Don't Jump the Gun When Networking

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Published January 11, 2013

| FOXBusiness

Have you ever been a victim of “Premature Solicitation?”

It happens when someone you don’t even know solicits you for a referral or business, and – unfortunately – this phenomenon is far too common in today’s business world.

It’s never been so easy to “connect” with people. You can easily become contacts on LinkedIn – even circumventing the weak safeguards the program has in place to make sure you actually know every one of your contacts. So many people in business have a Facebook personal profile and often a Facebook business page – and on this platform, the more “friends” or “fans,” the better. What this means, however, is that you may have only the most vague of relationships with your social media contacts – and sometimes that relationship consists of nothing more than being connected to one another’s profiles!

There are also more opportunities to meet business people in person. Between organized networking functions, Chambers of Commerce, industry meetings, and civic organizations such as Kiwanis, Lions, etc., you can literally attend a different function every day, meeting so many people that they remain barely more than a name on a quickly passed business card.

Because of this, most people are ripe to receive a “premature solicitation” from these contacts.  I’ve been a victim of this very thing many times. I was recently speaking at a business networking event, and, before my presentation, a man came up to me and said:

“Hi, it is a real pleasure to meet you. I understand you know Richard Branson. I offer specialized marketing services and I am sure his Virgin enterprises could benefit from what I provide. Could you please introduce me to him so that I can show him how this would assist his companies?”

Here’s what was going on inside my head:

“Are you completely insane? I’m going to introduce you, someone I don’t know and don’t have any relationship with, to Sir Richard, whom I’ve only met a few times, so that you can proceed to attempt to sell him a product or service that I don’t know anything about and haven’t used myself? Yeah, right. That’s NEVER going to happen.”

I am pleased to report that with much effort I was able to keep that little monologue inside my own head, opting instead for a much more subtle response.

I replied, “Hi, I’m Ivan, I’m sorry – I don’t think we’ve met before. What was your name again?”

That surprised the man enough to make him realize that his “solicitation” might have been a bit “premature.” I explained that I regularly refer people to my contacts, but I do so only after I’ve established a long-term, strong relationship with the service provider first. He said thanks and moved on to his next victim.

What was even more amazing to me was that a few months later I blogged about my experience on one of my favorite online social networks. A great dialogue ensued with most people sharing their horror stories and frustrations about people who pounce on them at networking meetings asking for business even though they’ve never met the person before.

However, every time I start to think this is an almost universal feeling of distaste for that approach to networking, I am brought back to reality by the minority of people who still think that this is actually a good networking technique. To my astonishment, a man on the forum actually wrote:

“I don’t happen to believe that you need a relationship with the person you are asking first. What you must have is a compelling story or product/service that would genuinely benefit the referral. The fact that you had not cultivated a relationship with the person has become irrelevant, because, more importantly, you had been in a position to help [your contact] benefit from the introduction. If it’s of genuine benefit to the person being referred, I don’t see the problem. It’s about the benefit of what’s being referred rather than the relationship with the person asking for the referral.”

And he finished this astonishing point of view with:

“Who am I to deny my contacts something good?”

Wow. What can I say? The “relationship” is irrelevant! All you have to have is a good story, product, or service and I owe it to you or any stranger (who says he or she has a good product) to introduce him or her to a good contact of mine! Really? People really think this way!?

According to this writer, it doesn’t matter if I actually know or trust the person wanting the business. As long as the person has a good product (or so he says), I should refer that person because I would otherwise “deny” my contacts “something good!”

I absolutely disagree with this. You need to build the relationship to a certain level before you can expect to simply ask for them to make their valuable, carefully developed close contact lists available to you – as a new or very casual acquaintance.

I would ask anyone interested in business networking to keep the following in mind:

1.      Networking is not about hunting. It is not about one-shot meetings.

2.      Networking is about farming. It’s about cultivating relationships.

3.      Don’t be a “premature solicitor.”

You’ll be a better networker – and a more successful business person – if you remember these points.

Called the "father of modern networking" by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author.  He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI (www.BNI.com), the world's largest business networking organization.  His book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com.  Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute (www.ReferralInstitue.com), an international referral training company.

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http://smallbusiness.foxbusiness.com/entrepreneurs/2013/01/11/dont-jump-gun-when-networking/