Networking is, without question,
the single most potent marketing tool that a small business owner or salesperson
has. It is low-cost and high return with a great deal of flexibility. It even
gives you an advantage over your larger competitors because people typically
prefer to do business with someone they know, rather than a large, faceless
entity. But like any tool, it is most effective when used properly. Recognizing
some fundamental truths about networking will help you be more successful at
First of all, let's be clear
about what networking is and is not. Networking is not selling. Networking and
selling are both components of marketing (and every salesperson should be a
good net worker), but they are very different things. Selling involves persuading,
informing, and negotiating. Networking is about meeting people and getting to
know them. Once people know you, they are more likely to buy from you.
This does not mean that
if you dash into a room, hand out forty business cards, and race home to wait
for the phone to ring that you are a good net worker. On the contrary, networking,
like other forms of marketing, requires a commitment, repetition, and a long-term
focus. Consequently, my definition of networking is: Meeting people and building
long-term relationships with them.
So, how do you create and
maintain successful networking relationships? The same way that you create and
maintain any other relationship-by focusing on the needs of the other person.
Think about it. What makes a successful marriage, business partnership, or friendship?
Each person looks out for the other one. If you always focus on yourself and
your needs, then nobody else will. After all, who wants to be around a selfish,
insensitive, egotist? By contrast, if you always focus on other people and their
needs, they will in turn focus on you. People who give, in turn, receive. And
whatever you give out, you will receive back. (I call this the "Fruitcake Principle.")
Once you adopt this mindset,
everything about networking becomes easier and more productive. Take, for example,
what is the most daunting part of networking for many people: walking up to
a complete stranger and starting a conversation. The solution is to figure out
what that person would most like to talk about. That's easy-we are all our own
favorite subjects! So ask about the other person's business, kids, golf game,
whatever is appropriate for the circumstances. Asking questions demonstrates
that you are interested in the other person and gives you an opportunity to
learn potentially valuable information. And it is a fact of human nature that
if you give people a chance to talk about themselves, they'll think you're a
After you have met somebody,
it is then critical to follow up.
Remember, people will usually
need to feel like they know you and trust you before they buy from you. This
requires time and repeated contact. Send letters, make phone calls, and give
referrals whenever possible. If you have a newsletter, put them on your mailing
list. And don't ignore someone just because you don't think that they are a
good sales prospect. You never know who might become a referral source, an information
provider, or a lead to another valuable contact. Treat every person you meet
with respect, warmth, and kindness. Your goal should be to build friendships
first-everything else will follow naturally.
By following these rules
diligently, you can, over time, become a powerful net worker. If you consistently
give without the expectation of something in return, you will receive the admiration,
respect, and trust of the people around you. As a result, you can create a loyal
team of unpaid advisors, consultants, and salespeople who will be more valuable
to you than anyone you could possibly pay. No other marketing tool has this
potential, which is why networking should have a prominent place in your toolkit.
Get out to some networking events as soon as possible and start putting these
ideas into practice.