The opposite of networking is not working. And, when developed correctly, it can be a most important business skill. Every time you meet someone, there is an opportunity to learn from them and be a resource to them.

Networking isn’t about immediate gain. It sometimes, can take years to cultivate, while at other times, something can develop positively within days. With all the current business challenges, networking and building strong alliances is of critical importance because it delivers the element of face-to-face credibility and trust.

In sales, networking is a necessary skill for finding new clients and centers of influence and building a strong referral pipeline. It is also a strategy used to open doors and build powerful relationships. However, many people fail to make personal connections when following up with initial contacts, so the focus becomes quantity rather than quality.

Time & Patience

As important as trust is, it takes time and patience to generate. When we network, we have to learn to respect others’ timetables. New contacts may not always respond in a timely fashion. They have their own deadlines and a lot of responsibilities, and we are not a priority. So, how can we move the process forward without being too aggressive?

  1. Ask how they want to be contacted: Some people prefer that everything be done in writing, while others would rather receive a quick follow-up phone call or e-mail letting them know about new opportunities.
  2. Check in on new contacts regularly: Salespeople are often told to deal quickly with people without having a long-term follow-up plan in place. Mark your calendar for the next significant date on your contacts’ calendar. Call or e-mail them a month before new information or material is sent. Or, even mention that you hope to connect with them at an upcoming conference or meeting.
  3. Develop a networking game plan: Connections often do not develop into anything important because there is no long-term plan in place. Keep a list of all contacts readily available in your preferred database so you can develop plans for each contact and choose your style and method for continued communication. For instance, you may see that it may be effective to look for the contact at an upcoming business function, while another contact might appreciate a note with helpful information.

Once you discover what is effective, build on that and develop the skills you need to develop meaningful connections.

Follow-up Tactics

Effective networking is based on simple tactics. Here are seven rules of follow-up networking:

  1. Smile: The people you meet for the first time will appreciate your warmth. Have you ever been at a meeting or function and felt frozen because you knew no one there? As soon as we see a sincere, warm smile, we feel more able to approach them. Research tells us that when you walk into a room or meeting and smile for 20 seconds, you will become more confident, approachable and someone that others want to get to know.
  2. Make eye-contact: It’s a comforting to look at someone and effective eye-contact can connect you with someone new in the shortest time possible. Remember, eyes are the windows of the soul.
  3. Listen: Commend people by simply listening to them. When we network with someone, it’s like reading the paper. Let people tell their stories so we can discover the “news we can use.” This will create starting points to develop rapport and conversation. People often hear yet they don’t truly listen. Turn down the inner conversation in your head and focus on the other person. You will learn something with every encounter.
  4. Body language: First impressions are lasting ones. Monitor expressions on the face. Sometimes, we need to loosen up because meeting new people can make us tense. People can “read” us by the way we communicate, which is especially important because 55% of communication is visual.
  5. Avoid being too aggressive: Be careful about coming on too strong. Even if we just lost our job, avoid having people think that we are desperate or simply want something from them.
  6. Give genuine compliments: Even with new contacts, a compliment can be appropriate. When we listen to people carefully, often they will mention something that they are proud of. We need to think for a moment to find a way to sincerely acknowledge others’ achievements.
  7. Business cards are golden: Ask for people’s business cards, but only offer yours when someone requests it.

Networking is a process that can help create business connections to last a lifetime. Professionals must constantly develop, build and cultivate relationships that bring in positive results.

Power of Three

“The power of three” consists of writing a follow-up note to three contacts a day. The United States Postal Service tells us that only four percent of the mail is personalized. So, sending personalized notes puts you ahead of 96% of the competition. Here are some good examples where personal notes work particularly well:

  1. “Heard something good about you”:  If you hear about someone’s personal achievement or if you read something positive about their company, this gives you a good opportunity to send a note.
  2. Give-away information: If you participate in an association meeting, invite a contact to join you as your guest at a special program by sending a note with a copy of the announcement for the event.
  3. “Gone but not forgotten”:  Even if your contacts have clearly stated that they are not interested in communicating with you right now, a follow-up note offering some valuable information is a good way to keep current and potential customers aware of your company.

The ultimate networking goal is to develop mutually beneficial relationships with people. It’s important to reach out of our comfort zone and know more people, develop more relationships and learn that even with our strongest business accounts, it is good to “surround the account” and know several people at the organization.