Networking is generally considered to be one of the most effective forms of marketing. At the same time, face-to-face communication also is generally accepted as the most potent form of direct communication.
If those are generally accepted maxims, then why do so many of us dread networking? Even skilled sales and communication professionals tend to look at networking as a necessarily evil. But why?
Maybe because it’s often done so poorly.
At a networking event, you know the bad actors when you see them. They’re easy to identify. They’ll insist on jamming their elevator speech down your throat, and typically it’s the Empire State Building elevator version – all 110 floors. They’re convinced that they must compress their entire product benefits story into a preamble as you’re trying to juggle a cold beverage and an appetizer plate.
And the digital form isn’t much better, though at least it’s not in your face. The digital assault may feature a similar glut of information or an unabashed “I need something” tone. When I hear that someone would like to pick my brain, I can’t help but think about Hannibal Lector’s dining preference.
I make no great claims of innocence, as I’ve been guilty of “networking disorder” in the distant past. But not since a smart sales guru advised me about the best outcome of a sales call which leads me to my first piece of advice.
1.) The goal, he said, is not to make a sale on the spot. Instead, it’s to earn another conversation. If the conversation continues, that means you’re working on a relationship. If you’re staking yourself to “make a sale or bust,” then anything short of a sale ends the game.
My second piece of advice came from this friend as well.
2.) My friend advised me to always put yourself on the other side of the table. Consider what interest, if any, the other person has for being there. And the only way to find out is through asking questions.
In my opinion, the perfect in-person conversation starter is this: “Tell me about your business.”
How is that not the perfect opener? First of all, you’ve built a bridge and invited them to cross. And more important, once they’ve crossed … well, you know what happens next – they’re going to ask you the same thing in return!
A similar approach works in digital communication. Dare to suggest to a potential new contact: “It may be that we have like interests. If you see it that way, maybe we should have a chat. If so, drop me a line and we can arrange a time to talk.”
3.) Don’t forget that your network is measured in quality, not volume. Communications is a connectivity game and networking can be an excellent connect-the-dots strategy.
Mike Kohler is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 10 courses (20 months) and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.