Monday, July 6, 2009

An Introduction to Networking

(First in a series)

In 1984 I was new in sales and on the lookout for prospects and anyone who could introduce me or refer me to a prospect for my products. A notice in the local business news caught my attention. The chamber of commerce was hosting an event called “Business After Hours”. Billed as a “networking” opportunity, it presented a concept with which I was not familiar. The ad went on to suggest that the participants “bring lots of business cards”. So I grabbed a few extra business cards and went to see what was happening. There was a buffet of hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, lots of hand shaking, introductions, and for me, learning. I met several people who later became loyal clients and several who did not buy, but referred others who did. I was hooked. Networking became an important part of my marketing strategy and “Business After Hours” found a permanent spot on my calendar. As I met people, became familiar with them, and learned more about their businesses, written and mental notes helped me refer prospects to them. When possible, a visit to their place of business would help firm up the relationship and I could see them at work. Being around a friend or client in their business environment also helps to associate them with their work; they can tell you about their clients and who would be a good prospect for them.

It has been said that “People like to do business with people who do business with them.” Similarly, people will help those who have previously helped them. It is difficult to forget the person who introduced you to a willing prospect who became your best client! Such simple concepts put into practice are the foundations of successful business networks. These practices are like a chain reaction driven by reciprocity and the eventual delivery of excellent products and services.

This morning I logged in to my online social network and saw a notice that four people had accepted my friend request. Checking their profiles gave me an idea of their interests and right away reminded me of other friends in this same network. So I sent them suggestions to connect with my other friends. It is not unusual that one or the other of these friends that I have connected will e-mail me a “thank you” for my suggestion. Introducing friends is an important aspect of networking and one I find both enjoyable and rewarding.

Back in the early eighties I became a professional salesperson and quickly learned that we are all selling something even if it is not a particular product, but ourselves. As a result of my experience, networking has, for me, become synonymous with:
• Prospecting – looking for qualified prospects
• Self promotion – beating your own drum, providing others with enough information about what you do so they can decide if they want to know more
• Referrals -- both receiving recommendations and helping contacts sell their services (beating someone else’s drum)
• Reciprocity – returning the favor or paying it forward.
These will be addressed in future articles individually.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines networking as: “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” A relationship that is characterized by the above four features and driven by true friendship will produce what is commonly known as a person who will be for you, a “center of influence”. An unexpected center of influence for me was a medical doctor. He had numerous contacts across a wide variety of professions and he was efficient in connecting them when he thought they could be mutually beneficial (This man got his under graduate degree in marketing, not pre-med!). His results were remarkable. When he put two people together, they did business!

An obvious benefit of networking is the growth of your business. There is an equally important duty we must be willing to accept. We have the responsibility to help the other members of our network grow their businesses. Ever heard the expression, “If I help the people that work with me to become successful, then my success is automatic.”? It’s true. In the musical, Chicago, Matron Momma Mortin sings, “The folks atop the ladder are the ones the world adores. So boost me up my ladder kids, and I’ll boost you up yours!” Let’s do the things that successful networkers do and give each other a boost. I’ll be looking for you at the top.