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A lot of people belong to a formal networking group – one that meets regularly, weekly or monthly, with the same attendees (plus guests) with one of its stated goals being sharing introductions and referrals.

Networking is a prospecting activity. At its heart, it is all about finding new clients, and growing our business. Do not get me wrong, this does not meant that we should be pushy and salesy when we network. Nor should be anticipate or behave as if we anticipate direct selling to the room.

Let’s first define prospecting in the context of networking. A prospect is a potential customer, client or purchaser or sales lead which has been qualified as fitting certain criteria. Prospecting is therefore the search for and qualification of potential customers, clients and purchasers. Prospecting is the act of finding prospects.

We talk about cold, cool, warm and hot prospects. At its simplest this defines both their degree of qualification and also the degree to which you have moved along the continuum from untrusted stranger to trusted adviser.

The goal of networking is to increase our leads and convert them to prospects and ultimately to sales. One of the reasons networking is such a preferred form of prospecting is that for the majority of participants it does not feel salesy. It feels much ‘warmer’. First we get to know people and build trust, then we share our contacts. By definition, an introduction to a prospect via a networking contact has already begun the journey along the continuum of untrusted stranger to known and trusted adviser.

The problem people have when using networking as a prospecting vehicle lies in its very attraction, namely that it can be a social activity and not a sales activity. This can be for a number of reasons but they divide into conceptual and technical. Technical is that people do not know how to effectively network; conceptual is that they are uncomfortable with selling so avoid it and over play the social side of networking.

The result is that networking does not deliver the anticipated benefits. Additionally people can have overly high expectations of results from networking, especially in terms of the timescales and when they do not appear they blame the network rather than look at how realistic the expectations were or what they could be doing to improve results. The challenge – and blessing – of networking is that it is the way we network that impacts on its effectiveness and this is pretty much within our control.

At Sandler we use the idea of passive and active prospecting. When applied to networking here are the results:

Passive networking looks like this:

You attend most of the meetings but if something comes up you are not too worried
If you need a Sub you are happy (potentially even expect) someone to find them for you
You give your sub your “60 seconds pitch” but do not speak to them in advance
You are polite and if asked to do a to one to one you accept; you are not diligent in timekeeping so are sometimes a bit late for them
You do not actively follow up with people
If someone helps you, you thank them at the meeting but you do not spend time in advance of each meeting thinking about how you can help people
Active networking looks something like:

Attending every meeting unless totally impossible
If you have to send a Sub, ensuring you find one yourself (perhaps using someone who has used your services or knows you well and can therefore combine your 60-seconds with a bit of a personal testimonial). Even putting together a short list (2-3) of contacts who you have talked to in advance who would be willing to Sub for you at short notice
Taking the time to talk to your Sub before and after the meeting
Preparing in advance of each meeting (your 60-seconds, your testimonials, your referrals)
Researching other attendees and working out things that you can say to each of them which will demonstrate your credibility and position you as someone worth knowing
Setting and following a schedule of one to ones (or group one to ones)
Working hard on making introductions and nurturing them through to business and tracking this
Bringing visitors and starting to get known for someone who is well connected
Tracking your time and results from your networking activities
You cannot control whether or not someone needs your services or product but you can absolutely control whether or not you are someone that people want to do business with.

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