For some businesspeople, this is likely a familiar scenario. You pull up and park your car outside of the event. You turn off the car and take a deep breath before grabbing your promotional materials and business cards.
As you walk up to the networking event, you are going through your elevator speech in your mind. What are the primary reasons people need your product? Who I want to meet today?
It’s the process of getting into “networking” mode. For many, this is a very stressful – and sometimes hated – process that has become a necessary evil for doing business in a slow economy.
But when you feel a lot of stress doing something or even hate doing it, it just might be your internal compass telling you that something is out of alignment. If you hate networking – and I mean hate everything about it – you should listen to your compass, because you probably aren’t doing it right.
Here are three secrets of networking that many people miss.
First of all, networking is not about selling. The best salespeople have the ability to sell their products or services without letting their customers feel like they are being sold. People are getting really good at defending themselves from sales pitches, and this is especially true when the pitches are expected. When people meet at a networking event, they are often expecting to be sold something, and they are on guard. This is the worst time to try to sell.
Networking is all about forming relationships – long-term, valued relationships that build up reputation in the community. Building them is not about pushing slick brochures and branded Frisbees on people; it’s about finding ways to help them.
The second secret to good networking is that networking happens everywhere. While organized networking events provide great opportunities for business leaders to meet lots of new people, a great deal of valuable networking occurs in unexpected places. I recently discovered a couple of business owners cheering for their kids at the sideline of my son’s soccer game. Before you judge me too harshly, remember my first secret and know that I didn’t pull out marketing materials or try to sell them on what I do. In fact, I talked very little about my business and instead asked them questions about their business. I found a couple of easy ways to help both owners without selling them anything.
Finally, another mistake that many businesspeople make is that they attempt to segregate the business and personal aspects of their lives. If you have met anyone who tries to sell you something at a soccer game, you probably want to do everything you can to avoid being “that guy.” My point is that this same person is no more successful selling something at a networking event than he would be at a soccer game – and the same negative impression is made in both places.
The important thing to realize is that networking happens whether you are in “business mode” or not. Our community is very collaborative. Business leaders who venture away from their businesses out into the community will meet a slew of talented leaders who are ready and willing to help.
Those who approach networking with the attitude of a servant rather than as an opportunity to practice the elevator speech will find networking to be a completely natural, and even enjoyable, experience. And it will be more fruitful, too. Don Harkey is a professional speaker and entrepreneur who owns Galt Consulting and co-owns Leadership Book of the Month in Springfield. Harkey works with organizations to employ strategic systems that allow them to be more effective and find renewed passion and productivity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.