On the surface, it appears that networking is all about getting people to know about you (and what you do), but the truth is that the more time you spend learning about THEM, the easier, more effective, and more impactful your networking efforts will be.
Now I know that many people reading the above paragraph will say to themselves, “Well sure, I do that all the time. That’s like the most basic thing in networking. Don’t dominate the conversation talking about yourself and your business, let the other person talk, etc.” Or as they say frequently in Business Networking International (BNI) chapters: “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionally.” But that approach is only the beginning of what I’m talking about.
Common wisdom is to do this so as to be polite, not come off as self-centered, and not to make the other person feel like they are being pitched by you when you meet them. And these are all very valid things to keep in mind. That approach, by itself, amounts to good networking manners. But however important, it will not help you BUILD a strong network… just merely keep them from running away from you! Or put another way, if your network is a machine, these networking manners are the “grease on the gears” to reduce friction. But there is another aspect to listening and learning about people which creates the FUEL that drives the whole machine.
What You’re Listening For
The KEY things you should be listening for are opportunities to help this person. The classic motto of a salesperson (a la Glengarry Glen Ross) may be “ABC – “Always Be Closing”, but the motto of a power connector is “ABAV – Always Be Adding Value”.
But in order to add value to a new relationship, you need more information – and usually a lot more than you typically get in the first 10 minutes of chatting them up at a networking event. So another key thing to realize is that you might not find a way to help them until you get a chance to do a 1-1 meeting later, maybe over coffee or lunch.
As a side note, all of this presupposes that you’ve already determined that you WANT to have a stronger relationship with this person. For more info on making that determination, see my earlier post about deciding who should be in your network.
The most obvious ways to add value are to ask specific questions about what a good referral would look like to them. One key question you could use, from Bob Burg’s book Endless Referrals is to ask “How can I know if someone I’m speaking to is good prospect for you?”
Now referrals are always good and welcome, and you should do them whenever possible, but they are much harder to come by and arrange by virtue of the fact that they very often depend on “right place, right time” situations. Much easier to come up with are INTRODUCTIONS, or as my good friend Bill Doerr calls them in his free video course on this subject, “Preferrals”. So definitely ask things like “Are there any professions or types of businesses that make good referral partners for you?” or “What kind of businesses serve the same target market as you do, but don’t really compete with you?” or very simply “Who are you trying to connect with?”
Now you can add quite a bit of value just asking about the above, and you definitely should. But if you want to take your “value adding” up to the Jedi Master level, then you’ll need to dig deeper.
Breaking Through the Social Veneer
With any professional contact whom you are not already close with, the first barrier you need to overcome is the protective social overcoat the person is usually (but not always) wearing. We all know this overcoat well. It’s the one that says in various ways “I’m doing great. There’s nothing wrong with me.” It’s the one that keeps to safe subjects like sports or current events or the weather and only says positive things about self or the business.
If you REALLY want to add value to this person’s life, you need to unearth their desires, needs, passions and problems. Some of their desires or needs are already accessible on the surface, like the referrals and intros they are looking for. But there are SO MANY MORE opportunities to add value if you spend the time to learn about this contact not just as a “businessperson”, but simply as a person.
For many people, the thought of inquiring very far into the personal life of a fellow professional they only superficially know is painfully uncomfortable to consider doing. But the good news is that it is much less challenging than one might think, once you understand a few counter-intuitive but KEY principles of social interaction.
Next week, in the second part of this post, I’ll go into detail about what those principles are, HOW to break through that social veneer, and the unique challenges and benefits involved when adding value to your networking contacts on the personal level – by far the most powerful way to build a strong and vibrant network.