Networking effectiveness starts with a positive personal attitude and an understanding that successful networking is built on a spirit of giving and sharing and not of bargaining and keeping score.
Armed with this knowledge, we can now look at how the process of good sales networking actually works in practice.
The first thing to realize about networking is that everyone you meet is a useful prospective network contact. This seemingly simple fact is often overlooked, as people engage in their own private screening process before they will talk to anyone.
There is obviously a line to be drawn between talking to anyone and everyone in the street and talking to almost no one. However, if you want to network more and to do so successfully, there are many situations that qualify as “the right opportunity”.
Taking An Interest in Anybody & Everybody
It is often the case that we don’t really know very much about even close people around us (let alone distant contacts). Even if we do know a little, we are less likely to know how far or deep their skill, knowledge or resources extend. If this is true of your knowledge of others, how much do they really know about you?
Herein lays the basic secret of networking success:
• You have to become interested in anybody and everybody
• You have to share more about yourself than you may have done in the past
It is out this mutual exchange of knowledge that network contacts will connect and start to offer support, help, advice, favours, referrals and other benefits on a regular basis.
Developing a conscious understanding of this giving and sharing strategy can take some time and some practice.
In her book ‘How to master networking’, Robyn Henderson calls this process, earning the right to ask a favour of another person, or giving without hooks. Both of these statements imply two processes that operate pretty much at the same time (and neither of them necessarily our first reaction).
The two processes in earning the right to ask a favour are:
• Giving away information (to be helpful)
• Being open for any help you may need
Let’s look at these two processes in turn.
Giving Away Information
Whether it is accidental or planned, formal or informal, random or structured, in discussion with other people the effective networker offers his or her knowledge, skills, ideas, resources, guidance or data freely – without any ‘hooks’ or expectations that repayment is due in any form. In fact, the only immediate benefit may be the pleasure to be derived from assisting someone with information that was of value to them.
Whilst the giver expects nothing in return, the receiver has a very positive experience and memory of you upon which they can act (if they so choose) in the future. If they do, either directly or indirectly, at some indeterminate time, you may receive some reciprocal benefit.
Along with openly offering any possible help and support, the effect networker does not operate as a one-way helper or super person/white knight/angel coming to the rescue of everyone else, but never personally in need of assistance. He or she also talks realistically about personal goals, tasks, challenges, problems and general issues, and acknowledges feeling vulnerable in not being able to do everything single-handedly. Being open means being receptive to help when it is offered and, on occasions, asking networking contacts if they can suggest ideas, strategies or approaches that could assist you.
These two processes operate at the same time and together to create a cycle through which ‘favours’ are continually offered to all who participate. These favours are both offered and taken in order to keep the network strong and capable of growing to include more and more people.
This process is called ‘reciprocity’. It simply means that effective networking is a coin with two sides rather than just one. You can’t have one without the other.
Successful networking is therefore about:
• Giving and receiving
• Contributing and accepting support
• Offering and requesting
• Promoting others needs and promoting your own needs
• Trust and persistence