Networking events are great for expanding the circle of people who you can learn from and who may be able to help you in the future. But treating a networking event as a sales seminar, or expecting favors from other people at the event, can lead to disaster.
Here are five things you should never do at business networking event.
1. Sell your products and services
Networking is about meeting people with a focus on learning from them and potentially helping them if and when you can. NOT pitching your products and services. The “helping them if you can” part may take some time. Remember, you’re just getting to know the people you meet! Take a few notes, ask a few questions and offer a few ideas. Follow up with them if you feel a good connection and start to develop a relationship. If they like you, they’ll help you right back. That’s the way it works.
2. Add those you meet to your newsletter or blog
Having someone hand you their business card is NOT the same thing as requesting to be on your newsletter, blog or email blast list. But how many times has this happened to you? Or, how many times have you just added people to your list? One word: spam. Adding people to your list without permission is presumptuous and comes across as salesy. (If you’re reading this and don’t remember signing up for my blog on your own, it wasn’t me. Just saying.)
When you’re at an event and exchange cards, if they’re interested in learning about what you do and the value you add, ask them if they would be interested in receiving your blog or newsletter. Once they give you permission (I think they call that permission marketing!), write it down on their business card and have at it. Now you come across as adding value, they appreciate the offer, and they’re less likely to unsubscribe from your list.
3. Dominate the conversation
Conversations should be a two-way street. I talk, you talk. Depending on your communication style, the exchange should be close to a 50-50 proposition. If there are more than two people in the conversation, then do the math. Even if the timing doesn’t work out just right, the conversation should still feel collaborative. Although I’m outgoing and love to talk to interesting people, if I feel someone is much more interested in talking about themselves than learning more about me and how we might potentially help one another, I shut down. I’m simply done with you.
That said, if I think there’s value and the person that’s chatting me up is just excited about something specific (a brand new client, a new business, a fun day, a great connection, a new watch, their kid being accepted to college, overcoming an illness, just meeting a celebrity, etc.), well, there are exceptions. Use your best judgment; the bottom line is, when meeting others for the first time, you want to feel good about them (and good about yourself). One of the best ways is to feel that conversations are mutually beneficial. Unless, of course, you want to brag about that new watch.
4. Ask others to promote your event through an email blast
Awkward. How many times have you met someone at an event and they want you to promote a workshop, seminar or event on their behalf? It’s a difficult situation to be in. And it’s awkward sometimes, even if you know them. If you’ve participated in someone’s event and it’s tremendous, you’ll want to invite others for their benefit. But to put someone on the spot by asking them to send a general announcement out with your endorsement may come across as pushy. Sure, arrangements and exceptions can be made, but it has to feel right. Best to ask someone to pick and choose specific people that would be a fit for the event rather than put someone in a position to blast an announcement through email, blog or social media. Common theme — think relationship first.
5. Over promise and under deliver
You meet all kinds of characters when attending events. Those looking to sell their products and services, social butterflies, business card exchangers, close talkers, those looking for “dates” and the like. Then there are those looking to do the right thing and focus on helping others succeed in their business. Good stuff! One of the most common things I hear is go to my LinkedIn database once we connect and let me know who you want to meet and I’ll introduce you. Heart might be in the right place but, again, relationships happen at the speed of trust. It should take time to develop a relationship before having others pick and choose who they want to meet. This is just one form of over promising and potentially under delivering. Other forms might include mentioning big clients that you’re willing to offer as introductions, important information that you’re willing to provide, or business opportunities that may never develop. Take it slow, get to know one another over time, follow up, stay in touch, and see what happens.
Networking, like so many things, is a process, not an event. Don’t make the mistake of jumping the gun and making things happen too quickly. The best way to develop a relationship (assuming you “click” in the first place) is to be interested in them, offer help, follow through, follow up, and have a mechanism for staying in touch for the long haul.
If all else fails, just add them to your blog!
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