In my last post, I wrote about the importance of not selling or chasing your primary objective too fiercely on the networking floor. This networking insight may have seemed to be counter-intuitive at first. After all, we are going to a networking event to get something out of it, right? You are correct. But this doesn’t work in a straight line; there are many supporting elements needed to get you ahead. Politeness and etiquette is only scratching the surface; there is more required to take next steps.
You are probably already quite clear on what you want to get out of networking. For some people, their primary objective it is getting clients, job candidates, mentors, investors or access to those people. For others, it is just making new contacts, an interesting conversation with like-minded professionals, or spreading their network in case they might need help in the future, or eye a new job opportunity.
Swapping business cards is okay with almost anyone you meet at networking events. When you want to take next steps, like utilising each other’s network, more comes into play beyond polite niceties. The most important aspects to think of are, in my opinion:
Accountability, Comfort, and Trust (ACT).
Accountability. It basically means doing what you say you are going to do. You need to demonstrate to be accountable in order to be recommendable within a network. Be careful what you promise, as a broken promise sticks with you for longer than the initial benefit that promise brought to you. People usually don’t lose accountability out of contempt but out of negligence. Being accountable especially shows by the retention rate of your business and recommendations people give to you, and the ability to solve situations fairly and wholeheartedly if things go wrong.
Comfort is more than politeness. If you are getting introduced to a third person, the person ‘brokering’ the introduction would like to feel comfortable that he is doing a favour to both parties, and most likely would appreciate a thank-you note and perhaps staying updated on the process. Comfort is about the process being easy, smooth and done right all the way through instead of leaving question marks with the people who helped you. It is easily overlooked.
Trust is perhaps the biggest factor to actually make networking work. At first, you may think ‘oh but I am already a trustworthy person, not sure if I need to read on’, but trust is more complicated than that: most people you know, from your dentist to your personal friends, you also trust. Now let’s say you are going on a holiday and need to leave the key to your house with someone. The circle of people you would entrust that key is probably a bit smaller. Now take it one step further and say someone will live in your house whilst you are on holiday. Now the circle of people you would trust is even smaller. Why? Not because you wouldn’t trust them not stealing your belongings. But you want someone in your house who has the same high standards as you, do their utmost best not to break the glassware, or annoy the neighbours with noise, and leave the place at least as clean as you would. That is why letting someone in your house whilst you aren’t there, is kinda a big trust thing.
The same goes for networking. If you introduce someone you met on the networking floor to another contact, you would only do so if you trust that this someone will do the right thing. That conversation between the person you introduced, and the people in your network is out of sight just like your house is when on holidays. If it works out sub-standard, it shines on you. What is that right thing? Not pushing for a sale, or an investment, or whichever primary objective you may have; leaving the other person an elegant way to say ‘no’, and having something to bring to the table for them, next to the primary objective you may have.
Being accepted in a network
Asking someone access to their network is like asking someone the keys to their house. You only get them if they trust that your standards are at least at par, or better. Building a trust relationship as a supporting objective is a very important factor in networking. I cannot stress it enough, and I see it fail all the time at networking events. If this is the only thing you take away from this series, I hope it is this one.
Finally, people do like clarity but don’t like to be pushed. It is okay to reveal what your primary objective is, but with that, you would like to leave them an elegant way out to say ‘no’. That way, you show that you respect the person you have just met. After all, the professional relationships you build are more important than the hap-hazard sale or another short-term objective you are after. The person you are talking with may not be in the position right now to fulfil your favour for various reasons, but at a future point in time, this may change. Keep just one rule of thumb in mind:
A sale is beneficial at one point in time; a network is beneficial for a lifetime – Victor David