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The Myth of Networking

Yes, I know what you are thinking but, seriously, how many times have you turned up at an event, with your bag of tricks only to find that you talk to the wrong people (because the right people are not at the event), you get stuck with one person and don’t know how to break away or worse still you are too shy to talk to anyone? Well, I am sure we have all experienced these situations – and that’s just it. Why do we?

The usual reasons given are:

1. The opportunity to network, which is a euphemism for “We need to get business from the event to justify sending people to it a £xx!”;

2. Target a prospect. This means someone who looks ‘juicy’ on the guest list (if you can get a hold of a copy) but invariably doesn’t turn up because they are too busy and they send their erstwhile colleague instead who doesn’t have any leverage (or that’s what you have been told);

3. To be seen;

4. To support a good cause;

5. To reaquaint yourself with old or dormant customers;

6. To raise your profile or that of your company (that sounds expensive to me and most FDs these days would have a hard time signing off on this!);

7. To escape from the office (yes some people would prefer to go to events because let’s face it they are not taxing).

But if you are willing to suspend your disbelief for a moment, why bother? Ask yourself one very important question: “What can you give to the event”? Notice I didn’t say GET; I said GIVE.

Now I am quite sure a lot of the reasons adumbrated above can be justified under the Get banner but, in my view, save for no 4, all of the rest (even no 7) are about getting. Now you may argue that that is you modus operandi and great if you nearly always walk away from an event fully satisfied, but I would hazard a guess that that is not he case.

What I am talking about is a paradigm shift and this is where the whole idea of networking falls down.

In these enlightened times of the internet where more and more information is being given away for free, ask yourself what a potential prospect needs to know about you or your business that they cannot find out from the ubiquitous Google search. Just think about it; don’t you find yourself talking endlessly about you, your business and what you can offer. In other words the classic sales mantra of features. Sometimes you might talk benefits but the reality is that you never get that far.

I am talking about giving or as Seth Godin describes Gifts. Now in any transaction there is nearly always a 1 for 1 arrangement. I give you 1 of mine and you give me 1 of yours – you know that inane expression: reciprocity. A system where everyone keeps tabs. Seth Godin decries the notion of reciprocity:

“The magic of the gift system is that the gift is voluntary, not part of a contract. The gift binds the recipient to the giver, and both of them to the community. A contract isolates individuals, with money as the connector. The gift binds them instead.”

Once again I can feel you reacting, withdrawing and probably hissing a bit: “What in these straightened economic times, this guy is advocating that we give things away. Madness.” Yep that’s right. However, to put it perhaps into more commercial terms think of it as giving more in value that you receive in payment (check out the Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann).

My point is that we can give more in time, personal connection, understanding our customer and exploring possibilities in a 101/102/10? than we can by turning up to yet another networking event without a clue why we are there. Now of course I am not missing the obvious of how you get together but again this comes back to thinking about what you can give.

Why don’t you invite your prospect(s) to an informal lunch, round table discussion on topics of interest to them or even asking them if they would like to hold a forum to discuss something that interests them (or a group of like minded people) and see how that works. Or even just finding out their passion and connecting on that level.

What can you give? Well that is up to you but something where the experience will be memorable.

Next time you get your invite to whichever event it is just ask yourself whether there is an opportunity for you to Give and if you can’t find one then don’t go. Be brave and you never know bigger things might come your way.