faces are all a blur. You’re stressed out—all “networked out.”

A few days later, in a better frame of mind, you call each person you met, working your way through the stack of cards you collected. You ask each one if they need your product or service. Most say they do not. You’re exhausted again.

This could give networking a bad name.

But is this what networking is all about? Does it have to be a nerve-racking, enervating process that leaves you with an empty feeling? No, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it can be a fun, fulfilling process.

“Fun?” you ask. “Walking into a room full of strangers is your idea of fun?” Trust me, it can be fun, but first you’ll have to make a paradigm shift, move beyond networking into what I call the “R Zone”—the “R” stands for “relationships”—to a place where you’re not really networking so much as building relationships.
Here comes the simple, unadorned truth: One of the most effective ways to build a relationship is to help the other person get what he or she wants first.
This “give first” approach will turn everything you’ve ever known about networking on its ear.

And it’s very simple: Just go into a room full of strangers telling yourself, “All I’m here to do is to help each person I meet get what they want.” Obviously, that requires that you first find out what they’re looking for, and that you actively listen and ask questions that help you understand their needs. Also, that you be resourceful when it comes to coming up with contacts and possible options for your new contact.

When you’re in the “R Zone,” you’re not talking to people about high school reunions or past jobs. You’re not searching to find names of people you know in common. You’re not discussing current movies. You’re not even being witty. You’re focused on only two things: What the other person is looking for and how you’re going to help them find it. When you come up with the name of someone they can call—even if it’s only someone who can point them in the right direction—it’s amazing how they’ll warm to you.

There’s an old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.” While the statement is true, it also oversimplifies. For, as many will tell you, simply knowing an important or powerful person is no guarantee your calls will be returned. The other person must perceive you as worth knowing. That’s what gets calls returned. And, there’s no faster way to be perceived as someone worth knowing than to give first.

Here are some other thoughts that can guide you as you develop your ability to work in the “R Zone.”

  1. Do less better. One reason so many people finding networking exhausting: They get frantic. They feel obligated to meet everyone at a given meeting. They have to “work the room.” Leave working the room to the professionals. Go into a networking event with limited objectives. Just tell yourself, “I’ll count this as a good experience if I can have five quality conversations with five quality contacts.” And after you meet five, don’t feel obligated to hang around and meet more …unless you want to. Pace yourself and do less better.
  2. Speak with confidence. Don’t be shy when it comes to telling new contacts about what you can do for them. Speak with calm conviction. Project confidence. Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, no one else will.
  3. Prepare a memorable introduction. In a quiet moment, reflect on why clients or customers like to do business with you. Then, write down what you would like to say that sets you or your business apart—the benefits more than the features. The introduction should begin with your name followed by your business name. Then it should tell them, from their point of view, why they should want to do business with you—in 20 seconds or less. Practice saying your “introduction” in front of a mirror. You don’t have to repeat it word for word each time. Feel comfortable with the general concepts and phrases. Then begin saying your introduction to new contacts.
  4. Join a contact group. Whether it be an industry association, a charitable organization’s board, or a religious group, make an effort to put yourself in situations where you meet new people.
  5. Tell people what you want. Although in this article I’ve focused mainly on helping other people get what they want, when building a relationship you should be clear about what you’re looking for, as well. When you give first, it’s amazing how quickly people look for ways to help you find what you need. An effective strategy is to tell people what you’re looking for right after your introduction—something like, “And this week I’m looking for someone who can introduce me to …” or “This week I’m looking for companies who need…” naming a specific person or need.
  6. Practice putting yourself in the R Zone. When meeting new people, make an effort to really listen to what they’re saying. As much as possible, find out what they want. Put yourself “at source” to help them find it.

Networking really isn’t enough because it’s not enough just to make contacts. To be effective, we must build relationships, something that sounds easier than it is. It takes genuine caring and listening skills that make you a valuable asset in any work situation. Don’t always assume that a person you meet at a networking event is looking for a new client or a job. The person may really be looking for a golf instructor, an electrician, a PC technician, a new car … or even a friend! Be there for them. And stay in the R Zone.

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