A few weeks ago I was out at a local park with my 2 year old son, when I encountered a few other fathers who were there with their children as well. Our kids seemed to be getting along playing together and it gave me and one of the gentlemen the chance to chat a bit.
I told him briefly about LincSphere and my passion for networking, and he told me about his job as a financial adviser and his passion for helping people plan for their future. OK, so we’re on solid footing so far.
He asked me about my goals for the company and I let him know where we are at as a tech start-up, and that we’re working on raising $500K of seed money to launch us to the next level. Since he was a financial adviser I figured it was remotely possible that he knows some people who might be investors, and so what the hell, I put it out there.
He starts asking more about this goal of mine to raise the money. And my first impression is that he is interested in my company itself and my goals and is genuinely trying to think of a way he can help me. I wasn’t expecting he could do much for me in that regard, but I listen and see where he was going with this.
But it slowly dawns on me that his interest is not really in my company’s goals per se, but that is is trying to slowly move the conversation subject-wise from where I started – talking about the money I am raising – and through some mental gymnastics segueing his way into talking about my personal finances. In other words, he’s working his way towards a sales pitch. Geez, just a few minutes before we were talking about networking and the value of doing it right and he’s going ahead and violating one of the PRIMARY rules of networking:
NEVER treat a networking contact like a prospect unless they clearly express a desire for your services.
Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to work out how to shut this line of questioning down, because my son was running all around the park and I needed to keep up with him, which kept (conveniently) interrupting his flow in making his pitch.
Regardless, we had already exchanged information with the intention of keeping in touch later for the purposes of re-connecting. So I figured we’d get a chance to establish a networking connection at a later date. Yeah, the conversation had not gone ideally, but I do have an appreciation for how little most businesspeople have really been educated in best networking practices. So I didn’t hold it against him.
Then a few days ago, while I was waiting at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant to pick up a to-go order, I get a call out of the blue from this same man. He mentions that he still wanted to get the rest of my contact information, since he never got it all from me when we met at the park (I had no cards with me at the time). OK… put points on the board for him for following up and being persistent in getting my info.
Unfortunately, then the same line of questioning started up again as before… asking me about my goals and telling me how important it is to protect mine and my family’s financial future, etc.
I could have come up with an excuse for getting of the phone, and essentially lied and then avoided him ever after that. I could have gotten angry with him and said, “I’m not interested. I don’t want to be sold anything!” and treated him much like people treat telemarketers and door-to-door salesmen. And why do people feel free to treat those kind of salesmen like that? Because they DON’T KNOW THEM and have no established relationship of TRUST in them and so feel comfortable burning that bridge. When you spend the time to network correctly first, they do already know, trust and like you and the foundation is already set to possibly use each others services.
What I decided to do was to calmly explain that I knew where he was leading this conversation, and I wasn’t interested in going there. At first he was a little defensive about it, but I explained a bit more to him about spending the time to build up a business relationship, and not simply diving in to a sales pitch. In the end, he seemed to get the idea, and we ended the conversation amicably. I actually do intend to follow up with him, and hopefully his own pride doesn’t get in the way of taking this opportunity to learn a new approach that would in fact lead to a lot more clients for him in the future.
Here’s the main takeaway from this:
When we network we need to treat the people we meet as potential REFERRAL PARTNERS, not as “prospects”. (Sure, you might get some people immediately reaching for your services and if so, HAPPY DAY! By all means, sell them your products or services! But otherwise, take the “referral partner” approach.)
When we start asking pointed prospecting questions that put the person on the spot, we usually just end up making them feel like a target has been painted on them. And what do you do when a hunter has you in their sights? You move and try to get away!
Similarly, when we go to a networking event where we have the opportunity to give a 30 second commercial, don’t treat the crowd like a bunch of potential customers. In other words, don’t say: “We can help you with all your financial planning needs. So if you want to ensure a financially secure retirement, give me a call.” (see the wording… it’s all about how I can help YOU). That’s no good, and makes people uncomfortable in a networking event. Try instead: “I work with people of all ages and financial situations to help them establish a road map for their financial future. So if you know of anyone who could benefit from retirement planning or just working out how to best invest the disposable income they have, please send them my way.” See how that sounds? Not threatening at all. They are essentially asking for your help in getting new business and are letting you know that they can use their expertise to help others with their financial issues.
Simple, effective… and nobody gets used for target practice.