July 7, 2011

I always enjoy asking a group of professionals – “What comes to mind when I say the term Networking”?   People typically mention images of handshakes, business card exchanges, after work cocktails, schmoozing, door prizes, nametags and bad food.

As the brainstorm continues I notice several in the group respond non-verbally with scrunched up faces and looks of distaste.  Then one brave soul voices what the others are thinking – “People trying to sell you stuff”.

STOP right there Kimosabe!  I have heard enough.  I will debunk that misperception right here and right now!

Networking in its purest form is about building relationships with others. Regardless of the motivation or intent, networking is an avenue to meet and establish a level of trust among people.  Remember: People do business with those they like and trust!  Networking is an amazing skill!  Anyone you encounter and every time you engage in a conversation you are expanding and enhancing your network.

Sales Trainers were early adopters of networking as a valuable tactic within their sales methodology.  Networking derived a negative stigma by many due to guilt by association of being a component of the Sales funnel, as many professionals have a negative perception of Sales and Salespeople.  Do not interpret my comment above as being derogatory on Sales or Sales Professionals as without Sales and Salespeople, no company would exist or remain viable.  Sales are the economic lifeblood of any organization.

The distinction between Sales and  Networking:  Often sales is masked as networking. Sales can be seen as a motivation for networking, since it requires some basis of relationship, but to me the intent and objectives are clearly different.  If you are selling (a product, service, solution) that is your ultimate goal to close a sale, make the deal and move on to the next.  Networking intent involves a sincere effort to get to know and understand the other person.  As many of us have been the recipients for both Sales and Networking approaches, we can attest to the ease of distinguishing the motives.

In a new relationship, as soon as you start selling, the other person stops listening.  Your motives and agenda are clear.  You do not truly have an interest in the other person, only the business opportunity they can bring to you.  Think of all the times you have met someone new who all they did was brag about themselves (selling) or what they do (selling) or how they have a solution for you (selling).  Now how engaged and excited were you in that conversation?  Bet you couldn’t wait till it was over!  Whether a date or a business meeting, such an approach is an immediate turn off!  Try deactivating your Sales button and just be you.

Primary Difference: In a sales process the goal of the interaction between two people is the eventual sale of a product or service. When networking, the goal is a relationship; wherever it may lead. A sale could be the consequence, but never the goal of networking.

Below is a comparison to help illustrate the differences between Selling and Networking.


Focus on the other person

: Long Term

Share information about themselves as person and not only their business role

Help: Offer and Give help without expecting something back

Never keeping score

: To help

Ask questions to learn about the person and develop understanding

Target: Willing to talk to everyone and show an interest in the conversation.

Attitude: You can never be certain of who they know and what they know

Ask for and give business cards to people they will remain in contact

Ask questions about the person, family, career, background etc

Goal: Establish and cultivate relationships

Offer: To Help


Focus on WIIFM – What’s In It For Me

Perspective: Short Term – instant benefit

Probing to detect a need that can be satisfied by their product or service

Help: Only give if they see an immediate payback

Calculating how many meetings, how much time & money spent on the relationship

Listen: To close the sale

Ask questions to help determine their positioning

Target: Only want to meet legitimate prospects

: Want to talk only to decision makers

Collect and distribute as many business cards as possible

Talk about business.  Ask questions about the company, not the person.

Goal: Close a sale.  People are the means.

: A Solution


An actual occurrence depicting the distinction between a Selling vs. Networking approach.

Situation: Dan, an Account Executive for a national wireless service attends a luncheon where he sits by Steve, the Managing Partner of a local CPA firm.

The Sales Approach

Drumming up a conversation, Dan immediately shows Steve his new Android phone and explains with all the Apps how this device can make a professional’s life much more efficient.

Putting on his sales hat and natural charisma, Dan works his magic to convince Steve of the efficiency gains and benefits of switching the current plan to his company’s faster 4G network.  Of course this includes course replacing the outdated blackberries with new Android Smartphone for the 10 partners in the office.

Patting himself on the back with a new client, Dan considers the lunch a success.  A $25 lunch yields an $1800 new contract!  “My My, what an ROI”, Dan proclaims.  Steve has not heard from Dan since signing the paperwork.  Dan loses the contract in 18 months to a lower priced competitor.

The Networking Approach
Over lunch, Dan demonstrates his interest in Steve as a person much more than his role in as Managing Partner of a prestigious local CPA firm.  He learns that Steve is originally from the Northeast and moved South because of a job his wife took at the local University. They have 2 children one 12 and the other a sophomore in high school.  Steve is an avid basketball fan and attends all the local games to watch his eldest daughter on the cheer team.  He learns that Steve is an avid outdoorsman and looking for a new family camper. Dan recalls that a friend of his has a nearly brand new camper for sale. He shares this info with Steve and gives Steve the contact information. Weeks later Dan gets a call from his friend that the camper has a new owner – Steve.

Several months pass, Dan and Steve have traded emails just to check in.  Steve casually mentions that his daughter broke her cell phone at school and Dan mails Steve a used one from his store that he can’t sell.

One day, Dan receives a call from Steve who serves on the board of a large construction firm and shares that during the last meeting the President mentioned that they are deciding to bid their cellular contract.  Steve recommends Dan to the President and sets up a meeting. After a 30 minute chat with the company President, Dan gets the nod on a new contract to equip and manage their 300+ field operatives’ phones and tablets.

Dan returns to his office and calls Steve to offer sincere Thanks and just before hanging up, Dan says “Steve please let me know if I can ever help you with anything”.

The next time you approach someone new or sit down at a luncheon, remember the story of Dan and Steve.  Consider the long term perspective and future benefits of networking!

Networking is about being yourself, not selling.  So unscrunch your face and put that smile in its place.

Go Forth and network!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: