Networking: It Isn’t All About You

Networking: you’ve all heard the word and, probably, have a fairly good idea of what it entails.

For those of you who believe it is getting yourself ‘out there’ (virtually or physically), you’re partially right. HOWEVER: a big part of networking is being able to do it right and, more to the point, successfully.

Here’s what I mean:

Let’s start in meat-space (i.e. – real world interaction). If you intend upon going to a networking function with the notion of letting everyone there know how amazing your business is, you’ve already failed. Do yourself a favor and stay home.

For those of you nodding: pat yourself on the back. You get it. For those of you who think I’m insane and have just negated the entire desired result, that’s all right as well – I’ll do my best to make you a convert before this post is over.

Networking is 90% listening, and 10% marketing. What this means, is that many of the individuals whom you interact with will want to do exactly what I have just advised you not to. And that’s okay! You’re not really here for them to market to you. Just as – likewise – you didn’t leave the comforts of your home thinking only, “Boy! I hope someone sells me something they’re passionate about!” Think about that truth as I continue my crazy post.

Most folks who attend these events are amateurs in the realm of networking. They see it as an opportunity to preach to a room full of strangers who just MUST know about the ColonBlaster 7000 system they’re selling. And they’re wrong. These folks are all sharks in a proverbial tank. Every one of them is looking for prey – and not looking to be eaten. And, as such, they will attempt myriad tactics to feed. Their inexperience, however, will most likely end up making them either food or – at the very best – remoras: hangers on to the larger whole.

So how to work this to your advantage? Here’s what I do – right or wrong: I know my product. I am passionate about my product. I am passionate about what I can do for these people, and I consider everyone a potential customer, whether they realize that they require my services or not. My job is to make this revelation visible to them and – if I don’t – to understand why I didn’t.

Now, some of these folks will be so Prophet-ous about their product or service, they will either intentionally or unintentionally tune out all comers. Be polite, but don’t get stuck with these folks: cut your losses and move on. But make damn sure you’re correct about your sizing up of them. If you’re not 100% sure, hang on a little longer.

Others will corner you and prattle on and on about their product. This is okay, so long as you’re getting something out of it. To do so, consider leading questions that will still keep them talking about their offering, but also have relevance to what you’re bringing to the table. In my case, if someone is lauding the benefits of their – say, scented candles (something I will never buy – sorry gang) – I could have them consider and describe their distribution channels. If I can move the conversation in a direction that makes them realize that they could do more business with, let’s say, a web site, I have now made the conversation bilateral, rather than unilateral. In fact, if I can ask the right questions, in the right order, ‘disguising’ them as questions to their benefit, I can eventually move the conversational poles from their advantage to mine. It’s a subtle shift that takes time, energy, and effort. But it can be done.

And please: don’t think I’m some jerk. I’m really not. If I’m interested in your product I will – in fact – be curious about it for the product’s sake. Truly. BUT – more often then not, I won’t be. So I’ll be trying to size you up as a potential client. To keep you interested, I might drop conversation starters about things that might interest you. Two things I can do: I can tell an interesting story, and I have some interesting experiences. Both are gifts I treasure, and something that not everyone has. And that’s okay – you just have to be introspective about what you can bring to the table, and then hone your skills. Stories can be as simple as remembering fondly the time your brother was three, and tried to flush a stuffed beaver down the toilet – flooding the bathroom – because he thought it wanted to swim. (That’s a true story, by the way.) We’ve all experienced goofy stuff like this, so use things like that in your conversational arsenal whenever appropriate: Funny never equals boring.

Another important aspect of networking in real life is being able to think on your feet. You need to be able to read the other listener(s) ‘tells’ as to when they’re either enthralled, or thinking about how awesome that pot roast was last night. This is important because it’s the tipping point. If it tips the wrong way, that’s your cue to move on. And try not to spend too much time with any one individual. It is, after all, networking. Not choosing a mate for life. You owe these folks nothing more than common courtesy. And I would strongly suggest that you be lieberal with that. They’re all just people like you with feelings, needs, and desires.

