I used to think I knew all the networking basics, and I didn't care for them. Years ago, my networking experiences consisted of a group of desperate professionals tossing their business cards around and just talking about themselves in a competition of trying to pitch and sell their products or services.
But I've started reassessing how to make deeper connections with locals in the Tampa area, and within the last few months, I've come to a conclusion I did not expect...
Networking Isn’t Dead. It’s Changed for the Better
As an inbound agency, we always knew the power inbound marketing and inbound sales had on generating leads and closing deals. We've been living off of that for quite some time.
Now that our inbound lead generation is running efficiently and firing on all cylinders, we are looking to build on additional channels for lead generation.
Most agencies currently lean on social media a lot to generate word of mouth. We wanted to keep looking forward for long-term, diverse lead generation by building face-to-face relationships.
So I wanted to give networking another shot.
Through recent local outreach with my team, I've started to reassess the true impact networking can have on an individual level and on a team level too.
Outdated Networking Tactics Being Put to Rest
I used to shrug at the idea of networking, based on my previous experiences with it. I would get stuck at events where professionals would congregate around a round table, trying to talk over one another to pitch their services.
But now, things have changed for the better. In today's inbound world, there are a lot of outdated networking techniques going by the wayside.
To learn about networking basics today, you first need to unlearn what you knew about networking from yesterday.
Networking Is Not About Making a Sales Pitch.
Many attendees at networking events tend to focus solely on selling themselves or their brand. They try to dominate the conversation and tell you about everything they do.
As a participant, I can assure you that hearing sales pitches right after getting a handshake is off-putting.
Networking Is Not Just Passing Out Business Cards.
This is another cliche that you see in the lower level networking circles. Business cards still have a purpose, but if you're just passing out cards, you're not networking in an impactful way.
You will not stand out if you're not focused on establishing a rapport. You're going to end up like your business card – forgotten and discarded.
Networking Success Is Not Measured By How Many Cards You Collect.
A lot of novices and lower level networkers think they had a "successful" experience at an event when they leave with a handful of business cards from influential professionals.
This means nothing. If you're just trying to grab as many cards as you can, you're not accomplishing much with your time.
Networking Should Not Come From a State of Desperation.
This cliche earned its place because the old school mentality of going to events to sell yourself comes from an inherent state of desperation. That is palpable to everyone.
If you're signing up for an event with a need to close a deal, you're going to come off as desperate and push people away.
The Networking Basics in an Inbound World
Attention and time are the most valuable assets you can earn from people in your circle, and the best way to earn that is by following the new networking basics.
This tip comes from fictitious Entourage character Ari Gold, which he added as one of his rules in the book The Gold Standard: Rules to Rule By.
Remember, networking is not selling. It's about being present in your community. When you're down the inbound marketing rabbit hole, it's easy to forget the value of building brand awareness through one-on-one connections.
As you network, remember you're acting as a brand ambassador first and foremost.
Develop an Action Plan.
Every initiative you execute needs a plan of action. Networking is no exception.
A great starting point is aiming to engage in one to three meaningful conversations. This is not simply shaking hands, exchanging cards, connecting on LinkedIn, and moving on.
Focus on making the connection meaningful. For example, you can talk about shared pain points or inform others of upcoming opportunities that suit them.
And always walk away with opportunities in mind to connect with each person you meet again in the near future. By establishing and maintaining a strong rapport, those people you meet will think about you when opportunities arise.
I know this from personal experience. For example, I met Ed Ellsasser from PrimeGroup Insurance at my gym one day. We started talking and became friends. This relationship we built has helped us both immensely over the years. When I needed advice on insurance, he was the first person I called.
He was the one who encouraged me to start networking again at a local group called the Westshore Alliance. Now, I am an ambassador and active participant for this group. All of these benefits came from simply connecting with Ed at my gym.
Establish One Message, One Voice.
One of the best ways to generate leads and build brand awareness for your company through networking is to bring your team with you to events.
This ties into being everywhere – if you can get your whole team on the same page to sing praises for your company, share who you are, detail what your company does, your local community will start recognizing your name.
Perfect the elevator pitch with your team, and encourage them to actually branch out and meet people. Otherwise, they might just sit in a corner with themselves, which accomplishes nothing.
Our team's recent venture into networking has been a great learning experience for me and my leadership team. We educate from leadership level down, focusing on how we concisely deliver accurate messaging that delineates who is a good fit for our agency, what we do, who we are, and what we can do for our audience.
We learned through meeting together. I asked my team who was going to an event to describe what we did in under one minute. This is a great exercise to see who can best refine your messaging to share how your company can help potential customers.
Our team worked together to get on the same page, honing our value proposition to center on how we help companies and aligning that elevator pitch with our mission and purpose.
Learn the Networking Tiers.
The networking world consists of tiers for each person on your team. The lowest level (not mentioned here) is where the desperate, outbound sales newbies exist.
Your team deserves to connect in engaging circles, where professionals value meaningful rapport building. Here are the tiers you need to know when you're bringing your team to networking events.
Tier 1: C-suite
This is where you can build high level connections to keep in your "vault." Make sure you recall who you meet and how they provide value so you can recommend them when you find relevant opportunities.
Reciprocity is key in every business and personal relationship. The more you present opportunities to them, the more likely they are to do the same for you.
Tier 2: Leadership
In the middle tier, you have your new leaders who can build their communication skills in networking situations. The more experience they gain, the more confidence they can build.
Plus they learn all the tools they'll need to thrive as a leader and better understand the dynamics of networking conversations.
Tier 3: Up-and-Comers
Who are the future leaders in your business? These up-and-comers should also join you for these events.
They can cut their teeth on networking, and the skills they gain from participating better prepares them for their future in leadership.
Don't miss out on building relationships with your local community. These relationships can be mutually beneficial and deliver a lot of value for you personally and professionally. Plus, as you teach your team networking basics, they become better leaders for your organization now and in the future.