Why Effective Networking is a Lost Art & How to Remedy It

by Robert Brown, Esq.

Do You Know About Effective Networking?

There are a lot of a ways to network that don’t work, but effective networking is all about actually building relationships.

We’ve all been there before (or at least MOST of us): attending a networking mixer, effective networkingglass of pinot in our left hand and our business card in our right.  Excited to meet as many people as we can, we smile, shake hands, and exchange business cards with lots of other professionals – only for NOTHING to happen afterwards.  Truly effective networking is a lost art, which begs the question: Why do we keep falling into this trap? Moreover, WHY do we keep engaging in the same fruitless practices over and over?  How do we fix it? Welcome to networking in the social media age!

A “microwave society”

We live in what I call a “microwave society.”  All of our external stimuli is pretty much instantaneous: text messaging, tweets in real time, live Skype conversations with people from halfway across the world.  Don’t get me wrong – advances in technology are phenomenal and move us forward as a species. Unfortunately, because of these advances, our level of patience has collectively decreased, causing us to dismiss the foundation of true networking: building relationships, not closing sales right then and there.

Impatience Makes Effective Networking Difficult

It seems more so each day that business professionals, entrepreneurs and salespeople are plagued with impatience in the process of building prosperous referral and strategic alliance partnerships.  Many subscribe to the ‘throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks’ approach, which is (to me) the epitome of amateurism. They think to themselves, “Hey – if I give out and collect 100 business cards, hopefully sooner rather than later one of them will call me with some business!”

Networking events have unfortunately morphed from a collection of business professionals exploring opportunities to build alliances with one another to merely a room full of desperate salespeople looking for quick sales but who adamantly avoid being sold to. Honestly, I can’t blame them – they were never taught how to do it properly, so they really don’t know any better.

Top Techniques for Effective Networking

So, what are some effective techniques to abate this type of behavior so that we can return to the time-honored tradition of building strong professional alliances and not just scoring quick sales with folks we barely know and only view as a number on a balance sheet?

These 4 strategies will help:

1. Only exchange business cards/contact information with professionals who agree to meetings/conference calls.

Many business professionals will shove their business cards in your face, literally, ineffective networking the first 30 seconds of meeting you.  This is why most of us have a pile of 500 business cards on our desk of folks whom we wouldn’t know from Adam if they walked past us on the street.

Learn to have meaningful conversations with people first to gauge if it’s even a good idea to exchange contact information.  Why would you tender your business card to someone you just met if you have no intentions of answering their phone calls/emails if/when they reach out to you?

Moreover, why would you take their business card, knowing that there’s little if any chance that you’ll need their goods or services in the future? Most will reply, “Well – you never know.”  True – that’s why there’s this little thing called “LinkedIn.” You can easily get connected there if you’re not ready to calendar a meeting or call, but still want to keep the possibilities open.

Remember, they’re called ‘business cards’ for a reason: for those professionals serious about exploring the possibility of building meaningful business relationship.  If, after a great conversation, a person is not willing to calendar a meeting or call with you to see how the two of you can work together, no worries – direct them to connect with you on LinkedIn and then move on.

2. Define the “Maybe.”   

A sales manager I once had taught that 80% of all “maybe’s” are really “no’s” in disguise.  From my experience, it’s more like 90% of them are! Whenever you’re at a networking event and a potential referral partner/strategic alliance partner says “maybe” to a meeting or conference call, always have them be clear about what the ‘maybe’ is predicated on.  If they can’t clearly define what the ‘maybe’ hinges on, then there’s a 90% chance their “maybe” is really a “no” in disguise. That’s your queue to politely end the conversation and move on to someone else who is more serious about a potential business relationship with you.      

3. Screen LinkedIn invites CAREFULLY.linkedin

For some reason, more and more business professionals are viewing LinkedIn as a veritable pool of potential clients that they can trick into connecting with them under the guise of wanting to ‘make a new connection.’  When a stranger sends me a LinkedIn invite to connect, my follow-up message to them first thanks them for their invitation to connect and then inquires about what brought them to my profile. If they don’t answer/are unwilling to answer, then I will decline their request to connect.  If you can’t communicate with me now, what makes me think that you will communicate with me when we’re 1st connections?

Related: Are You Using LinkedIn Referrals?

4. Enforce the ‘96-Hour Rule.’  

Ever have a prospect NOT call or email the professional in your network whose contact information they requested, leaving you with egg on your face?  Yes, I have too! That’s why the ‘96-Hour Rule’ comes in handy. It’s pretty simple: if a person wants a recommendation/referral to a business professional in your network whose services they’re in need of, only give out that information if the prospect agrees to contact that person within 96 hours of receiving the contact information.  This serves to (a) protect your relationship with the professional in your network because you’re providing them with a reliable prospect, and (b) holds the prospect accountable to following up on the contact information they’ve requested.

Final Thoughts

Now more than ever, the lost art of networking is important to drive the engine of commerce forward. Especially in the era of social media.  It’s crucial that entrepreneurs, salespeople and other members of the business community engage in conduct becoming true professionals. Disingenuous networking practices running rampant at cocktail parties should be discouraged and replaced with candor, technique, strategy and follow-up.

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Robert Brown is a member of the District of Columbia Bar and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, having represented clients in the fields of complex litigation, civil rights class action, bankruptcy, workers compensation, patent litigation, mergers/acquisitions, personal injury and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations. He is currently an internet TV and radio host, penning his first book about networking (www.NoBusinessCardsAllowed.com) and can be reached at Rob@ForBookLoversOnly.com.  

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