Do you have a strong network? Most of our best clients come as introductions from others, so perhaps what we need are more of the “others” to help us. A renewed focus on connecting and building a strong network may be just what we need to build a growing pipeline of new business.

Connecting with others, however, is often dismissed or not top of mind. We have a tendency to brush off the importance of our ability to connect and create relationships as a key contributor and explanation for business success.

For the book, “The Connectors,” I interviewed hundreds of highly successful professionals to find out the tactics of how they create better business relationships and the important characteristics they possess. When we break down the characteristics that extraordinary business people possess, many of them are what we may consider to be some of the obvious enviable traits: persistence, drive, hard work, intelligence, ability to generate new ideas, affinity for change, and a “never take no for an answer” mindset.  However, the key characteristic that stands above the others in importance is an individual’s particular ability to connect with others and form many meaningful business relationships.  Formal or informal networking was found to be a critical tactic in forming more powerful business relationships.

In general, networking to increase sales quickly can often be a frustrating undertaking. Advisors will join their local chamber of commerce or a business networking group and are initially excited about the prospects. But the unfortunate reality is that it often doesn’t live up to expectations, so we quit and look for another way to drive sales to our business. But, there are principles of networking that do work and that are often contrary to what we may believe about networking.

In an interview I conducted with Ivan Misner, the founder of the networking group BNI, he said that when training people to network, they start by telling them, “Stop networking!”  In other words, the goal isn’t to be the winner of the most business cards received at an event, as that may just give you more cold prospecting and follow-up to do after an event.

The focus of networking also should not be on gaining an immediate sale from the people you meet. That almost never works. Instead, success comes from focusing on building a referral relationship—one that turns into a referral connection serving as a conduit to other customers. The goal is to build a mutually beneficial relationship with someone who may never even buy your product or service. “If your focus is the immediate sale, you’re going to miss a lot of future opportunities,” Misner said.

Many of the most successful people I’ve spoken with are incredibly skilled at networking, but not in the way that I thought of networking. It is more about a mindset formed around what you will accomplish while networking. If you build a relationship with someone, they could become a great advocate for you. So, it’s really not about the people you meet in your networking activities—it’s about who they know. It’s about building a relationship based on trust and credibility and having your advocates do the selling for you.

In summary, the goal of contrarian networking is to build a mutually beneficial relationship with a potential advocate, not someone who is a potential client.  A novel idea—and one that really works!