Networking No-No`s, by Hilka Klinkenberg
Have you felt frustrated lately attending industry or association events because the only attendees are other consultants all desperately seeking the elusive corporate client? If so, you have only yourself and your fellow consultants to blame!
Strong words, but true. Corporate members of organizations complain that they have come to hate going to industry functions because they are constantly barraged by consultants trying to "hustle" them for work. They are resentful because they want to go to these functions to learn, to network themselves and to relax among their peers. Instead, they stay away because it is too stressful and annoying to be the brunt of all these solicitations. That need not be the case if consultants would only learn to network properly.
QUANTITY & QUALITY
Networking is about making contacts - the more the better. It's difficult to meet a lot of people if you spend the entire evening monopolizing or allowing yourself to be monopolized by one person. Five to seven minutes is an ideal amount of time to spend with anyone. Don't stretch it past 10 minutes, especially if only a half hour has been allotted to networking. That's basic arithmetic!
Once you've reached your goal with that contact or discovered that the person is a dolt or trying to pitch you, it is perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself politely and move on. If ending an unproductive conversation is difficult for you, remember that you're doing the person a favor by freeing him or her to speak to someone who could be more beneficial.
But, quantity alone will not suffice. If the contacts are not quality contacts, you have wasted your time. It's very difficult to determine if a person is a quality contact, one likely to give you business, if you're doing all the talking. And that brings us to the most important point, conversation...
Whatever you do, NEVER MAKE A SALES PITCH AT A NETWORKING FUNCTION. You'll be perceived only negatively as gauche, pushy, needy, desperate, insensitive, or inexperienced. Those perceptions aren't going to help you get your message across, and you'll scare the potential corporate clients away from future attendance.
There's truth to the adage that we have two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we talk. Listening is also twice as hard for most people in our culture. But, if you do all the talking, how can you possibly qualify a prospect? Keep quiet and get the people you meet to talk. Most people love to talk about themselves, and they appreciate others who give them that opportunity. You'll be amazed at what you can learn.
Arrange to meet at a later date when you close the encounter, "Your comments have given me some ideas I'd like to discuss further over lunch. Are you available Thursday?" Or, make your sales call during business hours the next day, opening with a reference to the previous day's conversation, "Your remarks about TQM at last night's meeting indicated you have some real needs that my company may be able to help you erase." The information you garner by listening at networking functions is invaluable in forming a working relationship with a prospect.
Passing out business cards to anyone and everyone as if you were handing out flyers in Times Square at rush hour will only guarantee that your cards are filed under "W" for "waste" - except by those people from whom you never, ever want to hear. Wait till the end of the conversation, till you've established a reason to make further contact, before you exchange cards. Doing so enhances the value of your business card exchange.
A basic rule of rank and status is that a person of much higher rank be the one to request the card. Before you cry foul, think how often you've encountered senior executives from major corporations who "just ran out of cards" or "forgot to bring them"? Do you really think these people became captains of industry by not having business cards? The truth is that they don't want to give you a card because they know you'll harangue their secretaries for weeks trying to get through to them.
If you've been an interesting, interested listener the chances that corporate executives will want you to call are greatly increased. Even if they don't give you a business card, you certainly can remember their name and company for a few seconds after the encounter until you have a chance to jot it down. A few well-placed phone calls the next day should give you the person's exact title, office address and direct line. Corporate executives are more likely to do business with you because of the effort you made and the sincere interest you showed in them.
Take the focus off yourself at networking functions. Put it where it belongs, the other person, and you will increase your chances for success at these functions. Stop attacking corporate representatives with your sales pitches. When you spend more time building contacts and relationships rather than frantically promoting yourself or your services, attending networking functions becomes a more pleasurable experience for you and for corporate executives. Who knows... if everyone practices these savvy networking tactics, industry and association functions may once again be filled with the people consultants really want to meet... potential clients!
© Hilka Klinkenberg - All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.
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