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Networking mistakes to avoid

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” — Peter Drucker

I was recently at a networking event for small to medium businesses where I overheard one of the participants grumbling about how the organisers had not delivered on their promise. Apparently, this company had paid to bring in some products to exhibit at the event. Unfortunately, because of the layout of the venue, they were not able to place their exhibition table in the front of the sitting area, where more people were likely to see their products. Instead, they were allocated some space in a corner far away from the main sitting area.

Their complaint was therefore reasonable. Really?

Not until you understand the purpose of networking.

It is common to see people dishing out business cards, flyers or brochures to every person at a networking event. One hopes that some of the people will contact them and place orders for their products and services.

That could work if you are supplying a highly sought after product and you are the only one in the market. However, in real life, that is extremely rare. Every product or service has scores of other people supplying it. Therefore, a person will rarely buy from you just because they received your business card at a networking event.

People buy things from people they know, like and trust (KLT). Always remember KLT. You buy groceries from TM or OK, or clothes from Edgars because you know them, you like the store and you trust the establishment. In personal selling, the secret to getting the sale is to build the KLT. A person must know you first, then like you and trust you. If the person you give a business card to does not know, like and trust you, it is very unlikely that they will do business with you.

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The purpose of networking is not to sell something or ask for favours. It is for building relationships which, when well-nurtured, can turn into business relationships.

Here are three common mistakes that you should avoid making when networking:

Stop trying to take before you give

The goal of networking is to connect with people who can help you make a sale, get a referral, establish a contact, etc. When we network, we want something. However, forget about what you can get and focus on what you can provide. Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship. When you network, it should be all about them, not you.

Stop thinking other people should care about your needs Maybe you are desperate. Maybe partnering with a major player in your industry could instantly transform red ink into black. No one cares. No one should care. Those are your problems. Those are your needs. Never expect other people to respond to your needs. Other people may sympathise . . . but helping you is not their responsibility. The only way to get help is to help others first. Ask what they need. Ask what could help them. Care about other people first; then, and only then, will other people genuinely care back.

Do not take the shotgun approach

Some people network with anyone and everyone, tossing out business cards and connection requests like confetti. Networking is not a numbers game. Find someone you can help, determine whether they might (someday) be able to help you, and then approach them on your own terms. Always select the people you want to network with. Moreover, keep your list relatively small, because there is no way to build meaningful connections with dozens, much less hundreds of people.

Do not assume tools create connections
Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and LinkedIn connections are great — if those connections are in some way active and engaged. However, in all likelihood your Twitter followers are not reading your tweets. Your Facebook friends rarely visit your page. Your LinkedIn connections are not constantly scanning for your updates. Tools provide a convenient way to establish connections, but to maintain those connections you still have to put in the work.

Do not reach too high
If your company provides mobile application services, establishing a connection with Strive Masiyiwa would be great. Or say, you need seed capital — hooking up with Shingi Mutasa would be awesome. Great, awesome, and almost impossible. The best connections are mutually beneficial. Take me. What can I offer Masiyiwa or Mutasa? Not much. So what is in it for them? Nothing. We all must earn the right to connect — and that means finding people who can benefit from our knowledge, insight, or connections. Those are the best connections of all — and the only ones that truly matter.

Next time you are attending a networking event, remember, no one is there to buy from you. They need to know you, like you and trust you first.

Please feel free to email me your thoughts. Until next week, keep on accelerating your growth.

l Phillip Chichoni is a business development consultant who works with SMEs and entrepreneurs. You may contact him by email, chichonip@smebusinesslink.com. You can also visit http://smebusinesslink.com

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