I am convinced the way we network needs to change because: collecting business cards means squat, when people you meet at events ask “How can I help?” it really means “What can You do for Me?” and lets be honest the only thing you are growing is the number of LinkedIN connections.
Facing this challenge I decided to research some literature to see if I could improve my own networking skills and I came across the book that will be the focus of this post:Networking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connectionsby Derek Coburn. Derek started his career as a financial advisor and when the economy took a downtown he began to dedicate more of his time to his existing clients. Faced with time constraints he developed some non-traditional strategies for networking that he used grow his business. In his book Derek shares the strategies he’s developed including how he developed an “un-networking” communitycomprised of the top professionals in various fields, connecting with each other and working together to add value to their own clients and network.
One of the challenges any busy professional faces, is meeting new people and building great relationships that will actually amount to something — in most of our cases attending networking events is of one the key ways we do this. In theory networking should be the best way to grow your network but in reality:
- Everyone is looking for instant business gratification it’s about me, Me, ME (Networking 1.0) or they are trying the “pay it forward” approach without meaning it (Networking 2.0)
- You have better chances of winning the lottery whilst being struck by lightening at the same time than meeting your ideal client at a networking event
- It’s extremely hard to get consistent results, your actually wasting precious time by attending too many events
In the foreword to the book, Chris Brogan writes:
Meaning, a master networker is always working to deliver endless value, almost as if its their only goal. This is is important because it is almost the antithesis of how a lot of us approach networking today, we are focussed on getting the most value from networking events versus actually delivering value.
Derek like many of us focussed on attending networking events as a long term method of growing his business, but as he started to face time constraints because of having to spend extra time with his clients he realized his approach of constantly collecting businesses cards and bouncing from one networking event to another was not effective at all. This constraint on his time was a blessing in disguise, it forced him to analyze what wasn’t working with the way he approached networking and led him to develop a set of strategies around the concept of “un-networking” which allowed him to grow his revenue as a financial advisor by over 300% in 18 months.
He provides details on the process he followed to create his “counterintuitive version of a networking group” with a small population of handpicked members. He shares the criteria he uses to evaluate and choose the professionals he wants to have as part of his limited group. After creating his group he was able to focus on curating events, discussions and facilitating introductions that allowed him and people within his network to make valuable connections and generate opportunities.
I like the way Derek is very clear on who this book will help and who it won’t. If you are looking for a book that will give you quick tips on landing a new job or generating immediate revenue from networking events — read no further
But if you are looking for tested methods around increasing the quality and quantity of value you give to your clients and better positioning yourself for attracting more ideal prospective clients through better developed relationships, this book is for you.
Networking Is Not Working is divided into two parts — the first being where Derek discusses how the traditional approach to networking is broken and where the approach to networking needs to change. The second part of the book is centered around detailing the steps to carrying out Derek’s un-networking strategies through a process he’s labelled CONECTOR.
I seriously love this analogy used in the book — think about it, networking events are the ultimate mixing bowls for professionals but the issue is everyone has a personal agenda. Everyone kinda has their own “pick-up line” or elevator pitch, but more than often it ends up you are being talked at and forced to listen, it’s a one way lecture. As Derek explains, those of us who attend numerous networking events, face a common problem in that we meet people who are constantly looking for “instant gratification.”
Unfortunately what’s happened is, networking events have become like nightclubs where everyone there is looking for a “professional one-night stand” and the older you get the more tiresome they become. The (good) dating books say you aren’t going to be meet your ideal partner in a nightclub, so why would you waste time looking for your ideal client in a crowded place where they obviously aren’t going to be?
The regular attendees of networking events are almost always one-night standers, because they aren’t worried (yet) about building long lasting relationships so they are out there spending their time networking — the ideal clients you want to meet, are actually busy using their time better running their businesses or talking with those people with whom they have valuable relationships.
There has been an evolution in networking — Networking 1.0 involved professionals who were Mr./Mrs. me Me ME realizing that if they acted interested in the other person, (instead of being genuine with a bit of patience) they would get the other party to reciprocate their interest. Of course when everyone started faking a little more interest in the other person, it made networking harder. Derek notes that if someone at an event now wants to learn more about him and how they can help right off the bat, it sets off his “bullshit detector.” Why? Because chances are if they just met you, they are really just interested in finding out how you can help them.
