How’s your networking? Better if you follow the rules
I went to a networking meeting hosted by a formal networking organization called Business Network International.
Many of you know this group; they have meetings all over the world. This particular chapter meeting was in New York City and is populated by sophisticated business people who are on fire.
Note: NYC business people, in general, take no prisoners. This BNI chapter takes no amateurs. And its meetings are exceptionally well structured.
I went as a guest — without an agenda — just to meet people and provide value.
History: I began my networking career more than 25 years ago, so I consider myself a relatively sophisticated meeting attendee. This particular meeting is a pure networking group, rather than a social networking event, like a Chamber of Commerce meeting or an association meeting.
The group predominantly meets to give business and get business. My interest was to meet new people and observe how the meeting was run.
Before we go too deep into BNI and the NYC group, I’d like to review some networking imperatives in case you’re about to go to one of these meetings.
Most people take networking for granted and think of it more as a place to meet friends and clients rather than capture an opportunity. They also fail to realize people, whether you know them or not, are cultivating an impression of you — not just about what you look like, but also based on how you act and how you dress.
Your physical presence, your physiology and your communication prowess can determine whether the outcome is business or no business.
These are my top 9.5 rules for achieving positive and profitable networking results:
1. I shake and look. When I shake someone’s hand, it’s a firm grasp and a direct look in the eye.
2. I smile. Even in New York City. I’ve found that by giving a smile, I get a smile.
3. I ask before I tell. Whether I ask for their name or a simple “how are you?” I want to hear the other person before they hear me.
4. I give before I get. I have always tried to make connections for others before I ask for one myself.
5. I don’t make small talk; I make big talk. I don’t want to talk about the weather. I want to talk about life and business life.
6. I want to make certain I take a “next step” if the opportunity is there. Anything from a simple exchange of business cards to a cup of coffee, an office meeting, an invite to a social event — I want to make sure my objective is achieved before I leave to talk to the next person.
7. Known or unknown? That is the question. I prefer to invest the majority of my networking time with people that I do not know. The reason is that I tend to make small talk with people I know and bigger talk with people I don’t know. My personal rule has always been: Small talk leads to small business or no business, and big talk leads to big business or the opportunity for big business.
8. I like everyone and qualify no one. If you like people, it’s likely they will like you back. If you try to qualify people (by asking them questions about money or circumstance), their guard will go up.
9. Every connection does not need to be a sale. Make friends, build rapport and provide value to everyone without prejudging or qualifying them. I refer to it as “the rule of you never know.” And “you never know” has no time limit. Sometimes, “you never know” happens in a week, and sometimes, it happens five years later. That’s why it’s called “you never know.”
9.5 I am brief. Time allocation at a networking event is not an option. If there are 60 people in the room and the meeting lasts for one hour, you have one minute per person if you want to meet everyone. If you take 5 minutes with each person, you can only meet 12 people. The choice is yours, but be aware of time.
I’ve just given you the parameters, the guidelines and the rules I have personally been following for 25 years. There are other rules and you can find them in my “Little Black Book of Connections,” but these are the major ones that will make connections, make appointments, build relationships and, ultimately, make sales.
Editor’s note: This column previously ran in the Oct. 20, 2014, Business Journal.
Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of 12 best-selling books. For public event dates and information about training and seminars, visit gitomer.com or email Jeffrey personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.