One of the biggest misconceptions about networking is the notion that it’s an all you can eat affair. (Quantity is fine – but quality is KING.) ~Dr. Ivan Misner

Businesspeople unfamiliar with referral networking sometimes lose track of the fact that networking is the means-not the end-of their business building activities. They attend three, four, even five events in a week in a desperate grasp for new business. The predictable result is that they stay so busy meeting new people that they never have time to follow up and cultivate those relationships-and how can they expect to get that new business from someone they’ve only just met? As one of these unfortunates remarked to me, I feel like I’m always business but rarely getting anything done.

I certainly agree that meeting new people is an integral part of networking, but it’s important to remember why we’re doing it in the first place: to develop a professional rapport with individuals that will deepen over time into a trusting relationship that will eventually lead to a mutually beneficial and continuing exchange of referrals.

When meeting someone for the first time, focus on the potential relationship you might form. As hard as it may be to suppress your business reflexes, at this stage you cannot make it your goal to sell your services or promote your company. You’re there to get to know a new person. A friend of mine told me something his dad always said: You don’t have to sell to friends. That’s especially good advice when interacting with new contacts.

This certainly doesn’t mean you’ll never get to sell anything to people you meet while networking; it does, however, mean that you’ll need to employ a different approach. Networking isn’t about closing business or meeting hordes of new people; it’s about developing relationships in which future business can be closed. Once you understand that and put it into practice, you’ll notice a few things happening to your business.

First, you’ll stand out from the crowd with everyone you meet. People often ask me how they can get business at an event when there are so many other people trying to do the same thing. I simply tell them to stand out from the crowd by doing things a bit different. A good way to do that is by asking a new contact good questions and taking the time to listen to her answers. (A good question is one that gets the person talking about herself while helping you understand her business. It is not an opportunity for you to vet this person as a client.)

Good questions not only get the ball rolling, they take the pressure off you to carry the conversation; meeting new people can be hard enough without feeling you have to be the life of the party to do it. If you’re not sure what kinds of questions to ask, go back and re-read chapter 14, where we talk about them in more detail.

Another good reason for adopting this advanced networking approach is that it will differentiate you from the competition. This is especially vital for mortgage brokers, real estate agents, insurance agents, CPAs, financial planners, and others in highly competitive industries. You can’t go to a networking event without running into at least one person in some of those fields.

When you’re networking like a pro and treating new contacts as future referral partners, you’ll absolutely blow away any competitors who will still feel compelled to meet as many people as they can. Why? Because when you call your contacts back, they’ll actually remember who you are and will be willing to meet with you again. This is obviously a critical next step for securing more business.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some specific steps you can take toward getting more business from your very next event.

1. Limit the number of contacts per event. The most important thing is the quality of the contacts, which means the type of contact, the relevance to your business and interests, how good a connection you’re making, and the individual involved. At a typical event, five to ten might be all you can handle. This may not seem like a lot of contacts, but it’s really more than enough when you’re talking to the right people. (That’s why it’s so important to have a network strategy-which we’ll cover later.) If you attend two events per week, that’s 10 events a month, or 30 to 50 new contacts every 30 days. Continue to do that over the next couple of months-while following up with the people that you’ve met-and you’ll soon have more than enough high-quality contacts to keep you busy.

2. Spend five to ten minutes talking and listening to each person. Just because you’re not handing out your business card to 1,001 people doesn’t mean you should spend 20 minutes talking to just one individual. Invest a few minutes in getting to know each person. Make sure to ask for her business card. Then follow up with her after the event; this is where the heavy lifting takes place. Remember, all we’re doing now is setting the stage for future business.

3. Write notes on the backs of peoples’ cards. Not only do notes help you remember what the other person said at an event, it slows you down a bit so you’re not running around trying to meet the next person. On the front of the card you can write the date and name of the event where you met the person; on the back, a few quick notes about the conversation or anything else of note. When you contact the person later, this will give you something to refer to.

Here are a few things to remember when it comes to meeting new people.

  • You’re not interested in selling anything to the person you’re just meeting; you want to find some way you can help her. You understand, of course, that what goes around comes around, usually in the form of referrals for your business.
  • You want to create a visible identity with everyone you meet. A visible identity is the answer to this question: How can I differentiate myself, in the mind of this other person, from the other five people she’s already met?

Keeping those two ideas in mind will give you a leg up when meeting new contacts. Using this simple, Givers Gain approach, you’ll see an up-tick in the amount of new business and referrals you get while networking.

About the Author:

Called the father of modern networking by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.

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