I met a man at a business-networking event this week who wouldn't give me one of his business cards.
We exchanged introductions and described what each of us did for a living, and I found out he was a salesperson for a specialty promotional products company. You know; they put your company name on golf shirts, Frisbees and beer can koozies. That's right, koozies! I've acquired approximately 257,497 promotional koozies at events throughout my business career. I presently only have four because I perform a koozie consolidation at least once a month. If I didn't, I'd end up having to rent off-site koozie storage.
What happens to those things when you throw them away, anyway? Nothing made of dense foam rubber emblazoned with a pound of paint to highlight the embossed company name could possibly be biodegradable. My guess is due to their indestructible nature; they are probably retrieved from landfills, pounded flat and used as tiles on the space shuttle. In fact, I think I actually saw an IBM logo in a close-up shot during a recent shuttle launch.
Okay, back to the networking event. I thought based on what the man did for a living; I might be able to help him make a few connections in the business community. So I asked him for his business card. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a stack of cards. I stood there with my card in hand; ready to hand it to him, as he counted his remaining cards.
Suddenly, he said, "Uh, I'm getting kinda low on cards." He then looked away quickly and put his remaining cards back in his jacket pocket, shook my hand and walked away.
Scooter was making a big mistake! (If I had his card, I'd know his real name!) His mistake wasn't that he wouldn't give me his card, because that's a symptom of a bigger problem. Scooter was simply walking through the crowd looking for people who he felt could help him. It appears I fell into the category of those he felt could not. This may work for Scooter for a while, but if he's not also helping the people he meets, they won't help him for long.
The very best salespeople tell us the primary goal of networking is to connect with people who we can help. Now don't misunderstand, we network to build connections with people who can help us achieve our goals, but when we get to know them, and share our knowledge, connections and talents with them, they generally want to help us as well. And the degree to which they want to help, based on the gratitude they may feel, will be much greater. The goal is to connect with people and be of value to them first so that a mutually beneficial relationship can develop.
I recently spoke at a tax and insurance conference and had a conversation with one of the top salespeople in that industry. He told me his success was predicated on his sincere desire to help others.
"When I meet people I often volunteer to help them understand their long-term financial planning because most find it very difficult," he told me. "What really motivates me is when someone says 'Thank you so much, I really appreciate your help!' Sometimes they even sign up to use my service, which is great since I'm an insurance salesman."
Here are five tips for effective networking:
- Network to "connect!" Make a commitment to look for networking opportunities, then attend and connect. Try to meet as many people as you can and avoid getting trapped in extended conversations. Follow up after the event if you wish to talk at length with someone you've met.
- Connect with your target buyers. Know exactly who your target buyers are and where you can find them. If you sell maternity clothes, don't network at a lumberjack convention. Find out where your target buyers network and what meetings and annual conferences they attend, then be there.
- Perfect your "elevator speech." Create a brief introduction; no one cares what instrument you played in the 3rd-grade band. Engage people in a way that has them asking for more information. We'll talk more about how to create the perfect elevator speech in a future column.
- Connect to help others first. Remember that when we get to know others and share our knowledge, connections and talents with them, they generally want to help us as well. And the degree to which they want to help us will be much greater.
- Stay connected. Carry lots of business cards, give them out and ask for one from everyone you meet. Follow up with an e-mail and stay in touch. Send e-cards, greeting cards or create a newsletter. If you see an article that might interest your connections, e-mail it to them.
Finally, if you're out networking and run into Scooter counting his business cards and trying to pull away from you, give him a copy of this article.