Business networking is a great tool and should go beyond generating potential new customers. Keeping up-to-date on industry or sector developments, exchanging ideas or brainstorming challenges with others in your field, finding opportunities for collaboration are just some of the benefits of networking. And sometimes it’s just the pleasure of a stimulating conversation!
However, networking is often seen as a bit of a dirty word, something that’s self-serving, transactional and all just a bit awkward. Perhaps that’s because people don’t always approach networking in the right way and perhaps, unfortunately, there are too many bad networkers out there who have given the concept a bad name. Here are some of the worst culprits when it comes to how not to network:
- The Taker – the real art of networking is about cultivating long-term sustainable business connections that are mutually beneficial. Yet we’ve probably all met the networker that thinks it’s all about them: a ‘what’s in it for me’ approach rather than ‘how can I help you?’ Who can you introduce them to and how can you help them? There is little thought about how they could return the favour.
- The Over-the-shoulder glancer – you think you are having an interesting and/or enjoyable conversation but before you know it, you notice that eye contact has veered over your shoulder and into the middle distance on the hunt for someone more important, more useful and more interesting. Or at least that’s how you read it, and when you ask a question it becomes clear that this person wasn’t really listening to you. It’s not a good look!
- The Monopoliser – you get hemmed in by someone who just won’t let you go, despite your best ‘exiting a conversation’ strategies and even when you do manage to escape they hunt you down so that they can ‘continue the conversation’.
- The Exiteer – this is the one that finds out quickly what you do, realises there is no potential and closes down the conversation. Of course, the goal of networking is to make purposeful connections, but you never know where a conversation might lead you – people move on, have their own networks or might have a creative approach to a challenge you are facing. And it’s just bad manners to shut someone down, particularly in the early part of an event when people are still finding their feet.
- The One that’s too much too soon – you’ve probably had the experience of having an enjoyable chat with someone at a networking event where you realise that there probably isn’t much synergy between your businesses. But you never know, things change, you might bump into them again or you might know someone that needs their services or vice versa so you exchange business cards just in case. And before you know it, the next morning a full-on sales pitch lands in your inbox which ends with a request for half an hour of your time on the phone the same week.
- The Quantity-not-quality type – you know the type, the one that tells you they have a target for how many business cards they can collect in an evening or brags about how many connections they have on LinkedIn. They seem to have lost sight of the need to form a meaningful connection.
- The Copy-and-paster – a well-practised elevator pitch or a carefully crafted follow-up email are useful networking tools but the danger of a templated approach is that it doesn’t feel personal. You’re not talking to me as a person but as a prospect – it’s hard to feel special when you hear someone you were talking to earlier having the exact same conversation several times over!