The great networking hoax

Networking means going to an event – maybe a conference or convention, maybe a cocktail party, maybe something designed specifically for networking, but something – and talking to people to find out if you can help each other. If you can, it means exchanging contact information.

A group of people stand around talking. If they don't follow-up with each later, this will be ineffective networking.

The Great Networking Hoax: that just talking to someone and exchanging business cards is good networking.

To a lot of people, this is what networking is. And that’s the great hoax. Yes, this is networking, but just a very small part of it.

I know a sales woman who, when she started a new job, joined one of the local Chamber of Commerce’s leads groups. They met twice each month. When I met her, less than a year after she’d started her job, she told me she’d quit going. I asked her why.

“They don’t work. I haven’t gotten any business from them.”

They don’t work. I haven’t gotten any business from them.

This isn’t an unusual complaint, but it’s an unnecessary one. Of course the leads group didn’t work for her or meet her expectations; she expected to make direct sales to the other people in the group, and to do it quickly just by showing up to meetings and talking about what she was selling. Leads groups – all networking – only consistently work when you put time and energy into them.

One of the most important aspects of networking is the follow-up.

If you just exchange business cards and expect business to fall into your lap, more often than not you’ll be disappointed. At most networking events, people acquire so many business cards that they all just become noise. What you need to do is follow-up after the meeting.

How do you do that? That’s the tricky part. It depends on the person. But one easy thing you can do is send a short email letting them know you enjoyed meeting them and reminding them of what you talked about. Even better if you can add something of value to them to the conversation. The email might look something like this:

Dear Jane,

It was great meeting you at Business After Hours last night. I really enjoyed our conversation, and have been thinking about what you said about how to keep your data secure on the web. I thought this article about things people and businesses can do to protect themselves online might be something you’d like to read (it’s something I wrote for my company blog).

I’d love to get together for coffee sometime. What does your schedule look like the first week of next month?

Sincerely,

Tam Frager

And it’s important to not just follow up once, but to keep in touch through time. Don’t be obnoxious, but when you see an article that you think the person will appreciate (business or not), send them a link. If you know someone who might benefit from meeting this person, let them know and offer to introduce them (this is the network part of networking). If you know or learn their birthday, send them a card – this will stand apart from the online greetings that most people send.

If you want to read a book by someone who excels at this type of networking, check out Harvey Mackay’s Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember that, even though it isn’t specifically a networking book, it’s full of stories about how he stayed connected to his customers. He was a master networker.

I’d love to hear how you stay connected after you meet someone. Share your networking stories in the comments.

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