To some people, ‘networking’ is a dirty word. They cringe when thinking about going to a networking event. The reason for that is that most people do it wrong.

I was at a large networking event with more than five hundred people a few years ago. When I went up to do my presentation I began by asking the audience: “How many of you came here today hoping to do a little business–maybe make a sale?”  The overwhelming majority of the people in the audience raised their hands. I then asked, “How many of you are here today hoping to buy something?” 

No one raised a hand–not one single person! 

This is the networking disconnect.

If you are going to networking events hoping to sell something, you’re dreaming. Don’t confuse direct selling with networking. Effective networking is about developing relationships. I know, I know . . . there’s always someone out there who says, “But, Ivan, I’ve made a sale by attending a networking event!”  OK . . . I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen–it does.  I’m just saying it happens about as often as a solar eclipse. Face it, even a blind squirrel can find a nut. Any businessperson can stumble on some business at a networking meeting from time to time. However, when you have most of the people at an event trying to sell and virtually no one there to buy, you’re crazy if you think the odds are in your favor to “sell” at a networking event.

So why go? You go because networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about developing relationships with other business professionals. Sometimes you go to a networking event to increase your visibility, sometimes you go to establish further credibility with people you know, and sometimes you may even go to meet a long-time referral partner and do some business and move to profitability. In any case, the true master networkers know that networking events are about moving through the VCP Process and not about closing deals.

The question then is – how do you avoid getting into the “networking disconnect” trap when attending networking events?  Here are four things you can do to avoid that mistake:

No. 1: Networking is not about a transaction, it’s about a relationship. It works best when you’re striving to make connections that lead to professional contacts.  It doesn’t work well when you’re attending a meeting just to make a sale.  The root word of ‘relationship’ is – ‘relate.’  So, relate to them.  Start to establish a connection whenever possible.

No. 2: Become a good interviewer. When you meet people for the first time, learn how to ask questions that get people to talk about their business. Be flexible, don’t just use a script but start with some questions in mind and go with the flow. Ask them about their target market, what they like most about what they do, what’s new in their industry, what are some of their challenges in that business, what got them in that profession and what they like most about the business. 

No. 3: Diversity is an important key to building a power personal network. Seek out people from diverse backgrounds. You never know who people know. One of the biggest referrals that I once saw came from a cosmetics consultant who referred a client’s husband to a commercial graphic design company. The referral was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The irony was that neither the husband nor the graphic design company thought that the cosmetic’s consultant had the kind of contacts that would put them together. They happily discovered the error of their ways.

No. 4: When you meet people at networking events that you want to get to know better. Set up a time to do a one-to-one with them later.  Remember – this should not be used as an opportunity to ‘sell’ to them. It should be used as an opportunity to start a business relationship.  When you ask for the one-to-one, do so by telling them that you want to learn more about what they do and how you might be able to help them. Of course, I know that you want them to help you – that’s important. However, the best way to build a relationship with someone is to find ways to help the other person first. It’s counterintuitive – but it works.

People who have had bad experiences with networking are generally victims of the ‘networking disconnect.’  I believe that this ‘disconnect’ is what gives the word; ‘networking’ a bad name.  But it doesn’t have to be a bad experience. It can be positive if the networking is about the relationship and not about the transaction.

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, 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, an international referral training company.