Sunday, July 4, 2010

On Networking

When working in social media, it is very important to engage with your readers/followers. For example, when a reader asks you to touch on certain topics, it is good to do so.

Little Mel, one of  my readers, asked me to talk a bit about networking as well as a few specific questions. This is actually a topic that I will be offering a workshop on in the Fall. Watch the Upcoming Events Tab for more information.

What are your tips for networking?
There are many tips I could offer, but I am going to start with these three key bits of advice:

Only ask for something after you have offered something
This could also be paraphrased as "nobody cares what you know until they know that you care." The concept here is that you have to give someone reason to talk to you. If you sell cars, and you try to start a conversation about cars, they know that you are trying to get something from them. They have no reason to want to talk to you. You are trying to take something without giving anything.

When I am networking, long before I ask for anything, I offer whatever I can to the person I am talking to: the possibility of membership in my referral network, information about resources they may find valuable, solutions to problems, etc. Only after I have offered value will I even suggest anything I might want from them.

Be yourself
Some people think that they need to hide some part of themselves to travel in the business world. I disagree. There is only one of me. If I were to try to divide personal from business, people would feel that I was holding something back, and that is a major impediment to trust. This does not mean that I will tell everyone I meet everything about me, but it also means that I make no particular effort to hide any parts of my life as I network.

Nobody likes to be sold
Even when I worked for The Company, I made a special point of never selling when I was networking. If a person that I was talking to about Stone Soup expressed interest in The Product, I would suggest making a separate meeting in order to make sure that the networking and the sales never became conflated. This is the  biggest mistake that people make when they try to network. When you network you are not not not trying to sell your product to the person you are networking with. You are trying to build a relationship with a person so that they will want to introduce you to others and speak well of you, which may, in the future, generate sales opportunities. Networking requires long term thinking.

What is the best way to approach people?
Before I address this question, I should explain that I do not feel I really can say I have networked with someone until I have had the chance to sit down and talk to them for at least an hour. This philosophy impacts my approach. In approaching someone to network with them, the goal is to sit down with them for an hour.

How do I do it? Simple. I am straight forward and honest. I call or meet them at a networking event. I say something along the following lines. "(a)My name is Michael Whitehouse, and (b)I am working to develop a comprehensive referral list so that I can provide my clients referrals to any resource that they might need. (c)I would like to sit down with you for an hour or so at some point in the near future. (d)When is good for you?"

This approach has four basic sections. (a) I identify myself. Perhaps they have heard of me. Perhaps they have not. (b) I explain what I am doing, and, more importantly, what is in it for them. This project is about sending referrals. Referrals mean customers, and customers mean money. (c) Here I tell them what I want from them, an hour of their time to meet. (d) Closing the deal. This step is very important. Some people will do it for you if you leave it out, but if you fail to ask for a firm time, you can get the response of "yeah, sounds great, I'll call you back." Hate to break it to you... they won't call back.

(Obviously, your script should be different. You should use your name, not mine. Also you should find your own concept of value to offer.)

Once I meet with someone, the purpose of the encounter is to develop a business relationship. It is not to sell anything. It is not to convince anyone of anything. It is to build a relationship. Doing so requires exchanging information, learning about the other person, both their business and what they do personally. Many exciting opportunities have developed because I talked to someone about a side project or wild idea they had, and we found common ground there. It is also important that I explain to them what I do without being pushy or trying to sell anything.

Here is something important to realize. If you are making a good connection, you don't have to ask the person if they are interested in what you have. If you network well, connect well, you will develop trust. If you develop trust and the person you are talking to wants what you offer, they will come right out and say it. I will tell you that it blew my socks off the first time someone came out and expressed interest in The Product without my even asking. It really surprised me quite pleasantly the first time I was hired as a paid consultant without even suggesting that they might want to hire me.

Finally, how should one handle objections such as, "I've never heard of you, why should I listen to you?" or just plain being ignored.

Those kinds of objections are sales objections. They are things that someone will say if you are trying to sell them something, either a product or an idea. In networking, you should not be selling anything except for a business relationship with you: a voluntary mutual exchange of value. They should not need to listen to you because you are not trying to tell them anything. This goes back to what I said before, give before you take. Listen to what they have to say about themselves before trying to tell them anything about yourself. You will learn more and develop better rapport listening than talking.

As for being ignored, if you approach someone directly to set up a meeting, being ignored is not an option. Sure, there will be people that you are not able to make contact with. Move on and meet other people. As you make more connections and attend more events, you will meet more and different people who will introduce you to other people.

Little Mel, and other readers, I hope that you have found this information valuable. Now, make use of it, out in the world networking.

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