Panning for Networking Gold
Have you ever panned for gold?
A few years ago we went on a family trip to Alaska. One of the activities was panning for gold in Denali National Park. I think a lot of us harbor that secret thought that we could go out in the warm sunshine, scoop up a pan or two and walk away with next year's mortgage payments.
Panning is a cold, laborious, unpleasant task that, if you are lucky, will net you a tiny sliver of the yellow metal worth approximately zilch.
Sometimes networking feels the same way. We attend numerous events hoping to find those nuggets of networking gold -- the potential long-term relationships whom we can help and who will help us in return. Instead, we meet so many people who are simply there to sell, those there to use, or those just aren't in a good place to network. We can get discouraged.
Maybe we need a better pan, er, plan.
What we need is a set of rules that we can use in conversation both at the event and at any possible future meetings that should give us a good idea as to who would make a good connection.
Let's start out at the event.
Test #1 -- Do you like them? I know most networking experts tell you to determine quickly whether or not this person is a good prospect, but that's a sales mentality and not very useful at the event. For me, the first hurdle is simply: Do I like them enough that I want to continue talking with them later over coffee? If I can't even conceive of doing that, then I'm never likely to get to the point that I want to refer business to them.
By the way, it's entirely possible for two perfectly wonderful people just not to connect. For whatever reason, the chemistry just isn't there. No fault on either side.
Test #2 -- Do they want to play? No sense in beating around the bush. If they passed test #1, then ask to schedule a follow-up coffee. If they can't schedule immediately, then contact them the next business day to set things up. If they can't nail down a date or they never return your phone call or email, they probably aren't in a good place to network. Just let them go.
Test #3 -- Do they use bad words? I don't mean four-letter words, I mean any of the phrases that the dark-side networkers use. These are the ones they have been taught to deliver in order to get you alone and then sell to you. They might want to "tell you about their business" or "tell you about an amazing opportunity" or "find ways to serve you". Oh, and any time they want your spouse to be present? That's a sign they want to sell, not connect.
Test #4 -- Are they respectful of you and your time? Within reason, are they flexible about when and/or where you can meet? Of course, we need to be ready to compromise, too. If they only come to town once a week because it's a fifty mile trip, we need to understand that limitation. Perhaps a "virtual coffee" (over the phone) instead?
Test #5 -- Are they respectful of you and your time? (Part 2) Assuming you agree on a meeting, do they show up and show up on time? Usually I'll allot for 5 to 10 minutes late without a call. If they are going to be later than that, they had better warn me. There's a reason that I always confirm my meetings and include my cell number in the message.
Test #6 -- Do they share the conversation? Ideally, the conversational balance should be right around 50/50 in a one-to-one meeting. The whole idea is that you are getting to know each other. If one person monopolizes the conversation, then that isn't happening.
Test #7 -- Are they selling at you? This is a big no-no. If they've gotten past all of my other tests undetected and then they decide to turn our coffee into a discussion about how horrible and embarrassing my life is and how their product or service is going to make it all better. We're done.
Test #8 -- Do you still like them? After all the other tests are said and done, this is the big one. Assuming this relationship continues to develop, at some point (maybe even right now), I will be lending my time, energy, effort, and my reputation to this other person. If I don't like them because for whatever reason our personalities just didn't click, then I probably won't ever want to make them referrals or recommendations. In that case, the only reason I would still be nurturing the relationship is because I want something from them.
I don't want to be that guy.
Ultimately, passing these tests isn't always necessary to developing a good networking relationship. Conversely, not all who pass the tests are necessarily worthy, either. Use these tests as a tool, though, so you can ask yourself, in the long run, are we a good match and will we be able to help each other?
If so, you've found your nugget of gold.