Avoiding a network of nothing

It could best be described as an avalanche of business cards.

Chris was genuinely happy and thinking that his business networking mission had been accomplished and that he had overachieved.

Chris’ sales manager carried a look on his face somewhere between overwhelmed and stunned, but was cautiously optimistic as he looked at the pile on Chris’ desk. He pulled out one of the cards and asked about the owner.

“I think he’s in banking. I’m not sure. We only talked for a minute.”

Another card: “I really didn’t get a chance to talk to her, so I got her card so I could follow up.”

Still another: “I can’t really remember who he is.”

After another minute or so of query, the light came on for Chris. He didn’t make the progress he thought he had.

Many of us have been to business events and witnessed the overzealous sales person handing out their cards like Halloween candy making sure that everyone gets one. We’ve also seen someone, like Chris, gathering cards like candy Easter eggs. The problem is that, like candy, these networking strategies have hollow business calories and affect little in the way of business development. There’s no meaningful connection.

Networking is an art. Or as Susan RoAne, the bestselling author of “How To Work A Room” says, “Networking is the art of communication.”

Collecting enough cards to compete for the Guinness record isn’t communicating. In fact, it ends up being detrimental to your efforts because people will (correctly) perceive that there is no substance. That’s real trouble if they attach that to your company’s brand.

You want cards given and received to be currency. They’re valuable and worth hanging on to.

For it to have value, there has to be a connection with the individual behind it. This isn’t speed dating. Getting to know the person that handed it to you is paramount. Who are they, where do they work? Why did they come to do what they do? Problems they are trying to solve? Things about which they’re proud? Interests? What do the two of you have in common? It’s not just about business. What is the kaleidoscope of color that comprises this person?

If Chris came back from a one-hour function with only three cards, yet each card represented a five- or 10-minute conversation that was both meaningful and memorable, he’d find his network expanding much more rapidly.

Those whom you get to know more meaningfully result in greater trust and they are more likely to open up their networks.

Besides a personal connection and a meaningful conversation, what else will really make an impression on that person of business that you just met? A thank you note, sure. A quick call, maybe. Sending them a legitimate, new client for their business, absolutely. That’s currency. Want to build your business fast? Build theirs.

You’ll make more progress with three people that are happy they know you than with 30 people that know of you.

Avoid the avalanche.

Patrick Morin is the president and COO of BrightHammer, a team of experts that work directly with company leaders nationwide to develop and implement sales strategy, deliver targeted sales training and effect sales-oriented culture changes. Email him here, or follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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