5 Tips for Better Networking

Networking is a chance to build a relationship, not conduct a transaction

networking stock art

I was at a big networking event. More than 900 people were in the audience, and I asked everyone there, "How many of you came here hoping to do some business -- maybe make a sale?" Almost everyone in the audience raised their hands. I then asked, "How many of you are here hoping to buy something?" No one raised their hand. Not one single person. This is what I call the "Networking Disconnect."

Most people show up to networking events wanting to sell something, but no one is there hoping to buy something. This disconnect is why so many people hate networking. Over and over again, I read articles from well-meaning "experts" who say horrible things about networking. The problem is, they are generally experiencing "direct selling" done under the guise of networking. That's where the Networking Disconnect comes in, and that's almost always behind the reason some people don't like networking.

If you're going to networking events hoping to sell something, you're dreaming. Okay, I recognize that it can happen -- but it generally happens as often as a solar eclipse. It's possible that anyone can stumble over an immediate sale at a networking event, but then, even a blind squirrel can find a nut occasionally. Don't confuse direct selling with networking. Effective networking is about developing relationships, not using the event as a "face-to-face cold-calling" opportunity.

I recently read an article published on a major online business platform titled "Stop Networking." It went on to explain how the process of networking is so "mercenary." The problem is that every example the author gave about how networking doesn't work was an example of really bad networking. The writer's conclusion was to stop networking. Instead of networking, the author said you should do these five things:

1. Focus on relationships, not transactions.

2. Don't ask for something before you give something.

3. Don't make the process about you.

4. Strive for quality, not quantity, in your relationships.

5. Volunteer for leadership roles in organizations to which you belong.

Hello! Does anyone notice that the emperor has no clothes? I would argue that all five of these strategies are about networking -- the right way. In this article, bad networking tactics were presented as the reasons people should stop doing it. Networking can certainly be done badly -- but networking itself isn't bad.

The key at networking events is to make solid connections with individuals so they will remember who you are when you do follow up with them. You want them to be excited to meet with you for coffee or lunch. If you go to networking events just trying to sell, those people will not want to meet with you later because they know you're going to pitch them. If you want people to be eager to meet with you after networking events, the key is to find ways to help them.

Think back to the 900 people in my audience. Think about all the circles that had the possibility of forming, and connecting, creating opportunities for one another. Think about how many of them most likely didn't. If everyone in that room focused on learning who they could help, as opposed to what they could sell, imagine the relationships that might have been. Good networking is all about building relationships.  

Dr. Ivan Misner is the founder and chief visionary officer of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization, which now has over 7,000 chapters throughout every populated continent of the world. He is the coauthor, along with Brennan Scanlon, of Avoiding the Networking Disconnect: The Three R's to Reconnect, from which this excerpt is adapted.

This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.