Recently, I met up with my colleague and good friend Bob Woodcock (The Pulse Check) over coffee.
We commiserated over how challenging it can be to establish a professional and purposeful relationship with someone you meet at a networking event. It especially hit home after attending a “Speed Networking” event facilitated by one of our local Chamber of Commerce office. I brought three of my clients to the event as guests to introduce them to some potential “relationships” that could be built by participating in the event. This one way I connect my clients to potential prospects.
The Speed Networking concept is excellent and we applauded the Chamber for introducing this innovative initiative. Each participant had an opportunity to meet with another in a one on one exchange of information in a round robin approach rotating chairs and sitting across from each other at tables. And, each participant had two minutes to talk about their business before the whistle blew indicating time to move to the next meeting. I had participated in a previous event so I was prepared for what unfolded. You could sense and feel everyone preparing in their head their ultimate “sales” storey. It’s amazing how many words people can cram into two minutes. By the time I had met with the twenty people in my round (there are 40 participants so you get to meet 20), my head was spinning but, wow, I had collected 20 business cards. And that translated to usual wrath of follow-up email messages over the next few days.
Now, we’re all pretty effective at exchanging business cards at staged events, but is this what it’s really all about?
Are we just going through the motions of collecting business cards and adding to our LinkedIn counts and Constant Contact list? Do others feel the same way?
Do you see the same superficial behaviour in others? Or do you share in the same mistakes we’re making?
Is it because it doesn’t take much work to simply exchange names?
And yet we’re expecting a big payoff from our new trophy connection?
It doesn’t work this way. A Business associate of mine summed it up this way… “YOUR BUSINESS CARD ONLY HAS VALUE ONCE YOU HAVE DEVELOPED RAPPORT, ESTABLISHED COMMON INTERESTS OR DETERMINED HOW YOU CAN HELP EACH OTHER.”
Professional networkers/connectors who get referrals are the ones who pay it forward and help others. Many of us subscribe to that idea, but what exactly are we supposed to do?
The purpose of this article is to share with you 3 questions that will set your networking activity into high gear and establish you as a true “connector”.
Most of these events provide us very limited time to garner information, so next time you are at a Networking event or in a conversation with someone over coffee or a cocktail, instead of talking about (or selling) each others business and asking… “What do you do?…try asking the other person these 5 questions…
NOTE: The first THREE questions are the key critical ones to building better relationships. Ask these three questions for sure.
The last TWO will help establish you as a true CONNECTOR. If you cannot get to these last two questions, don’t worry. Set up a follow-up meeting if warranted.
1. How would I know if someone I’m talking to would be a good contact/prospect for you?
This question comes from author Bob Burg and it is sure fire way to make someone smile. After all, it gives the recipient the opportunity to tell you who he or she would love to meet. It tells them that you are interested in referring business to them. I make a point to include it in all conversations. I also use it in response to LinkedIn invitations.
2. What’s the most challenging part of your business?
This question tells them you’re interested in knowing more about their business and its potential complexities. It almost always gets to the “emotional” heart of business versus the standard intellectual regurgitation of facts about the business. The response can really shed light on what they really need to from you.
3. Can we connect on LinkedIn?
Again, time is limited and you want to be known as true caring connector then it’s imperative that you offer any and all potential sources of support for that will help you establish rapport. Your conversation could sound like this…”At the very least, should we perhaps get hooked up on LinkedIn, just in case, through my connections, I might know somebody at a company you’re interested in doing business with? I have a pretty large network on that site and would be very happy to make any relevant introductions on your behalf the might be beneficial…”
My ultimate goal in every LinkedIn relationship is to be able to recommend your services to other professionals who trust my opinion
I also tell people that I do not use email as a form of follow up and that my preference is to communicate through LinkedIn. This approach reduces or eliminates the multiple email messages I get after the traditional business card exchange…a major pet peeve and irritant.
NOTE: See my guidelines for connecting on LinkedIn at the end of this article.
4. Do you have any extra business cards for me to share with other people?
If you ask someone for one business card, you are collector. If you ask someone for multiple business cards, you are now a connector. If you can see an immediate way that you might connect this contact then ask for a handful of cards. Keep these extra copies of other people’s cards when you attend other networking events.
5. When should I follow up with you to see if I’m helping your business?
This final question establishes two key elements in any professional relationship or goal… a timeline and accountability.
By asking this question, you are making a bold commitment to the other person (who will look for ways to go to bat for you…and hopefully ask you these same questions). If you are unable to identify a referral for the other person before your next meeting, don’t sweat it. Own up to it and then follow through. Use the next conversation as an opportunity to ask more questions.
You’ve already earned the other person’s respect and time simply because you’ve asked the right questions.
I encourage you to ask these questions the next time you meet up with someone in person.
Give it a try. Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained!
So what are my 5 guidelines for LinkedIn invitations?
1. I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if I’ve had the opportunity to work with you
2. I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if we have met in person or have been introduced through one of my contacts
3. I accept/send LinkedIn invitations if we have spoken on the phone (and an in person meeting is not feasible)
4. I accept/send LinkedIn invitations to initiate a professional relationship where online, phone and/or in-person collaboration is expected
5. My goal in every LinkedIn relationship is to be able to connect you to other professionals who trust my opinion
Tony Scutella, Chief Business Consultant and Coach