An additional idea that you can employ to your advantage is to strategically attend functions where your current or former clients are. Especially if you’ve wowed them. If you’re lucky, they’ll gush about you, and send business your way without you having to take the initiative. This is also a positive, in that you don’t have to gear up to talk about your thing – they’re seeking you out, primed already.

I could go on and on – just ask my wife. But you get the idea. Networking = Good | Aimless chatter = Bad | Being buttonholed = Very bad.

Now, let’s turn the thought process to Virtual Space. For me, networking in Virtual Space was something I accidentally learned in my mid to late teens. Back then, we still had computers. Only, instead of all the things you’re probably familiar with, we had the Galacticomm BBS, TelNet, MajorNET, Door Games and WinSOCK’s. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then – congratulations – you’re probably good at sports. For those of us that typically weren’t, we had the computer. It’s nothing like anything you would recognize in this day and age. It was a pre-GUI, DOS-based, nightmare to the outside observer. To us, it was a virtual home whose ‘rooms’ and ‘spaces’ we could ‘see’ in our mind’s eye. And, if we had a modem (can I get a shout out for a 1200 baud Hayes, here?) we could pay monthly ‘credit’ fees to be allowed to participate in a Bulletin Board System. These were real-time community systems, similar to FaceBook today, but not as robust. They afforded folks a chance to get to know one another in a backward manner. You could only see what was inside of someone, long before you met them. What I found was that I was fairly good at networking, even though I had no idea I was doing it back then. I had a good knowledge of all things trivial, I was funny, and I was a good listener who – I was told – gave sage advice. As such, my list of virtual friends grew and, many of them, are still my very close and dear friends today: Real world, and on FaceBook.

In retrospect, I took those things I had learned all those years ago, and put them into practice when beginning my new business endeavor. I had already secured my friends, past and present, but in order to market my business appropriately, I had to branch out into new territory. I chose to do this by participating. A lot. I participated in friend’s of friend’s inquiries in a helpful way. I joined groups that I felt were of interest to me, and participated in those. And I didn’t just participate – I crafted. I made a conscious effort to make the entries short, poignant, relevant, and most of all funny where appropriate.

After a couple of weeks, I started receiving messages from friends. Some of which said, “So and so is a friend of mine and they really like what you have to say. Would it be weird if they friended you?”

As a former geek (we actually coined the term for ourselves in the eighties, in case you were wondering where it came from) this was something I had already done in past decades: meet new people who just ‘showed up’ to the live TeleConference feed and dive right in. So, for me, it made no difference at all. Suddenly, I was making new connections.

As time went on, and more and more folks seemed to tune in to what I was up to, I elected to begin giving them a social outlet for specific needs to be met. I developed Groups on FaceBook that I could intelligently weigh in on, while adding to my circle of friends and acquaintances. This took (and still takes) an immense amount of time and effort on my part. The perpetual reward is folks seeking me out for answers to all sorts of things – odd or otherwise. And I am only too happy to help. Without anyone realizing it, I had soft-sold them on myself. I didn’t push my business on them, and I assisted them with their issues, rather than prattling on about how great my business is. I had networked. And I was helping them – something I truly love to do.

Whatever the means to the end for you, keep all of these thoughts in mind. Cater to the needs of others, and they will be more inclined to seek you out and – hopefully – want to know more about you and your product. And for Heaven’s sake – be READY for this! Not knowing your product, in and out, and not being passionate about it, are major turn offs. Who want’s to buy stuff from you that even YOU’RE indifferent about?

So get yourself out there! Learn from your mistakes and celebrate your victories. And, if you need me, I’m always here for you. For networking purposes, of course, but also because I genuinely like to see everyone succeed. And I never turn down the opportunity to make a new friend.


~ by digitalninjasmedia on November 28, 2011.

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