Enter the Networking 2.0 crowd, they are all about let’s “pay it forward” because helping anyone and everyone you meet will eventually get you some good karma — Yea right. How many of those emails, introductions, messages from networking events have earned you an actual sale? Not many I’m sure. Worse how many intros have you done for someone you were trying to help, to one of your clients, which almost ruined or damaged your relationship? Key lesson from the book:
NEVER put your reputation on the line by introducing your clients to people you don’t know much about.
The pay it forward approach at networking events just doesn’t work — Why would you help someone you just met by involving them with your customer who trusts and pays you to manage and protect their business interests? It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay it forward at all, just be picky make sure you do your background and dig deep before you set up your client who trusts you with another professional you know.
Derek emphasizes that to become a master networker you to become theUltimate Tiebreaker and the Ultimate Resource
Ultimate Tiebreaker you say?
Whether we like it not most of us are in the game where our product/service is a commodity and with the world being super connected you have to actual differentiate yourself in a meaningful way to get noticed. The way to do that as outlined in Networking is Not Working is to
“refer clients to your clients and facilitate these valuable connections”
If you don’t do great work and don’t actually deliver a valuable service, referring clients won’t matter because your clients will probably not trust you or be happy enough with you to even want your advice. Also don’t make a promise to deliver valuable connections if you don’t have the ability to find them — better to keep your mouth shut until you have your network built out with the professionals you can trust.
Try to be different — everyone is trying to be amazing, why don’t you focus on beinguseful? In the words of Jay Baer
If you do it right and refer clients to your clients you will become an extension of their marketing and business development teams, you will be useful in more way than one and it will also help you deepen their trust in you— so why would they want to move their business to someone else? — you will have become the Ultimate Tiebreaker — but that’s not all, you also have to become
THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE
For the higher up decision makers, the C-suite types, owners, founders, Derek realized they often needed a go-to resource for helping them make decisions — and he realized he could become their Ultimate Resource
Again the focus here is on being different — every professional wants to be a leader in their field by delivering major value to their clients, it’s something we have all heard at events and from our peers. The Ultimate Resource goes beyond just delivering great value over and over, they provide access to their clients to numerous people within their networks who are leaders in other fields. Derek ensured he always knew the best realtor, doctor, mechanic etc. so when his clients ever had a need of one he helped them save time by making their decisions easier and with each successful recommendation the trust level with his clients multiplied.
Similar to the Ultimate Tiebreaker strategy to be an Ultimate Resource you must ensure you are connected with only the best people in their fields and this sometimes means recommending someone who is not necessarily a client of yours.
There needs to a shift in mindset with regards to how we network — its not just about building business if you want to build a more meaningful customer relationship that will last, you should network in a manner that would add more value to your existing clients. When Derek applied this shift in mindset to how he networked, he found he wasn’t thinking about how to makes gain for himself, instead he was having conversations that leaned towards learning more about issues his clients faced or finding solutions to problems that he could leverage with his clients, partners and people within his existing networks.
The problem Derek now found was that he wan’t meeting the professionals he needed to connect with at networking events that would help him become the Ultimate Tiebreaker and the Ultimate Resource. What did he do? He decided to create his own network and became the Ultimate Connector — he hunted down a group of 20–30 people that included clients, their key contacts and professionals who who were leaders in their fields, people with whom he wanted to work with. How did he form this unique networking group? By applying the principles of CONECTOR
Identify the best relationships within your network, learn everything about them (both business and personal), find out what makes them tick. You want to invest time in clients you love and will love you back, you can factor in revenue but put more emphasis on the value of their advice and shared passions. These are clients you want to be an Ultimate Resource for but also want to refer opportunities to as an Ultimate Tiebreaker.
The next step is to understand identify “trigger events” that you can educate your clients on for potential referral opportunities. By having a conversation with his clients on what their trigger events were Derek realized that they had not even thought about how someone else could identify opportunities for them to send business — the conversation itself made him look like a hero. Questions to ask clients to help them identify clients are outlined in the book and it is a great exercise because it will force your clients to really simplify their messaging and be effective at communicating their value proposition. This conversation is also a great vetting process to determine which clients will be the best fit for your “un-networking group.”
