At a networking coffee meeting, one acquaintance said to the other, "I'm really glad to have the chance to get to know more about you and your company. By the way, have you met (name omitted to protect the guilty) yet? If you were meeting him for coffee he'd sit down and whip out a sales flip chart. Then you'd be stuck for an hour listening to his pitch! I hate that."
Networking has been vaunted as the modern way to do business. People do business with people they know and people they like, so it helps to be known - most of the time. Remember the second part of the adage - people they like?
As in any social interaction, networking meetings have rules of etiquette, and if you violate them you are likely to be known (part one of your goal) but not to be liked (cancels benefit of part one of your goal). As a matter of fact, the more networking you do as a salesman poorly disguised, the worse it is. Your reputation as a huckster will spread faster and farther afield than your personal efforts could take it.
The challenge in networking etiquette is that different rules apply in different cultural environments. But here are a few guidelines to consider:
- Networking is about building a relationship - about making a friend. You have to earn the right to make a sale. To illustrate from non-business life, remember those disco years? Ask somebody to come home with you before you know their name and you're likely to get slapped. It's the same thing in sales. Networking is finding out their name, their interests, their Zodiac sign - of course this is said tongue in cheek, but it's about making a friend. Period.
- The person who asks the questions is in control of the conversation, not the person who rambles on. You won't find out information that will help you later if you're not doing any listening. Any good relationship has two participants, not one participant and one spectator.
- Consider the location when you ask questions. Sure you want to know about the other person, but if you are in a public place like a mixer or a coffee shop there are other ears nearby. This isn't the place to uncover detailed information or deep, dark secrets. If you make the other person feel uncomfortable it doesn't help you to build the relationship. When you are in sales mode you might need to help the other person recognize pain that can be cured by you or your services. But now is probably not the time.
- In an effort to make connections, don't badmouth others. You never know who will know whom, so you might inadvertently insult their neighbor, cousin, former classmate, or even brother-in-law. Remember that the other person assumes that you will behave toward them in the same way - perhaps spreading less-than-flattering information about them for the sake of appearing to be smart and in on things. This is a downward-spiral conversation that does not help you become liked and trusted.
- Be real. They want to know you - the real you. It might feel risky, because what if the real you isn't very likable or credible? Rest assured that there are style and personality matches for almost anyone who enters the situation with honorable intentions and a desire to reciprocate good for good. As for the credibility issue, do your homework. Know your stuff. This is fundamental to your success. If you're a newbie - really a newbie, not just an experienced person wearing a new toolbelt - say so. Many if not most people like to be in the position of being able to help.
- Be consistent with the understood agenda for the meeting. If you want to get acquainted, do that. If you want to talk about mutual personal interests, do that. If you want to find out some names of prospective customers you could contact, come right out and establish that as part of the agreed-upon purpose for the meeting. Don't sneak up on the other person and ambush them. It won't help you to whip off your mild mannered disguise and suddenly transform in to Sup-er Salesman! Yuck.
If you are there to network, then network. The purpose of networking is to know and become known. If you have another, hidden agenda, trust that it isn't hidden. You will be as easy to spot as a cow in a band uniform and silly glasses. And it won't work in your favor.