The Problem with Networking
I know what many of you are thinking. The very mention of the phrase “Networking event” can stimulate a visceral reaction. A potent mixture of anxiety and frustration that floods your brain with cortisol and stresses you out days before the event. Some will half-jokingly say that you are “washing their hair that day” or “You would rather sit at home and pull out all of my fingernails one by one”.
So, where did that all go wrong? When done right, networking can be exhilarating and fun (yes, even for introverts) and the evidence shows us that networking is outstandingly successful in helping us build our careers and businesses. So, what happened that lead so many of us to want to go out of our way to avoid it.
I recently had the great honour and pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ivan Misner on The Leadership Project podcast. Misner is the founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI Global, the world’s largest referral networking organization. BNI has more than 292,000 members, more than 10,000 chapters and is present in 73 countries and every populated continent on the planet. Misner shared with us his great wisdom about how to make networking work for you and your business and he helped us to address some of the many misconceptions and limiting beliefs that people have about networking.
Today’s article collates some of the key lessons shared by Dr Misner.
The key factor that has led to negative views about networking is a history of people that treat networking as a sales opportunity and what Misner calls “Premature Solicitation” (he follows with swift advice not to try saying that 3 times quickly). Many jump straight into selling without doing any groundwork to build any form of connection with the people they are meeting. They approach networking with a transactional mindset rather than relational.
Famous sayings from so-called “sales gurus” like the ABCs of selling – “Always Be Closing” do not help at all. It is not really any surprise that people start to shudder when they hear the word networking if their previous experience has been a room full of people trying to put the hard sell on them.
Know, like and Trust and the Time-Confidence Curve
People do business with people that they "know, like and trust". It takes time for people to get to know you, to warm to you, and to ultimately trust you. This is something that cannot be skipped. Misner describes this process using a “Time-Confidence Curve”. The Time-Confidence will vary for different types of goods and services. The time that it takes for someone to trust a florist may be very different to the time it takes to trust someone that is going to handle your financial affairs.
To build “know, like and trust” we need to spend time with people and give them space and the opportunity to form their views. It does not necessarily happen in one meeting or event. You may need multiple meetings and touch points and with each one you are getting to know each other with a deeper level of connection.
Visibility and Credibility then Profitability
Misner articulates that “we need to focus on visibility and credibility before we get to profitability”. The big mistake made my many is to jump to profitability before they have established visibility and credibility with the person they are looking to do business with. This would be the equivalent of walking up to an attractive stranger getting down on one knee and jumping straight to “will you marry me?” before learning anything about each other; going on several dates together; and so on.
Misner describes networking to be “farming, not hunting”. This brings forward visions of preparing fertile ground; planting seeds; and watering and nurturing the relationship before any crops can be harvested.
Referrals and Third-Party Trust
The power of networking is not in selling at all. Networking is about referrals and third-party trust. Successful networking revolves around educating others about who you are; what you do; and why you do it. You are there to learn about others and to share your story with them. You are not there to sell, you are there to learn and you are there to educate.
The ultimate goal is for these people that you have built a connection with to be your eyes and ears in the market. This person may not be your target customer at all, but they are highly likely to know someone that does need your help, your product, or your service. This may come immediately where they instantly refer you to a friend or family member or it may come days, weeks or months later when they meet someone that is looking for someone just like you.
The true power here lies in third-party trust. When a person is referring their friend or colleague on to you it comes with a badge of endorsement that is far more powerful than if you were directly selling to that person. They trust this person and this person trusts you and therefore they start to trust you as well. We are now shortening the time-confidence curve because of you were referred from someone they trust.
To help you with your own networking approach I have compiled a selection of mindset shifts for you to consider.
Mindset Shift – Be Interested, not interesting
The #1 rule of networking is to be interested, not interesting. People do not like narcissistic big talkers that only ever talk about themselves. The secret here is to stay curious and ask better questions and make it about them, not you. They will naturally then return serve and start asking you questions about you.
Mindset Shift – You’re there to train a sales force; not close a sale
Networking events are not for selling, they are for learning and educating. The goal is for your new connections to know who you are; what you do; and why you do it so that when they see an opportunity for you they will refer people to you. It goes without saying that the reverse is also true, you are there to learn about them and to be part of their network.
Misner articulated these concepts beautifully in our interview. Starting with “It is not who you know, its who they know”. You are expanding your impact and growth opportunities by expanding your network.
Misner goes on to talk about the quality of that relationship adding that “it is not who you know but how well you know each other”. This speaks to deep connection. Does the person know you well enough that you could pick up the phone and ask a favour and vice versa? Does the person know you well enough that they would give their own personal endorsement of you to someone else?
Mindset Shift – Giver’s Gain
This mindset shift is rooted in BNI’s primary core value of “Giver’s Gain”. The concept behind Giver’s Gain is to always start with being in the service of others. To help someone else without expecting anything in return. The universe has a way of rewarding those that help others. By leading with “giving” the favour will be returned at the right time and when you need it most. Giving to another human being without any obligation or commitment of anything in return builds a wonderful bond and drives “know, like and trust”.
For more information
If you have never tried a BNI meeting, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your local BNI chapter. You are welcome to join meetings as a guest and get a feel if it is right for you. You can find your local chapter at www.BNI.com
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