The power of networking

Businesswomen making connections at a networking event

Heather White of Smarter Networking explains what networking is - and isn't - and how to lay the foundations for success

Let's define networking in a nutshell: it's a business and personal marketing tool that will deliver your overall business and marketing strategy.

In marketing terms, networking as a tool will show you where to find future business opportunities rather than immediate results. But established networkers do achieve immediate results, which is why all business people should be good at networking.

Who should be networking?

Networking is particularly well-suited to any business focused on consultative selling, trusted advisors, key account management programmes, account-based marketing, referral marketing and localised markets. It also works incredibly well if you are looking to break into new markets, learn about your competitors, deepen your knowledge of your customers and other forms of market research. In fact, in any area where it is important to know what's going on inside a client's business and or the markets you work in, networking works brilliantly well.

Because it is a personal form of communication and usually involves face-to-face contact, networking deepens your business' connections.

People still buy from people first. If people are to buy from you because they trust you, you need to be well connected and have a credible profile in your marketplace.

Now, networking works. But it doesn't work by accident. How you do it, when and with whom is down to you; but if you do it well, with a strategy, it will bring benefits to your business - both now and for a long time to come.

Good networkers achieve amazing results and I think it is vital to explain briefly what can be achieved so that you can see what is possible:

  • In my experience, having met hundreds of good networkers, they say that up to 90% of their new business comes from word-of-mouth recommendation, referrals and direct networking.
  • In a competitive situation, being well-connected will give you an edge over other suppliers because you already have an established relationship with them.

When does networking happen?

Word-of-mouth marketing is happening no matter what. People are always talking about other people. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, says, "A brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room". I would add: "That is how networking happens". It is the coffee chat, the water-cooler conversation. Here's how one such goes:

Person A: "How's that project going?"

Person B: "Not too bad, but Jim has dropped out, so we've come to a grinding halt!"

Person A: "Have you found a replacement yet?"

Person B: "No, we're struggling to find someone we can trust and who has the right skills."

Person A: "I know someone who might fit the bill. Let me put you in touch."

The act of turning up, engaging with people, leaving a great impression and staying in touch will give you those future business opportunities. And if you don't build those relationships, someone else will.

Popular networking misconceptions

There are some common misconceptions about networking that can inhibit both individuals and businesses.

  • Many junior staff think networking is only for senior employees, sales people and the gifted few. So if you have a team that need to be networking, you need to be aware that this might be a challenge for them and support them in making meaningful connections through training, mentoring and by making initial introductions.
  • Most people see attending events or playing golf as the only way to network. Get creative with how you meet up with people. Breakfast clubs, relevant industry memberships, LinkedIn, social media groups and university alumni can all provide opportunities to network and connect.
  • Many companies think the more people they send out everyone to network, the better. Sending out an unwilling person can do serious damage to your brand and business.
  • Most people think networking is just another word for selling. This is so very, very wrong. It should lead you to a sale, but the only thing you have to sell in the first instance is YOU.
  • Many people think you have to be gregarious and "in your face" to network. So long as you engage fully with the other person, then any personality type can be successful at networking. It's all about the rapport and connection.
  • Many people think you have to be out every night. I use many ways to deepen key relationships, such as over the phone and via social media as well as face to face meetings.
  • Many people are not convinced it works. If it's not working for you, you might be doing it wrong.

Now with the right mindset, a strategy and by getting out there and engaging, you can make it happen.

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