How to network for successful business outcomes

Charlie Lawson
- Leadership - Dec 08, 2014

I was out at a networking meeting in Croydon recently, when I met an enthusiastic businessman, who was promoting a combined fire and security protection system. 

I’d not been there more than a couple of minutes when he approached me, shook my hand enthusiastically, and proceeded to hard sell his amazing new solution that would solve all of my domestic fire protection and security needs.  Did I want to buy, at the amazing introductory price of £199.99, a saving of over 25 percent from the recommended retail price? Er… no.  Sorry mate, but would you please go away. 

But there is a fundamental problem with going to a networking event trying to sell.  Even if the buying process for your product/service is very simple, there’s no paperwork to fill out, and the buyer has their credit card on them, you’re still not going to sell anything. 

Why? Because no one goes out networking to buy! Think about it: have you ever gone out networking with the intention of buying anything?

So why then, at the vast majority of business networking events I attend, does someone try to sell to me?  Even if they’re not selling, they’ll be thrusting their business card in my face, making me feel guilty if I don’t take one.

Here’s three tips to make networking more successful:

Set Goals.  For every networking event, set yourself a goal of what you want to achieve.  Of course – as we’ve just seen, your goal can’t be to sell X number of products.  Equally, it probably isn’t realistic to set yourself a target to meet people to book X number of follow up meetings to sell your product.  You just don’t know if you’re going to meet the right people.

Instead, try setting a very simple goal of meeting, say, 10 new people.  I used to think that a goal like this would be too simplistic and a waste of time.

However, as an Unnatural Networker, I’ve found it provides a key advantage.  I’ve noticed that it gets me going to networking events where otherwise I might not have gone.  It is very tempting to think something along the lines of ‘Oh, this event is unlikely to gain me anything’: but just setting a goal of making a number of new contacts makes it much easier for the meeting to be a success.  And that makes it easier to walk in the door to start with.

Look for Body Language. Picture the scene.  You, the Unnatural Networker, have just walked through the door into a busy networking event.  You’ve got yourself a coffee, and in front of you is a large room, with lots of people busy networking.  There is a general buzz from the room: everyone looks busy, and like they know exactly what they’re doing, right? 

Wrong!  They might all look like they know what they’re doing, but plenty will feel just like you do.  They certainly did when they walked through the same door a few minutes earlier. 

Where to start?  The key here is to break the room down, and work out who to talk to by looking at people’s body language.  Human beings betray a huge amount of detail about themselves through their body language, and it is no different in a networking context. 

All we’ve got to look out for are open body language conversations.  Don’t even bother trying to talk to people demonstrating closed body language.  They are subconsciously telling you ‘don’t interrupt me!’  At the same time, those keeping themselves open are trying to tell you that they would welcome you coming to talk to them.  So don’t fear it, go for it!

Follow Up.  Follow up, very simply, is doing what you say you’re going to do.  So, when out networking, if you meet someone and say you’ll email them something, or you say you’ll arrange to meet again for a coffee – following up means doing just that.  Send the email.  Pick up the phone and arrange to meet for coffee.

The bizarre thing is that so many people don’t follow up.  I’m not sure why.  It could be that people over-promise when in a networking situation.  It could be that people simply don’t understand the importance of follow up and the damage that is done to their credibility.

Whatever it is though, it does give us Unnatural Networkers an opportunity.  Following up isn’t difficult.  It is just incumbent upon us to do what we say we are going to do. 

I am a very Unnatural Networker.  I don’t really like going networking – using these tips has not only made me a better networker – they’ve helped get me to go networking, period.

Charlie Lawson is a networking expert and author of The Unnatural Networker. He is also the UK and Ireland director of BNI, the world’s largest networking referral organisation. He helps fellow entrepreneurs who are struggling to find networking confidence. For more information, visit www.bni.co.uk

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