There was a time when networking was industry events, lunch dates, golf games, and sharing tickets to a sporting event. In order to get to know the person that you would trust your business with, you needed to spend time with them. This was the only way you could get to know them, in order to learn how compatible their business practices would be with yours. Fortunately, because time is so precious, we have more efficient methods of networking today.
Establish an identity
There is really a three-pronged approach to networking, and it begins with putting yourself out there, establishing who you are, and what you believe in. This is done through various social networking outlets, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook; as well as by engaging in various forums such as blogging sites. Take the time to respond to a question, or to another's opinion, if you believe that you can contribute to the dialogue. By doing this, you are saying, 'This is what I think. This is what I know.' More importantly, you certify your credibility within the communities which matter most to you, both personally and professionally.
I do this through my digital mastermind group, a consortium of some of the top digital agency CEOs in the country. We meet twice a year, but the lines of communication are always open though our social media channels. In this way, we confer about business practices with each other. We know and trust each other, and understand that real success comes from helping each other. This leads us to the second approach.
We all know what it is like to need a plumber, or an auto mechanic, and not know who to trust. A personal referral is always preferable. Businesses can always get someone to write a good endorsement for them on their website, but there is nothing like receiving a recommendation from a trusted associate. How many times on Facebook or Twitter does someone ask for help in solving a problem like finding a good electrician? You have to give to get. There is no benefit in assuming the attitude, 'What's in it for me?' When you give, and help out people, you get back. This is certainly true in the B2B world. It is possible today to receive a referral from someone you've never met, who only knows you by the credentials and respect that you've established through social media. This was unheard of 15 years ago!
Finally, and this is coming from a guy who has been in sales most of his life, networking isn't selling. One of my networking partners, Michael Lieberman of Square 2 Marketing, has written a book with Eric Keiles called Fire Your Sales Team Today. He advocates taking a different approach to merging sales with marketing. We'll discuss this book in detail in another blog, but remember that everybody in the business world is throwing out a pitch and telling their story. Selling is pushing, and nobody likes to be pushed. Networking pulls you in, like an embrace, and that is a feeling everyone can appreciate.