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Is live networking dying?

Networking

By Troy Harrison

A month ago, I did a workshop on networking at a trade show on the East Coast. This program typically gets rave reviews. It’s about the process of meeting people, forming relationships and converting those relationships into referrals and sales. It’s a great program and a useful one. I’ve constantly updated it; I now include about 10 minutes on incorporating online social networking into a networking program.

When I got my audience feedback results, I was surprised. The program didn’t get the reviews it normally does, and over 50 percent of the comments were some variation on “I was expecting this to be about social media networking.” That makes me wonder if the emphasis on social media is starting to squeeze out the skill set of live networking.

My opinion is this: whether it is or whether it isn’t, it shouldn’t. There’s a huge qualitative difference between a network that looks big online vs. a network that can be monetized. Think of the “Facebook hero” who has 1,547 “friends,” and who has actually met about 10 of them in real life. Most of those contacts are, at best, arm’s-length acquaintanceships and are not necessarily good contacts that can generate results for you.

When I asked for a definition of a good networker, one person used the word connector, and I think that works pretty well. Good networkers are able to connect people with other people that they can benefit from knowing; not-so-good networkers can name-drop with the best of them, but can’t actually arrange or get a meeting with very many of the names they drop.

This, too, is a difference between online relationships and real networking contacts. If you’ve had the experience of asking someone for an introduction to an online contact of theirs and not gotten it, you’ve probably encountered the difference. The truth is that, much of the time, the person doesn’t introduce you because they really can’t; they don’t actually know the person they’re being asked to introduce.

Taking it one step deeper, I think that good networkers are hubs of value. In other words, they are capable of getting value from the relationships they have with others (think referrals, business, favors, etc.), and are able to give or conduct value to others they know (similar to the above). Here are some other measuring sticks to determine whether you are a good networker or not a good networker:

Good networkers are successful. First and foremost, good networkers are able to produce success for themselves, on their own. They are producers. I’ve never met someone who was incapable of producing success on their own terms for themselves, but was able to produce it for others. I should point out here that success has its own definitions, and those definitions are not necessarily financial. For instance, the high school football coach who is capable of generating a winning team and who is able to help his kids get scholarships might not necessarily be wealthy in financial terms, but has certainly achieved success in his/her own measurement.

Good networkers have stability. Here we are, back to that job stability thing again. The truth is that those who are constantly expending their own energies finding new jobs for themselves have precious little left over to conduct value to others; and of course, they also have issues with generating the needed respect from others to conduct value.

Good networkers are selective. It’s impossible to generate value from or for everyone that you meet, particularly if you’re an active networker and are constantly meeting new people. Hence, good networkers are selective with the relationships they want to pursue, and once they select someone, they work very hard to generate value for them.

Good networkers are willing to be the first giver. There’s an old law which I believe is still on the books in Kansas that says, “When two cars meet at an intersection, neither shall move until the other has passed.” Think about that brilliance of lawmaking for a second; somewhere at a seldom used intersection in western Kansas, the skeletons of two old farmers sit in their Model Ts, still exhorting the other to move first. That’s a good analogy for how many potentially good networking relationships die. If you are always waiting for the other to give first, you run the danger of never getting any value. Along these lines, good networkers seek out mutual relationships and not just coattails.

Good networkers never stop. I have encountered a number of people in my travels who came to me with the reputation of being great networkers, or even networking gurus. I’ve always been amazed at how many of these people seem to have retired, or withdrawn, from networking efforts. They’re not encouraging new contacts or new relationships, and seem content to rest upon whatever laurels have been bestowed on them. The problem with this is both simple and obvious – people retire, they change jobs, they move. The network that you have today might not be the network you have tomorrow. For that reason, a good networker always remains open to new relationships.

So why do people emphasize online networking over live networking? Several reasons, in my opinion. First, it’s easy; live networking is hard and time consuming. There are events to attend, real introductions to make, etc. Online, you just have to send a request.

Second, online people can see how many contacts you have – again, it’s the Facebook hero syndrome.

Finally, it’s trendy. Online networkers can feel up to date, as opposed to the somewhat old school method of live networking.

Here’s the rub. A quality network built on face-to-face encounters can be monetized much more easily than can an online network. My advice to those who are looking to build a quality network is this: Emphasize live networking and use online social media as an adjunct and a tool for achieving your goals, not an end in and of itself.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”, “The Pocket Sales Manager,” and a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, email Troy@TroyHarrison.com or visit www.TroyHarrison.com.

This article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2017 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2017, Direct Business Media.

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