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Don’t just network for networking’s sake

In The Woo by Jeff PeytonLeave a Comment

I happen to know the undisputed King of Networking.

This guy has over the years perfected the art of the schmooze. He rolls from Chamber breakfast to BNI lunch to stacked one-on-ones, business card in hand, elevator pitch on point. He’s the guy everyone in the room likes. He’s a charmer. He’s a brilliant conversationalist. He’s on a first-name basis with everybody – and nobody is a stranger for more than five minutes. And I can’t remember the last time he closed a sale.

There is something to be said for this kind of networking juju. I am, frankly, intimidated by his kung fu mastery. The ability to nimbly work a room – often several rooms in several hours – is an ability worthy of admiration.

It’s possible that I’m a little jealous. We worked a trade show together a few months back, and I found myself relegated to minding the table while he went off and played Social Butterfly for hours on end. I was impressed at how well he circulated. I was particularly impressed by his ability to sense the “current” of the room and go with it, always managing to be a part of any gaggle of roving decision makers.

It’s also possible that whatever envy I admit to is severely limited by the fact that we left that trade event with nothing to show for it. The undisputed King of Networking made a lot of new friends, but he didn’t make any money.

There is, simply put, more to the Woo than wooing.

Let me put it another way. Networking for networking’s sake is ultimately a waste of time. The King’s networking chops notwithstanding, the “traditional” methodology of network selling is sorely in need of an update.

First flaw: Confusing tactics with strategy. Most networking group functions are based on the premise of back-scratch sales. The idea is that Person A needs a specific service on any given day, and is likely to offer that business to Person B, and vice versa. This is a tactical approach to one-off project work that might be worth a few dollars every now and then but somehow never seems to develop into a real long-term relationship. Honestly, when I was doing this kind of networking, the jobs I brought back barely covered the cost of membership and lunch.

Second flaw: Focusing on the trees instead of the forest. Networkers tend to focus on the networking. They’re in the now. They’re doing their thing. They forget that there’s a reason WHY they’re in the moment doing what they do.

Let’s back up for a second. Remember, the Woo is about building long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships. And you’d think that networking royalty would understand that. But there’s a bit more to the Woo than that. Lest we forget, the woo-er is first and foremost out there wooing to close deals and – shudder – make money. Networking, as an effective part of any woo, has to be with purposeful intent.

When I network, I don’t spend much time talking about myself or my company. I exchange business cards because it’s expected; it’s polite. But truthfully, I’m not there to sell at all. I’m there to listen. I’m there to learn. Once the requisite “wanna buy my stuff” conversations are out of the way, most folks on the networking circuit, just like folks everywhere else, will start talking about what ails them. People love to share their sorrows, and business people are no different – except that they love to talk about what’s not working for them at the office.

Sure, they need a postcard printed, but that’s not the problem. That’s just a problem. Bypassing that first flaw, I don’t jump on the immediate tactic. Thinking strategically, I am much more interested in the forest than any particular tree.

By the time I enter the conversation, I have a much clearer idea of what folks need – I mean really need – and a much better idea of how I can be of real assistance. But of course, by this point, folks aren’t really interested in talking business anymore, so we keep the conversation light, on topics of interest to them. And, when the appropriate moment arrives, I suggest a get-together, a lunch maybe.

This follow-up opportunity is where the magic happens. This follow-up opportunity is WHY we network at all. Between the networking event and the follow-up lunch, I’ve had a chance to do my homework, to learn more about the potential customer, and more about how I can be of real assistance.

His Majesty the King knows this stuff. We’ve talked about it on several occasions. He’s even conceded the point once or twice. Heck, I’ve even suggested we chat about it in detail over lunch, just the two of us. And he’s planning on joining me – just not right now. There’s just no room on his calendar, what with all of these networking events coming up.

Jeff Peyton
Don’t be fooled by Jeff’s accomplishments in communications, crisis and business management. He also wing-walked on an airplane at 700 feet, co-piloted the Goodyear Blimp and swam with sharks – and still managed to obtain paperwork officially declaring him “legally sane.” Really.

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