We’ve all been there . . .
You go to an event, be it a conference, a seminar session or annual meeting, and you meet different business people, discover some common ground outside the theme of the event, and you keep in touch for a while after the event, but unless you work at it and nurture it, that relationship fades into the background, not serving either party. Occasionally, you run into someone that really has a lot in common with you, has some business reason to stay in touch and that relationship grows and flowers and produces solid business gains for both sides and lasts years. What made the difference?
I have a theory, and statistics gained in our work promoting events will back this assertion up to a certain degree: “The more closely aligned the business goals of the parties are, the less likely they are to form a longer-term relationship.” On the surface that may seem counter-intuitive, but keep reading.
What drives business relationships is gain – profit, cash flow, commerce. Each side has to have a clearly defined role and those roles need to be complimentary, not unidirectional, for the relationship to be productive. Gains are made and money moved when something is sold or bought. Seven times out of ten, what drives that relationship is the desire to sell to the other guy! Two salesmen can get together and banter and share a beverage, but chances are that relationship will develop a competitive or adversarial nature. But if one is a salesman and the other is a mid-level executive in another role, something can be sold there, business moves, transactions done, and the relationship works for both.
Two top executives can get together and share common issues, maybe even work on the same committee to solve an industry problem, and if there’s no chance of them being in a competitive situation, and with nothing personal underlying it – tough conditions to fill – that relationship might come in handy from time to time, but it probably will not be terribly productive. No chance to sell to the other one! No chance to beat the other one, either.
Networking meetings in general have been overused and relationships forced upon business people for a long time, and they still serve a useful function, especially for those new to an area or industry. But without the quantity of time required to care for and nurture those relationships, and a good business reason to do so, in today’s superficial and time-starved environment, most are short-lived and unproductive. The way to get the most out of networking meetings is to introduce yourself to a few key people, or better yet, have someone else introduce you to a few key individuals, and take the time to investigate them further, see if they are worth pursuing, and take the lead in keeping them fresh and alive.
If you meet ten people and stay in touch with just one really solid business individual and keep that relationship growing, you can consider that meeting a success. At that build ratio, you’ll need to attend a significant number of meetings to start a functioning network from scratch. But if you put in the time, make the investment in your own business future, you’ll find it pays off in spades over the years.
The best technique that we’ve seen success with is to let such relationships develop naturally through outside interests other than business. That fellow soccer coach, that neighborhood association committee member, that dinner companion of a college friend, that last-minute fill-in in your golfing foursome, that guy who has season tickets right next to yours at the stadium or the theater – that’s how relationships get started, and have no surface business purpose, but after getting deeper into them, you find common business ground if you’re open to discovering it. It’s old-school, but it works! It’s less contrived, less forced, more comfortable for everyone, and you don’t have to go out of your way, or wear a name tag for them to be productive!
Next time you’re at a networking function where the specific reason for attending is to meet other people to do business, think back to other similar situations and count the number of people you regularly do business with, and ask yourself how many of them you met at such an event. The answer will likely be Zero! Now examine those same people you regularly do good business with, and ask how you met them initially. The answer is usually that you were introduced by someone you both knew from somewhere else.
Try this at your next social outing or sporting event: try and steer the conversation you’re having so that it includes no clue about what your job is or what business or industry you’re in. You’ll be amazed how difficult it is, and how intriguing it makes you to others. But think of the information you’ve gathered.
Now you know more about them as people, and can make a more informed decision about whether to pursue that relationship further, and find some common business ground. My guess is that the resulting business relationship will be stronger and last longer than the one derived from the forced, contrived situation at the hotel.
Write to me with your networking stories, we’ll compare notes . . .
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