Sales people often are natural networkers – after all, we tend to be “people persons” who love to meet new people, build relationships, and create conversations, both in “real life” and on social media. But many sales people, without realizing it, are making some big mistakes with their business networking.
Business networking is one of the sales person’s oldest tools. We use our network of relationships and contacts to get in touch with decision makers, get advice, and get connected with new opportunities. But if you’re making some of these networking mistakes, you might not be reaching your full potential as a sales professional.
Here are a few of the most common networking mistakes – and how to avoid them:
Mistake #1: Networking without a strategy. Building relationships is a long-term activity. You can’t just expect to run out and immediately find the contacts or opportunities you’re looking for without investing some time and effort. Just as you would develop a marketing plan or a sales strategy to land a big client, spend some time mapping out some short-term and long-term goals for your sales networking.
How to avoid: Spend some time asking (and answering) some “big questions” that can guide your networking activity. For example, who are you trying to meet? Which types of companies would you love to get connected with? Who do you already know who works at these companies or knows some of these higher-level people, and how can you strengthen your relationships with your existing circle of influence?
Mistake #2: Networking only to “get,” never to “give.” Too many sales people only look at networking as a way to get what they want. Too many sales people only network in order to get closer to a decision maker, or get their foot in the door at a company where they’re trying to make a sale, or to get in front of someone who might offer them a new job. This is the biggest networking mistake of all. If people feel that you are in it only for yourself, they will be reluctant to trust you or help you. Networking is a two-way street – and some of the most successful sales people are also the most generous with their time and with their contacts.
How to avoid: When networking, always look for opportunities to “give” more than you “get.” Examples of “giving” might be as simple as sharing a timely article about a prospect’s business or industry, or connecting a contact with an opportunity that is valuable to them (even if it is unrelated to your business). Your generosity might not always be rewarded immediately, but in the long run you will build a reputation as someone who can be trusted, and someone who is willing to help others and connect others with opportunities.
Mistake #3: Networking only with the “usual suspects.” Especially if you sell a complex B2B solution, it can be understandably tempting to spend most of your time focused on networking with people in your niche market. But if you spend all of your time connecting only with a small circle of people, you might miss out on opportunities that could come from connecting with people from other facets of your life.
How to avoid: Remember that everyone you know, and everyone they know, can potentially be a valuable contact for you. Take a look at all of your social circles – work, family, community activities, social organizations – and see how you can become more of a connector. Someone you know from church or from your kids’ school might have a friend or relative who works in a business that needs your help.
Networking is the constant, never-ending work of the sales professional. Sometimes networking feels like trying to navigate a maze – lots of blind corners and uncertainty and wrong turns. But at its best, networking is not a maze, it’s a safety net. One of the comforting truths about networking is that we are all supported by our own “safety nets” of contacts and all of their combined expertise, experience and relationships. If sales people can learn to network with planning and purpose (instead of just impulsively grasping around with no sense of direction), if sales people can learn to broaden their networks and connect other people within their networks (instead of only talking to the “usual suspects”), and if sales people can use networking as a way to deepen their relationships and build trust (rather than only trying to get what they need), networking will become a more purposeful and helpful tool – and a better way to operate as a sales professional.