Business Development Series: Where the Network Begins
Forrest Gumped My Way to Success
If you were anything like me, a 22-year old kid fresh from college thinking those you would be working for had their stuff "together", the economy was only going to grow larger and being upwardly mobile was a right guaranteed by every person born in the US, then you also had a lot to learn about the way the world really works.
I opened up my career like any other middle-class male. I majored in
Communications (Advertising) and minored in Marketing at UNLV, pushing my way through the system with the help of financial aid. It was natural that I found my way to an ad agency to complete my internship before graduation. That experience led me to my first marketing job working for a local Las Vegas Charity, Opportunity Village. That was where I shed my ideologies about the way things work (according to the classroom) and began realizing the vast network of relationships that existed in Las Vegas in 2003. As a part of my job role, I was responsible for 3rd party fundraising efforts and special events. Fortunately during that time, I was taken under the wing of a very well-respected public relations professional named George McCabe (currently the PR Director for B&P Advertising). George opened the door to media professionals in Las Vegas and with a respected charity behind me, I was in the best position to make really valuable connections.
I quickly realized that I stumbled onto a really great thing in my career which wouldn't be apparent to me until years later. Working for a non-profit is one the best ways to engage with politicals and decision-makers. To this day, I am recognized for having been a part of such a respected organization. When you are approaching a relationship with someone on behalf of a charity, it is likely that you will get a response and usually at a higher level than your position would justify in the for-profit world. This is great for building your reputation and hopefully you are working for a cause you believe in at the same time. Even after 7 years of not working there, I am still very active with Opportunity Village and it continues to open doors for me. I strongly recommend getting involved in the community.
It was during this part of my career that I decided to get out there and attend all the emerging social, professional and political gatherings I could get into. I was peaking at about 5 a week, promoting Opportunity Village and getting my name out there. I was starting to see patterns early on and over the years, I've developed a strong sense about how to gain the most value from networking....
Sales Locusts and the Events They Feed On
I was a little oblivious as a first-time sales person, constantly looking for opportunities to network and hand out that first business card that said I was a "somebody"...working for "somebody." I must have went to every networking event in Vegas. I'm not sure if I met new people but I sure did help out the bar tabs for the host venues. I'll tell you what...Vegas hosts the best networking events.... but I don't think I've ever done business with someone as s direct result of meeting them at a mixer, in-fact, I think most relationships that came from those experience brought more headache than help. I think this is common for most people. To this day I get chased by financial counselors. Thanks, but I can manage a zero balance on my own.
Chamber mixers, networking groups, socials, etc. have a cycle. If they are managed and launched well, you will see an A-List crowd for maybe 12 weeks. After that, the format gets old and the quality people stop coming. The percentages lean more to the side of "clueless" sales people that would shove a business card in your face well before ever thinking to ask where you are from. This common problem accelerates the exodus of all the value that is there for someone looking to truly build their network. I call these problems "sales locusts". They come in and devour all the value and leave nothing but themselves in their wake. Eventually they move on to the next hot spot and repeat the process.
You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression
But you do get a second chance to reinforce the business community's bad impression of you. How do you want to be known amongst your professional peers? Are you the sales locust mentioned above? Are you someone that has value in one form or another to people in your industry?
If you are reading this, then you are thinking about your place in the business community. People are people. Do you like someone who just talks about what they do and do nothing to find out who you are and what you are about? Most people don't like being sold, but they love being helped. There is a powerful concept - EMPATHY. It's a lot like the Golden Rule. Treat others as you'd like to be treated...
MMM Rules of Networking Engagement
I've been talking a lot here, but I wanted to demonstrate my thoughts on networking and what I found most valuable in my career path. I've developed hundreds of great relationships in business and many of them have turned to friendships. I have some rules to follow that will help even the least social person:
- Never lead into a conversation with "So what do you do?" This can be compared with asking a girl if she's willing to go home with you on the first date. It won't end well most of the time. You've just given up your true motive and it's a red flag to executives that you are going to harass them.
- Act as if no one in the room has a job, including you. If you can make it through a networking event or social gathering without talking about your job, then you are on a whole other plane of existence and probably a very interesting person. You will likely connect with people better and the relationship will get deeper than just surface-level.
- Keep it in your pants. Don't whip out the business card at all if you can help it. Lead someone into a situation where they feel they should ask for it. If you've ever gone to a networking event and emptied your pockets, it's hard to remember whose business card is whose. I always remember the ones I asked for and really wanted. I even put them in a different spot in my wallet.
- Tactfully prompt someone to ask about your job if necessary. So the whole point of networking is to build up your pipeline and get some business in the future. If you follow the rules above, then you will have better relationships, BUT there's always that, "I just saw the president of X company and I've been chasing them for 2 years and I need an in." If you feel you need to get a business card in someone's hand, there is a way to do this without shoving it in your prospect's face. Lead the conversation in that direction and leave an open opportunity for your prospect to ask about your job. (Example: "Have you ever been to Boston? They have the best thing on the planet. It's a toasted and buttered hot dog bun stuffed with butter-soaked lobster. I was just there on business and got sidetracked...." This leaves the opportunity for them to ask why you were in Boston and what you do which takes us right in to rule 4...
- Lead the conversation. You want each and every person that engages with you in a conversation to walk away with a positive impression and some value they didn't have before meeting you. If the conversation starts out with, "I hate events like this." it's your job to move the conversation quickly to the positive..."Me too, but I'm trying to oust the Mayor of this place on Foursquare, I'll find you Joe M!" In one sentence, I probably turned the conversation to one of positivity and it's likely I'll end up educating my prospect on Foursquare and it's awesome capabilities which positions me as an intelligent sound board and creates value for the interaction.
- Follow networking etiquette. Unless you are really deep in conversation, please recognize what you and your conversation partner are there for in the first place...to network. If you are not picking up on the signs to end the conversation, you are going to make it awkward for the other person to leave the conversation. I've heard it come to, "Hey, well it was nice talking to you, but I really want to work the room a little." Try to keep the first conversation to 5 minutes, 10 if it's going really well.
- Know when to leave. If your prospect turns and talks to another group, don't stand behind them and wait. That's kind of strange and that's what they'll remember you for. Say, "Excuse me, I'm going to find the bathroom." and part with a handshake. This is the best position you can gain if the conversation needed to end. If the conversation really isn't going anywhere, but this is a good prospect you don't want to insult and you just need to break free, politely give that person an excuse. Try, "Hey, I'm going to go find my friend, he's the VP of Marketing for this place. Find me later and I'll make an introduction." It's legit and you've offered up a future value if they are interested.
- Leave an invitation to reconnect. As you wrap your conversation up, please give them a way to reach you or find you. Do this without shoving them your card unless they ask for it. Let them know if you plan on attending the next event or ask them what their next social night will be. I'll cover social media follow-up in the next post, so stay tuned.
The next time you are at an event, you hopefully are not littering with your business cards and are engaging in a lot of valuable 5 minute conversations. Don't judge success by how many business cards you collected. Judge by how many people asked you for yours. If you can change your thinking, you may have less prospects, but you'll have better ones and fewer to manage.