Picture this scene: You’re at the birthday party of a friend you regard highly. The friend is someone you crossed paths with years ago, and you currently have few mutual connections, which means the party is filled with people you don’t know – but who come pre-approved to a degree, if they gained this friend’s friendship. While grabbing another drink, your ear catches a snippet of conversation. A friend of this friend is talking about a subject you’re passionate about, and you’re impressed. This is someone you’d like to get to know. Do you step in and start sharing all the information you have on the topic?
In a social setting, you wouldn’t walk into a conversation and immediately dominate it or flash your smarts – at least, not if you’re trying to be socially adept and establish real connections. Rather, you’re more likely to ask questions and to learn what this interesting individual has to say first. After all, connection is a two-way street – if you want this person to value what you have to say, you have to be authentic and show that you value him or her first.
The same rules apply to business networking: focus first on connection before sales, whether the object you’re selling is yourself as a worthy contact or a good or service that puts bread on your table. Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of Business Networking International (BNI), shared on his blog about attending a networking event once and asking the attendees how many of them had come in the hopes of making a sale or doing business? Half of the audience raised its hands. However, when Misner asked the same crowd how many had come with the intention of buying something, not a single hand went up.
Misner called this a “networking disconnect.” The standard practice of networking too often focuses on selling instead of connecting. He refers to it as hunting – moving in on a specific prey in a single moment – when true networking is about farming, cultivating relationships with patience and care. Down the road, these relationships are likely to lead to business leads, but the connections are the focus, not the sales.
Here are four ways to cultivate that relationship for a quality connection:
- Find out what is of value to your desired contact.
- Determine what you can offer in the way of adding relevant value to that person.
- Figure out how to deliver that value in a genuine, meaningful way.
- Keep connected through periodic contact that centers on adding more value to him or her, whether of a personal or professional nature.