by M. Anthony Sacco (Stratalyne Business Solutions LLC)
Once a week I attend a “formal”, structured, membership-based networking and referral group meeting. You may be familiar with the organization, it’s BNI (Business Network International) and it’s growing with thousands of members. In addition, to enhance what I get from the weekly meetings, I picked up The Little Black Book of Connections (Jeffrey Gitomer, Bard Press, 2006) which boasts on the cover that it “6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships”. I’ve got over 30 years of management experience, and undergraduate degree in Finance and an MBA so, you may wonder why I take networking so seriously. The reality, for me, is that, as a management consultant, my clients require a sense of integrity and trust to engage with me initially and that is what networking and referrals provide. I think that the value of networking, if done the right way, is enormous for many professional and personal service businesses. So, from what I’ve learned so far, what are the elements of networking the “right” way?
- Good networking starts with who you know.
- The emphasis is on “know” because most people know more people than they thought and we are not talking about random contacts who we don’t really know.
- The key is to identify who we know and then connect with them appropriately to strengthen the relationships.
- Ivan Misner (the founder of BNI) says, first visibility, then credibility, and the result will be profitability (paraphrased).
- Good networking is a giving process.
- Networking with integrity and to build trust starts not with selling but with giving.
- Relationships are fostered through honest interest in knowing about the party involved and finding the value that you can provide to them.
- If you are truly available and act to give value the trust starts to build.
- Good networking is an open offer.
- The value proposition must be offered without a request or the mention of a tied reciprocity.
- If you offer to provide something of value and then follow that up by doing so it will create the opportunity for a return either direct or indirect.
- Numbers are key, this won’t work if you limit the process to a few.
- Good networking is done with clarity.
- Gitomer says it very succinctly, “THINK! before you act. Then act!”
- Be ready to engage and use probing questions that honestly reflect interest and willingness to provide value.
- Know what you will say if asked what you do. You won’t get much time and maybe no second chance.
- If asked what you want the above applies to that as well.
- Good networking is sustained with follow through.
- Make sure you follow up, provide what you offered and sustain contact.
- Do so on a frequent but not annoying schedule.