The last posts were about the why, who, when, and what of networking. This one is more about the how.
How do you turn a connection into a relationship?
How do you build and maintain a relationship?
How does a relationship help you become more valuable to those you serve?
How do you take a simple introduction and turn it into a relationship?
This is actually so simple that as adults, many of us have forgotten how to do it. Kids do it AUTOMATICALLY: "You like trucks? I like trucks! Let's play with trucks together..." Relationships start with discovering areas of common interest, and as adults, we discover common interests through conversation. Our shyness can slow this down, but even the shy people I know have others they call friends.
Someone merely has to start the process of probing for areas of common interest... Though you should avoid negative common interests (for example, I'd suggest not searching for a complaint worse than the weather as a start here, and definitely don't search for a common enemy or victim on which to focus.) Leave politics and religion alone. Hobbies, families, places lived or visited, sports, and jobs are great places to start. At business networking events, I tend to try to connect a person's job or expertise to a book I've read. And if I find someone who shares my interests but has more or different knowledge than I have, there is a natural affinity for me to ask for time to discuss it further with them.
Dwell on common interests
That is step two of the process: when you find areas of common interest, dwell on them! Fans love to discuss their fandom with other fans. In the process, you will discover more areas of common interest. These conversations will begin the process of getting to know, like, and trust someone.
Where do you go from here?
I know, I know... a relationship does not get formed when you discover you met someone who also likes pizza. But it does get started there. The real conversation has to be done away from the crowd. In networking terms, this is often called a 1-2-1 meeting. And if you think this is a waste of time, you are definitely not doing them correctly. This brings us to the next step (step 3?):
Schedule a 1-2-1 meeting
Schedule a 1-2-1 meeting with the person with whom you've found a common interest. If you are new to this process, your first 1-2-1 will be just about as superficial as your first encounter. That is normal, and I'll be explaining more about 1-2-1s and their structures later, so accept this awkwardness as part of the learning process. When I think back to some of my first meetings, I'm amazed people actually met with me. Occasionally you'll encounter a skilled networker who will guide you through the process and share hints, tips, and tricks to speed things up.
And by "speed things up", I mean accelerate the process of getting to know, like, and trust each other...
Now that you've started the process - how do you grow a relationship?
You've met someone of interest, and you've had an initial conversation. What do you do next? Here's a hint: it is NOT ask for a sale. Think about this from the other person's perspective. If they are doing the same as you, they are learning about your interests and offerings. If they knew they wanted what you were selling they'd come out and ask you for it. If you were to ask for a sale before they indicate their interest, it would be a signal that you clearly have not understood their wants and needs - a signal that you're not really focusing on growing the relationship.
Remember this quote (attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, and others):
“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care"
The 1-2-1 process is how you begin to express this.
What you want to do is keep learning more about what they want and help them get it. And to do this, you need to keep the conversation going so that you can actually learn what that might be! The way one keeps a conversation going is essentially the same way you keep top-of-mind when selling: FOLLOWING UP. Yes, I'll give details about follow-up processes when networking in another post, but do keep this in mind for now.
What is the real value of these relationships?
I mention relationships repeatedly here, but I never really explained why they are so important. I've treated them as an axiom or a self-evident truth about the world. But this is not the case - you can do business or market yourself without networking and a sincere relationship focus. You just give up the following benefits:
Having interactions that are more than mere transactions (value of relationship over time, with repeating transactions, referrals, partnering, business development, etc.)
Reduced vulnerability and fear (it is easier to collaboratively explore ideas and find synergies with those you trust. You can discover more and experience more often the good things in life.)
Reduced risk in all your transactions (not just a feeling of security because of a relationship, if there is evidence that both sides’ interests are considered it is easier to be more open, share concerns, discuss issues, or ask for help. And you wield a powerful incentive for others to "make things right" if they do not behave because you can hurt their reputation in your network.)
Satisfaction of the human needs for dignity, attention, and appreciation (There is moral value of relationships, treating people as individuals of value rather than members of a group or class, or worse, as means to an end.)
Greater connection of your business and personal lives (this is a more authentic way to be, and skills practiced and grown in networking help with both personal relationships and with business needs.)
Renewal of your energy and focus (being around people who care for and about you has positive effects on your health and performance.)
These are just some of the benefits. You can decide for yourself if they are worth the time and effort to acquire.
And while you contemplate that, consider some of the clear benefits you get from networking with this relationship focus:
(The obvious one) - People who know, like, and trust you are more likely to hire you or buy from you, refer you to others, brag about you, and want to be around you.
You become a solution ‘source’ – “I’ve got a guy who…”
You have a group you can ask “who do you know who…” when you do not know (access/activate your network’s network)
“Free” assistance – you pay for help with referrals, connections, testimonials, etc. Advice and insight gained in 1-2-1s can be priceless.
You can receive honest feedback with minimal filtering – if you have a new idea and you want honest feedback to decide on the next step - dismiss, move forward as is, or move forward in modified form.
Support and encouragement when you're going through professional and/or personal troubles. Maybe even coaching and consulting.
Access to an accountability partner - As you build strong relationships you will meet others with whom you can share your goals and ask them to hold you accountable.
These are some of the ways networking helps you become more valuable to your customers and the business you represent.
Jeff Hexter is sought out for networking coaching throughout Northeast Ohio. He and Sue Nelson, Founding Director of The Job Search Center, offer practice and coaching sessions which are open to all professionals in transition, entrepreneurs, freelancers, business development and relationship sales people. Groups are kept small so we can give lots of personal attention. Please register for the next session early, as we keep the groups small.