Find Ian’s articles on Forbes.com
You’ve learned that powerful networks are the key to business success, so you attend networking events. Soon enough, you end up hospitalized with a gash on your forehead from a flying business card flung by another so-called networker. These networking vultures took a good concept and ruined it. There has to be a better way to build a valuable network.
I recently had the good fortune to interview Derek Coburn, author of Networking Is Not Working. I encourage you to tune into the episode to get all of the details. Coburn is an expert at building valuable networks. Some of the most respected business minds on the planet point to him as the master of integrity and intention in building a valuable network. Here are some of his words of wisdom.
Add Value for Your Existing Clients
Derek explains that if you have recurring clients, that you should carve out 15-20 minutes to interview them. If you have been trained in the dark-side of networking, you might think that the interview is about who in his or her network is a good fit for you. Instead, Derek suggests that you should ask your client what makes an ideal client for him or her. Who can he or she help the most?
This sets you up to be an extension of your client’s sales organization. When you encounter someone who is facing the challenge that your customer solves, you’ll add instant value to your new contact by making an introduction to someone who can help them. You’ll also add value to your client.
The way to build a valuable network is to start by providing incredible value to your network. Once you are seen as a valuable resource and connector, the law of reciprocity kicks in.
Follow the Law of Reciprocity
There is a big difference between reciprocity and trading leads. In old-school networking groups, the organizers suggest that everyone should give the other participants a set number of leads. If you give five, you receive five. The challenge here is that though one party might have a set number of good opportunities for you, it doesn’t mean that you have good opportunities for him or her. At that point, you are trading on quantity rather than quality. Recognize that an introduction to a bad opportunity is worse than no introduction at all.
If you demonstrate how to identify a good opportunity for a client or friend, and then make a good introduction, then you are educating others on how they might want to behave. The idea is not to take a quid-pro-quo approach. Rather, if you selflessly make solid introductions for your clients, they will likely want to return the favor. You do not benefit from an introduction out of obligation, but rather out of appreciation and value.
Avoid Premature Introductions
Helping others is great. However, if you build a valuable network, the wrong introduction can hurt your credibility. Don’t jump the gun to refer someone you just met to a member of your network so the newcomer can try to sell them something. Instead, if they have something of interest, take the time to learn more about their track record before making an introduction.
That new contact, however, might be a perfect fit as a potential client for an already vetted member of your network. You can feel free to make the introduction under Derek’s model. Derek suggests, “Before making the introduction, send a note to your contact explaining the introduction. Ask for their agreement before making the formal introduction.” If not, then you might be letting the so-called fox into the hen house.
It’s Your Turn
When have you been turned off by a premature introduction? What other networking tips did we leave out?