Andy Lopata, Guest Author
Larry’s Note: In an exclusive extract from the second edition of his bestselling book, “…and Death Came Third! The Definitive Guide to Networking and Speaking in Public,” Andy Lopata looks beyond common misconceptions and investigates what networking really is and how it is a powerful tool when approached in the right way.
“Networking shouldn’t be a hit and miss affair, businesses need to actively seek out opportunities where they can meet and mix with others in the business world. As well as being highly motivational, these kind of events throw up contacts and ideas that can significantly boost your business potential.” ~ Lord Digby Jones, former Director General, Confederation of British Industry and Minister of State for UK Trade and Investment speaking in Sheffield in February 2005
Networking occurs everywhere, as a part of everyday life. From parents at the school gates exchanging contacts, local knowledge and asking for help while waiting for their children to emerge, to businessmen discussing their companies after a game of golf. It has been around since the dawn of time and it is only in recent years that networking groups have sprung up in masses with a clear business focus. Networking isn’t about groups and organizations, they merely facilitate it. Networking is, and should be, about people – and it should occur naturally.
As Carol Harris says in her book, Networking for Success, “People are the essential element in today’s business world. In past times, bricks and mortar, machinery, equipment and money were the major resources; nowadays we increasingly come across terms such as knowledge management, intellectual capital and relationship management.”
Yet still many people turn their back on networking. Marketing consultants and agencies discuss it as a business strategy much less frequently with their clients than advertising and PR campaigns; businesses turn their noses up at invitations comparing events to Masonic Clubs or the “Old School Tie,” while others worry about being hunted down as sales fodder at such events.
Some people have approached networking from the wrong direction in the past, but I have seen many changes over recent years that suggest that networking is maturing as a business tool. No longer do people go to such events to ‘hunt’, or certainly fewer people do.
This change was surely due. It is a fallacy to see man in his traditional role as ‘The Hunter’. The truth is that, if the human race had relied on hunting for survival, we would probably be extinct by now. We are not naturally equipped to hunt; we did not have the necessary speed, strength, sense of smell or the claws and teeth to emerge victorious against other large species. Only by working together and using our minds to develop tools and strategies to survive could we thrive.
For the majority of our existence, man has been a farmer. We found that, by domesticating animals, they could provide us with both milk and meat without us needing to track and chase them down. We have nurtured and fed our livestock so that they could produce enough food and drink to satisfy our cravings. We harvested crops to supplement our diet. We have prospered the most where we have given back to the environment, planting new seeds, building shelters, looking after our livestock and rotating our crops.
Why then, do we approach our business contacts by hunting, looking for the quick kill? The traditional routes to marketing our business tend to focus on targeting prospective customers with the ‘close’ or the sale in mind. Cold calling is the prime example of this, with techniques taught to help salesmen lure their prospects to a point where they are bound to sign a contract.
More and more people now recognize the growing importance of “word of mouth” marketing as a positive alternative. The focus is on attending networking events to build their business. However, the first instinct for many when walking into a networking event has always been to look for potential customers, the people who will buy from us. On the other hand, experience tells us that nothing is more off–putting than somebody trying to sell to us without finding out about us first and ascertaining whether we truly need what they have to offer.
I remember attending a networking event in Liverpool a few years ago. As soon as I walked through the door, I was met by a member of the group hosting the event. Upon introducing myself, he thrust a business card into my hand and proceeded to tell me all about his business and its benefits. What he didn’t know, because he had not taken the time to find out, is that I was already a customer of theirs! Salespeople call it “research.”
Many people, myself included, take advantage of the opportunity to block cold calls to our domestic telephone lines. Junk mail is often binned before being opened and advertising breaks on television are used as an opportunity to make a drink, or simply skipped. If we don’t like to be sold to, then why do we think that we should sell to others?
In accord with man’s natural skills, the most successful networkers are farmers, the people who go along to events to develop and nurture relationships. They are people who collect business cards from those they have made real contact with rather than hand their own cards out to anyone they meet. They are people who build a network of contacts whom they will support and who will support them in return. And the good news is that there are more and more “farmers” than “hunters” now, certainly at the events I have attended recently.
Networking is not about competing with others to see who can come out on top and claim the kill. It is about working together for the common good. Jan Vermeiren, in his book,Let’s Connect, offers an excellent summary of the difference between networking and selling: “In a sales process the goal of the interaction between two people is the sale of a product or service. When networking, this sale could be the consequence of a contact that is built with respect and care. So it is clear that the sale is not the goal of networking, but a welcome and, in many cases, logical consequence.”
Networking is about connecting. Networking is about enhancing your own individual potential by sharing knowledge, ideas and resources with others.
Go along to networking meetings and share your ideas with people there. Have a look at social networking sites, such as Ecademy, Twitter or LinkedIn, where members are constantly asking for advice, connections and new ideas. See how much people are prepared to help each other. Ask yourself how much time, effort and failure would have to be endured, without that support, by doing things on your own.
Many people who take advantage of networking opportunities are owners of small businesses. Across the world people are leaving multinational corporations, either through choice or because of redundancy, and are setting up their own businesses. A high proportion of these work on their own.
I have met many small business people who network more to get out of their own ‘cave’ than for new leads. One member of one of the Business Referral Exchange (BRX) weekly breakfast networking groups ran an Alfa–Romeo service centre. He did not need referrals; new business would come to him through Alfa dealerships, magazines and clubs.
He told me that he was networking because, day in and day out he found himself working just with his team of mechanics, people who either didn’t understand or didn’t care about the frustrations of running the business. At networking events he could interact with people who shared the same joys, the same frustrations. Basically, the same experiences. And he could rely on their support and encouragement.
When you hear people talk about networking, and they perceive that it is all about selling, selling and selling, you know that they haven’t grasped how networking can help them to grow their businesses. Enhanced sales are not the be all and end all of networking; they are one of the benefits that can be gained from networking effectively.
Networking is the exchange of information. People help and support each other and, through that process, enhance each others potential.
“In this book Andy Lopata demonstrates how so many businesses ignore potentially their most powerful resource – their networks. Andy’s in-depth, practical advice will show you how to both build and profit from the relationships in your network.” ~ Ivan Misner, NY Times Bestselling author and Founder of BNI and Referral Institute
Andy’s book, “Recommended: How to Sell Through Networking and Referrals,” is now available.
Copyright © 2011 – Andy Lopata. Reprinted with permission. Labeled “Mr Network” by The Sun, Andy Lopata was called “one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists” by the Financial Times. The co-author of two books on networking, Andy is a featured columnist the US magazine “The National Networker,” as well as being regularly quoted in the national press. Previously, Andy was Managing Director of UK network Business Referral Exchange. Andy has since worked with companies from one-man bands to organisations such as NatWest Bank, Merrill Lynch and Mastercard to help them realise the full potential from their networking. He is a former vice-president of the Professional Speakers Association. Visit Andy’s Website and BLOG.
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