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Why networking goes wrong

BY DAVID TOVEY



I was recently working with a team of senior professionals. We got on to the topic of business networking – a regular activity for this group. The majority told me they hated going to networking events – they felt that they were wasting their time and particularly resented giving up their personal time to attend their company’s events.

As we talked it through it became obvious that they felt the events were a waste of time because they never came away with so much as a sniff of any new business. That’s when I realised they were attending networking and social events with totally the wrong mind-set. They had been going with the intention of ‘selling’ – pitching their story to as many people who would listen in the hope of uncovering an opportunity. No wonder they hated attending networking events – I would imagine everyone they came into contact with thought much the same thing!

I asked them to consider if anyone would succeed in finding a partner to spend the rest of their lives with by walking up to a stranger in a bar and asking them “Would you spend the rest of your life with me”? After a few comments about that probably being the worst chat up line ever it was accepted that it was extremely unlikely to results in any sort of relationship developing. Anyone seeking a life-long partner knows that personal relationships take time to develop. They need investment and trust before either part makes any significant commitment.

“Will you be my customer for life”?

Why do some people attending networking events think business relationships are different? They walk up to strangers and say some version of “Would you like to become a client/customer for life”? If the person they are speaking to doesn’t bite at the first opportunity they move on to the next person (working the room) and try the same thing. It’s as if they working on the basis of telling their story to enough people and someone will be interested.

It is so obvious to others when self-interest is the sole reason for engaging in a conversation.

If you’ve tried it or been subjected to someone pitching their less than inspiring story to you then you’ll know how it feels. No wonder so many people get fed up with attending events – no wonder you see so many groups of people who obviously know each other (because they are all from the same organisation) having a laugh together as they consume the Rioja and canapés.

No wonder the investment made in networking events is often seen as a waste.

It starts with the right mind-set.

I’m going to assume that you only attend events where your target audience will be. I’m also going to assume that you have identified in advance who you would like to build a relationship with. Armed with that information any networking opportunity can be a vital part of your business development strategy. Meeting colleagues is a valid reason for attending events by the way – but only in the context of your organisations overall business development strategy.

Once you are sure you are attending the right events; how successful you are in turning any interaction into future business depends on your thinking.

Have as your sole intention of engaging in a conversation, building or reinforcing trusted relationships.

When you have relationship building as your mind-set it changes the dynamics of a conversation. No longer are you seen as someone with only self-interest at heart but as someone interested in how they can contribute to helping others achieve their goals and objectives. Only when you have established that you understand the motivations of a potential customer will you have earned the right to share the detail of your story.

Of course in any initial interaction you are likely to be asked what you do. If your mind-set is building relationships all you need to share is what outcomes you deliver for the customers who work with you and why you do what you do (people buy the why more than the what) and then show genuine interest in the other person.

Remember that the fundamental deal about business. No one is interested in your products or services except you. The only thing customers are interested in is how you can help them achieve their goals and objectives.


David Tovey is Development Director of Sterling Growth Hub, an international speaker, consultant, coach and author.

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