Salespeople are funny – real funny.

Especially those in the financial services industry. (Financial advisors are particularly hysterical.)

Why? Because even after completing a program where they’re primed on the rules of networking, many forget (or somehow haven’t yet realized) that networking and selling are two completely different things. Then again, maybe it’s me.

Here is one question an advisor sent me after a lot of back and forth via email and several coaching sessions on the concept of networking. It’s a question I get a lot in my networking seminars – usually from the funny ones who struggle with networking.

“The last few days, I have been introduced to people along the way,” this advisor began. “Sometimes it is only an hour lunch or over drinks. More often than not, I try to create an impression. I look them up on Facebook and email them. The conversation doesn’t seem to go anywhere until I find a hobby or something in common personally or professionally. How do you suggest I continue to touch base and try to secure a selling appointment?”

So what’s the joke? Financial advisors are notorious for looking for ways to transform a networking situation into a selling situation. (A buying situation is something else.) Isn’t this the exact stereotype and expectation that people have when they encounter financial advisors – uh oh, what are you going to sell me?

Here’s the punch line: Networking is about learning from and potentially helping people – not setting up sales appointments or creating an opportunity to sell a product or service.

But seriously, folks – given the questions above, here are some not-so-funny reminders of what to ask yourself to keep contacts you meet from laughing at you rather than with you.

‘What is the purpose of the introduction?’

The purpose of the introduction sets the tone for the whole conversation. Think about it: If a friend introduces you to someone because you both like to play golf, it’s much different than if you were introduced to someone who’s in the market for life insurance.

I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t transition the conversation from your favorite golf course to business. Naturally you can. But there is a right way and a wrong way to make that transition.

  • The wrong way: “So, do you have a financial advisor? Do you have life insurance?”
  • The right way: “What kind of work do you do? How did you get into that line of work?”

I have found that the best conversations are always about the other person – not about you. Since you brought up work, they may very well ask about your line of work (because you established a different tone), which is great. Then, you can tell them about the type of work you do and with whom. Much different, right?

‘What impression are you looking to create?’

Do you want to be known as that pushy financial advisor with the one-track mind? That’s a good way to embarrass your friend. It’s also a great way to make a bad impression and become less referable (and less likeable). If you make a good impression by showing interest in other people and having an array of interesting topics to discuss, you’re on your way to referability and perhaps making a friend. You might just be asked to become part of a foursome on that course you’ve always wanted to play on and make a few more connections while you’re at it.

‘Why are you looking them up on Facebook?’

Facebook can be fun, but it’s really not the social networking tool of choice when it comes to business. LinkedIn is the way business people stay in touch and meet others via the Web.

Currently, there are over 60 million users on LinkedIn – and counting. You may not want to use LinkedIn to let the world know that you’re flying a kite or throwing starfish in the water, but it’s a great way to post things of value that are educational not usually promotional, participate in online groups that are like minded, and expand your business network.

Financial services professionals don’t really use LinkedIn the way it’s meant to be, thanks to compliance regulations (depending on your firm). But I predict that in a year or so, regulations will be put in place and LinkedIn (as well as Twitter and some other social media) will be used as an important industry marketing tool.

‘What’s the best way to follow up and stay in touch?’

Just ask! After meeting someone and (hopefully) having a good conversation about golf, tax shelter options, shelf paper, whatever, simply ask if you can follow up (after connecting with them on LinkedIn) and set up a meeting to learn more about how you might be a business resource to one another. Or refer each other business if you’re both in sales.

Now, this might not be a “selling appointment,” but it is an opportunity to build a relationship and potentially help each other out. Isn’t that what networking is all about? This could very well turn into many sales opportunities down the road.

By the way, these are the same questions and insights I sent back to the advisor who was looking to secure a selling appointment. Well, he sold me. I hope he got the joke.

Michael Goldberg is a speaker, author, consultant and the founder of Building Blocks Consulting.For more information or to subscribe to Michael’s free online newsletter and blog The Building Blocks to Success please visit www.NetworkingForProducers.com or www.TheBuildingBlockstoSuccess.com.