Do not underestimate the power of curating a high-quality network, make sure you clients know about it and let them know that contacts within your network you are growing are successful and well-connected.
Once you have the conversations with your clients about what their trigger events, how their business works and what their ideal clients are, the next step is to grow your base. Ask them for introductions to the businesses they interact with (remember only the ones they consider the cream of the crop) — they may not understand why, but because your prior conversations will have generated immense value they will want to return the favor. The benefit to you is that you will grow your network because you will be accessing professional contacts they trust and thus have already been vetted.
At this stage you need to get on the radar of the best professionals in your area and start to develop relationships with an emphasis on quality & variety
Knowing all the lawyers in town doesn’t make you an ultimate resource you need to know the best professionals in different fields. Derek identifies three primary ways to expand your network: recommendations from clients, reconnecting with existing relationships within your network and identifying and connecting with those professionals you have yet to meet. Once you find and meet with these individuals he recommends finding out: If they have a great business that will add more value to future and existing clients? Do they share the same views on developing relationships with others as you do? And what issues or problems do they have currently that you can assist them with today? This process will help you establish the minimums and attract clients with shared interests.
Remember when we all start out, we are willing to take just about anyone on as a client, but as we grow our business, we become selective about the clients we take on — this should be no different from determining whom you want to include in your un-networking group.
For your networking group to be successful you need to be at its center — you need to be the nucleus. Be the hub of the wheel connecting all of the links together.
The main objective at this stage is to convince your clients that being a part of your network is going to be worth it, after all they probably have enough on their plate already and may have negative feelings towards joining another networking group.
Because of the homework you’ve done in qualifying other clients to be a part of your network you can assure them they will meet individuals who excel at their professions, have the ability to help or connect and are willing to do so.Let them know your group has a different set of rules, #1 being no direct solicitation is allowed. It is not a lead generation group but a platform for meeting other successful professionals who are interested in learning how to help each other. Once you have your A-list of people you want to invite, be clear on why you are inviting them to your event and more importantly get their buy-in — communication is essential, one bad apple can ruin the event for everyone else. What you are selling to clients who will become members of your un-networking group is comfort and curation. By being part of your group, your clients will be able to attend events and enjoy a level of comfort working with other members of the group that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to enjoy if they met randomly.
You will lose valuable relationships and opportunities if your networking strategy lacks a sense of community. Make sure you encourage follow-ups once quality connections have been made. This facilitation encourages deeper connections. A simply email with the proper wording and call to action can help solidify a relationship and keep opportunities on the table. Derek mentions a number of online tools that he uses to help assist with keeping his community engaged (Sanebox, Contactually, Newsle etc).
(T)riggering (O)ngoing (R)eciprocity
They key takeaway towards the end of the book is that spending your time helping everyone else will result in a lot of rewards for you — but you must also make it easy for people to help you.
The low hanging fruit here is ensuring your members in the un-networking group understand what your triggering events are and how they can use them in their conversations to send your prospective client referrals. Set them up with email introduction templates, lessen the burden on them to help you. Blogs/Email newsletters are also great in helping establish your credibility — just make sure you are providing information that is relevant, useful and interesting, skip the self-promotional stuff. Client appreciation events, dinner parties, double dating (getting clients to bring someone from their network to a hockey game) are some of the other methods of making it easier for members of your un-networking group to help you back. Just make sure that if you invite clients to bring their friends along that you never follow up directly with their guests, don’t be pushy — ask the client if their friend had a good time and let it flow from there.
For me the first part of the book was the most valuable — Derek had some great points on the problems with the current state of networking and the insight on the value of becoming the Ultimate Tiebreaker, Ultimate Resource and Ultimate Connector to my clients has already gotten me thinking about how I can change my approach and start building my own un-networking group. The second portion of the become which elaborates on his process for building such a group (CONECTOR) provides a good starting point but I would recommend digging deeper on the way you organize events, building your community and get you clients to reciprocate as I think it goes beyond whats outlined in the book and can be even more specific to the needs of your clients and group members. Derek has provided plenty of references to other resources, tools and books which provide a lot of supplemental resources if you want to dig further — it’s definitely time to graduate to Networking 3.0.