Do You Hate Going to Business Networking Meetings?
March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
I am not a hunter, and I hate being hunted. In the past that’s how I experienced business networking meetings. You know, those business mixers with name badges, a sea of strangers daring you to approach them, and a stack of your business cards poking you in the ribs like a Glock G21. Last summer, Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chairman of BNI (world’s largest international business networking organization), and labeled by CNN as the “father of modern networking,” asked a crowd of over 500 at one of his association’s events: “How many of you came here hoping to do some business today – maybe make a sale?” About half of the people raised their hands. Then he asked: “How many of you are here hoping to buy something today?”
No one raised their hand.
Now, I’m not saying that sales don’t get made at networking meetings. They do. But the lottery is probably a better play for you. So if true, why invest your time (and money) to go to a networking mixer? The answer depends on your frame. Frame #1 is the “hunter vs. the hunted” mindset (the way I used to view networking meetings – and networking in general). If you keep this frame, don’t go. Trust me, it’s a waste of your time. Frame #2 (Misner’s recommendation – and now mine) is that you view it – and experience it – as farming. Farming in the sense of farming: You are planting seeds, caring about other people, and growing relationships that later on might provide RECIPROCAL BENEFITS to you and those you meet. In the short term, you go to one of these events to increase your visibility, or to grow your credibility with others, or, as Dr. Misner suggests, to meet a known referral partner. But what we have to keep in mind foremost is that successful relationship marketing means building a connection with others that is developed and nurtured over time, and most of all, others experience you as someone who cares about their needs and is able to help them – even in ways that clearly don’t directly benefit you.
People do not like to be sold. You have to be patient and have the belief that in time, there will be a harvest from your investment.
Maybe think of these meetings the way Lucy Mauterer, an Atlanta BNI networker and owner of Healthy Cleaning Solutions does. For her, networking mixers are like the first day of a school season. A chance to meet new business playmates who are willing to play the game of business. When you think of it this way, you think about how you can help them, if they can show you how, and if they wish, they can help you back. I like this approach. For me, it’s been a game changer.
So, what does helping others look like through the lens of business networking mixers? Beverly Kaye (President, Career Systems International) has a list of 10 ways people can experience you as helping them in the context of networking (many correlate to Dr. Misner’s 10 commandments of networking). Here’s Beverly’s advice:
- Introduce them to others.
- Share data you have that could help them (that’s what this blog is about).
- Promote their ideas.
- Help them brainstorm.
- Ask questions and listen to them.
- Volunteer to help them.
- Offer appreciation (specifically about what they did, and what positive result happened).
- Recommend them to others.
- Share your expertise (to help them get better).
If you are serious about the trajectory of your career, if you dare to think of yourself as “Me, Myself, Inc.,” then you need to think of business networking as a competency and practice to get better at. We all do. Even the pros. Just remember to care for others, and help THEM grow.