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NETWORKING: Your Most Valuable Marketing Tool
By Don Cooper   Printer Friendly Version

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 it.

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 great conversationalist!

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.

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