Let me guess…you network. We both know the drill. You attend the functions, gather the business cards, dutifully make appointments, and guzzle coffee until your urine turns the color of dark French roast. It’s hard work, and if you focus on networking as a meaningful part of your marketing strategy it can be a real grind (yep, that was an intentional coffee double-entendre).
When it’s done correctly, networking can be a great resource for meeting new people and finding new opportunities. When it’s done poorly, everybody loses. Bad networkers don’t really have a networking plan or strategy — they are content to connect with anyone and everyone. They haven’t considered whom they want to meet (or why) and they attack with a vengeance anyone and everyone with whom they aren’t already linked through any possible social media. They are the proverbial monkeys with a machine gun, spraying emails and connection requests like scattershot digital ammo. Worse yet, they don’t just waste their own time, they waste the time of the indiscriminate networking targets they hit. And at some point or another, we’ve all been that trigger-happy monkey. Bad networkers reminded of Butthead’s morose MTV monotone as he watched a bad music video and commanded the band to “stop, in the name of all that does not suck.”
I have a friend who, despite his truly great qualities, revels in being one of those monkeys. “I never turn down a meeting with anybody,” he likes to brag. From my standpoint that translates into “I’ll kiss every frog thrown in front of me in hopes of finding the occasional prince.” Does he ever find a prince? I guess he must or he wouldn’t keep doing it that way. I suspect he also has a tongue full of warts. No thanks.
Right or wrong, networking must be something more than a mere numbers game if it is to drive mutual benefit. There simply isn’t much value – for either party – in a meeting where both people dutifully exchange superficial marketing propaganda and never hear from one another again. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big advocate of networking. I just think there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The right way requires being brutally honest about where you should be spending your time and the time of others. Don’t be the monkey. Gook networking also involves imposing on yourself a qualitative filter when you’re thinking about accepting a potential introduction or introducing someone to a member of your network. If you’re giving the monkey ammo to use on people who trust you, you can expect a reasonably predictable shelf-life on that trust. Your true networking partners deserve better. Don’t arm the monkey.
I’m not a great networker, but I know people who are and I’m learning. So far, here’s what I think I’ve learned:
- Know your targets: Networking should be part of an overall marketing strategy. If you don’t have a strategy, you need one. Use it to identify the kinds of people who truly make sense for you to pursue.
- Have and protect your inner circle: You’re going to meet lots of people. You had better not simply throw them into a big sack with each other and constantly shake it hoping to add value. Be candid about identifying the people who regularly and consistently provide you introductions that make strategic sense for you. Work very hard to make introductions for them, but don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Your best networking partners expect you to pass along only the introductions that drive the most value for them.
- Plan and enforce networking time: Block out specific time windows on specific days for networking, then work hard to schedule meetings ONLY during that time. That helps you be proactive and suggest times that you already know are convenient for you, and it lets you push as many meetings as possible into times that you’ve already reserved for that purpose.
- Find a networking home: Establish a base of operations from which you consistently conduct your networking meetings. If it’s a coffee shop or restaurant you’ll get to know the staff, repeatedly see contacts you already know, and save time scrambling between multiple locations.
- Use the telephone as a screen: Face-to-face meetings are great, but meeting by telephone or Skype video can leverage your time and avoid mouth warts for you and others. If you’re scratching your head at all about whether it makes sense to devote time to a meeting, schedule an initial conversation. If there seem to synergies, then by all means get together. If not, save the time.
I’d enjoy hearing other lessons learned from the networking wars. We’re all in this together.
© JPECA, Inc. 2011