Do you network or netvulture?
Networking is key to building a business in the professional services industry whether you enjoy that part or not, it is an essential part of progression within companies as well as inside industries as business owners. If you have attended any networking events you can nearly recognise the various characters: those working the room eager to be seen rather than have any meaningful interest or conversation in anyone apart from themselves, those genuinely looking to help other people present and invariably you have the wallflowers who only speak when spoken to and in some groups you even have the insider cliques as well.
Over the years I have attended all kinds of networking events from the social setting variety to the formal dinner dance to a focused business exchange meeting and I even organised a speednetworking event before this became all popular and the rage. Living in a small city in Ireland networking is the only way to place yourself and your professional service on the map. I used to tell my clients if there aren’t 3 or 4 random business people in this city that have heard about you and your business then you just haven’t hit the map. In Ireland business is still largely done through who you know and hence the connection factor is extremely important. Connect well and it can make you, the other side of the coin being it can also break you, so be aware.
For a number of years I assisted people new to networking on how to get to most out of their experience and especially with fellow coaches I often had to teach them to have non-coaching conversations. Just because somebody asks you what you do and shows an interest, that doesn’t give you license to coach or consult or pitch for that matter. The last one pitching is relevant for all service professionals not just coaches. The purpose of networking in my view has always been to meet new people and walk away with a number of potentially good and useful contacts, not necessarily closed business, but rather the start to what could be a meaningful and mutually beneficial business relationship. Pitching should only enter the frame when you are specifically invited to do so or quote for actual work, any time before then you are having meaningful business conversation that may or may not be mutually beneficial and will help build up a business relationship. So becoming a good conversationalist will be helpful.
Recently I saw quite a different approach, which I can only call net-vulturing… If you have seen any of the Harry Potter movies, the whole experience felt like one of the vultures just grabbing hold of you and nearly strangling you to the point of total discomfort and unease whilst trying to get to your contact base. One of these experiences I observed and the other I was on the receiving end of. At first I though it might have been a stand alone freak incident, but when it happened again I felt compelled to write about it and I have to say 4 different unrelated businesses and individuals were involved, so there was no cross-over.
What made the experience so uncomfortable is that the person interested in my contact base, really wasn’t interested in me, my well-being, but they were just out to self-profit and self-promote, which in my view was missing the whole point. I actually felt like saying ‘What makes you think I actually want to introduce you, when you don’t even have the respect for me?’, I obviously didn’t ask this question, but I sure as hell thought it and made a mental note to be seriously cautious on who I would introduce this individual to. If you want to be introduced to people I know, the first things I want to do is build a relationship with you to find out whether I can get to know more about you and your business, whether I like you and whether I can trust you and only then when all those boxes are ticked I may ask is there something mutually beneficial for you and the person you want the introduction to.
The other vulture type situation where I was an observer, was slightly different to the one I experienced, but it made watching people rather interesting. Here the netvulture was so intent on getting the contact, he nearly killed everything in it’s path to get the name and number, a little bit like what happens to creatures in ‘The Lord of the Ring’ when they get hypnotised by the ring. The individual on the receiving end reacted with stunned shock at the aggression of the pitch and because they were the lesser experienced they just handed over all relevant information, but you could see this didn’t sit well with them. An agreement was made for this vulture to meet the contact at another event a few weeks later and I have to say the whole thing came full circle. The unsuspecting contact was immediately whisked away to speak to the pitching party of the vulture team and I have never ever seen anyone leave a networking meeting with such urgency as the unsuspected individual did that time. I felt if time had been taken to nurture the introducer as well as the actual contact, an actual very profitable situation could have grown from it for all involved, but as it stands the introducer will not come near the vulture again and the contact I think will probably stay well clear also.
When you are eager to find business and new contacts, do it with respect for the introducer but also for yourself, sometimes it is worth building and nurturing a relationship over time that is based on real trust as opposed to going in with the hard sell, hungry for business type of tactic. Whether the economy is doing well or not is actually irrelevant in building a network of contacts, but only those that you have truly nurtured will stand the test in bad times, those fair weather hungry creatures will always let you down in the long run or when the favour needs to be returned.
Always remember in professional services people buy from people they know, like and trust and have something to offer that is beneficial to them. In networking you need to make the last part mutually beneficial and nurture the relationship over time…or at least that’s how I feel about it.
The key observation in both situations was that the damaging parties obviously had no idea they were having this effect, which is what fascinated me and has me writing about it. I wonder am I the only one observing this behaviour? Is is a sign of the times? Or am I missing something completely?