Networking For People Who Hate Sales and Networking!

Julie Shenkman
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The phrase, "it's not what you know, it's who you know," is so common it is almost a cliche. The phrase is common though, because there is a great deal of truth to it. Personally, I can trace much of my success to relationships I have developed over the years. Other people can be a tremendous resource in terms of contacts, knowledge, and experience.

Unfortunately, it seems like many people in the world have no idea what "networking" is. They seem to believe that networking is about getting as much as possible from other people as quickly as possible.

In the recent past, I have had experience with both the good and bad side of networking. I want to quickly share the guidelines I keep in mind so that you can apply them to your own situation. Though my examples are mostly professional, these are basically communication principles which can be applied personally or professionally. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a few good ideas that I have come across.

Also, some of this advice goes against what you may read in a sales or networking book, and you may disagree. That's fine. I just find that sometimes the sales and networking experts tend to be people that enjoy this stuff, and so the things they tell you to do (and that work for them) don't work well for those of us without a sales disposition. Think of this list as "networking for people who don't love sales and networking!"

Relationships First, Info Second

One of the biggest turn-offs at a networking event or association meeting is when someone walks up to you and immediately starts pumping you for information. "Where do you get your clients? How do you charge? How much business do you do a month?" The list goes on...On the one hand, I understand where the questions come from. People who are new or uncertain get very excited by someone with some experience and feel that this is their chance to have all their questions answered. For this reason, I do my best to answer as many of these questions as possible. On the other hand, I have never developed a relationship with any of these "info-pumpers." When someone just tries to get information out of me, it immediately creates a sense that they don't care about me as a person. I give them info, and then move on. This is unfortunate for them, because the real power of relationships comes after the relationship has become long and deep.

It's ok to ask some questions, but remember that the person you are speaking to is a human being, not a computer. Build a relationship first. Which takes us to the next point...

Be Genuinely Interested

One of the fastest ways to build a relationship is to be genuinely interested in the person you are speaking to. Ask them questions about themselves. Not the "pumping info" type of questions, but genuine questions about who they are, how they are doing, and how you might be able to help them. Then, listen to the answers - really listen! - and be interested. You can not fake this. If you are the type of person that just isn't interested in others, then networking is not for you.

Most of us are interested in others - when you stop and think about, other people can be fascinating! You just need to remind yourself

Ditch the Elevator Speech

This one is simple in concept, but hard in implementation. Be who you are. People can smell a fake a mile away. I also think most people should throw away their elevator speech (an elevator speech is a clever 30 second pitch about who you are and what you do). Whenever I ask someone what they do and they bust out their elevator speech, my "fake-meter" goes off. Not because I think they are lying, but rather once someone starts reciting a pre-memorized script, they are no longer in the moment and no longer being real.

I realize this goes against the advice of almost every networking and sales book out there, but I stand by it. I have never felt comfortable delivering an elevator speech, and every time I hear one I feel distanced from the other person. When someone delivers and elevator speech, they are basically saying, "this is what I am selling." That goes against the first rule of building relationships first.

Keep a Long View

You can ignore all of the relationship building rules and still get something from other people. You can walk into an event, get questions answered, and maybe even close a few deals. However, by not building a relationship, you will be leaving a ton of future opportunity on the table. Sometimes business comes from the weirdest places, and often doesn't come right away. The person who has no use for your services today may get a promotion or new job next year.

Be Real

Be who you are. Too many people act fake and try to connect with everyone they come in contact with. You will not like everyone you come in contact with. It's ok to let them go. You don't have to be rude (in fact you shouldn't), but don't exert a ton of effort maintaining those contacts. To me, that's being fake. If someone I don't "click" with keeps trying to meet me for lunch or whatever, I think, "this person doesn't really want to meet me, they just want to stay in touch for potential business."

You will be better off cultivating a few good, deep relationships than many shallow ones. The people I tend to meet up with are people I enjoy meeting and talking with anyway. Here's a gauge: if you met up with or talked to this person and you didn't talk at all about business, would you enjoy yourself? If the answer is no, you may want to reconsider what you are doing.

Note: I am not talking about initial meetings and first contact. I am talking about ongoing meetings and relationships

Give First

This is the primary one. The key to building a relationship is to give, not to get. Give advice, give help, give leads, whatever. And, you must give without an expectation of anything in return. Some people pass along leads with the expectation that you will pass leads back to them. Some of them will even say it outright. I understand that and it seems fair. You give to me so I should give to you.

But that's not how relationships work. Think about your best friend. If you came across a great opportunity that they would be perfect for, would you pass it along to them? Of course! When you did, would you then say, "now that I've given you this, I expect you to pass me along a great opportunity too." No! You give because you want to give, not to create a sense of debt.

Think of your networking relationships the same way. Give without a specific expectation of something in return. This is why I suggest cultivating fewer deep relationships - if you try to give to everybody, you will burn yourself out!

Keep in mind that you may not receive from where you give. I think that's how the universe works. I have had people help me out a whole lot, but so far I have not been able to give them much back in return (except my thanks and friendship). In the same way, I have helped others out who have not given me anything directly back. Make sure you look at the whole picture. Don't demand that the people you give to give back. Keep giving, and, maybe from unexpected places, you will keep receiving.

I hope that helps. I personally find that by implementing a few good ideas like these, my relationships have greatly improved. Both my personal and professional life have benefited, and I hope yours will too!


Avish Parashar is a dynamic professional speaker who shows organizations and individuals how to get what they want using the Art and Science of improv comedy. He weaves together humorous stories, witty observations, and interactive exercises from improvisational comedy to get people laughing, learning, and motivated!

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