The word “networking” has become laden with negative associations. It’s no wonder considering some of the tactics people use, from the time-wasting to the downright obnoxious.
Yet we know there is immense value in networking. We just need to redefine it. The world has changed dramatically, and networking needs to catch up.
Many people still approach networking from a, “What can you do for me?” perspective. Call it Networking 1.0.
Then there’s the more evolved form of networking–Networking 2.0–which espouses asking “What can I do for you?”…of someone you’ve just met. Both approaches, as we all know by now, are fraught with pitfalls.
Enter Networking 3.0.
Rather than networking to directly benefit yourself (1.0), or a total stranger (2.0), the idea here is to network solely for the benefit of your best existing clients and colleagues.
In theory, it’s all about what you can do for them, and how you can add more value to your relationships with them. In practice, it involves finding prospective clients for the people in your existing network and connecting them with remarkable people. In essence, you’re becoming a part of their business development team, and a valuable resource for just about anything.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds.
Let’s look at how this works in the context of that most time-honored ritual – the traditional networking event.
I would introduce myself as a financial advisor (which I am), throw a few perfunctory pleasantries into the conversation, and likely get to the inevitable, “I don’t need a financial advisor right now, because a) I already have one, b) <insert random change of subject>, or c) I’m saving my money to buy a house.
All three are dead ends, right?
Not at all. That last one is gold. Having a real estate agent in my network, I can then say, “I have a great real estate agent I can recommend,” and thus potentially add value in several ways:
- I could make a connection for someone in my network (client or otherwise), which would at the very least reinforce the value I bring to our relationship.
- If the real estate agent I recommended gets a new client, I was the catalyst. If the house-hunter ends up buying her dream house, I helped make that happen.
- The sooner she buys the house, the sooner she’ll be in a position to start investing her money (hopefully with me), since I helped pave the way to that house.
This type of interaction is low-risk and potentially very high-reward.
Unlike the 2.0 scenario, you are not referring someone you just met to one of your best clients. In fact, it’s just the opposite: You are flipping the paradigm and referring your client. Even if the referral doesn’t pan out, your client will appreciate the thought. If it does, you will have sent some new business your client’s way, and added real value.
Change Your Approach
Doing this requires a good store of information. You can start compiling one by reaching out to select clients to learn more about their businesses and their personal lives. Initially, I focused on the clients whose businesses I believed I could most effectively identify opportunities for. I’d encourage you to do the same.
While I obviously knew what my clients did for a living, I did not necessarily know how to identify resources, opportunities, or connections for them. What you see on a business card, website or incorporation documents does not tell a business’s full story. So, the purpose of these initial conversations is to get information that you can use to figure out ways to add value for them.
The most effective way to tease this information out is to better understand their “triggering events”; that is, events that are not related to their business in an obvious way, but that create circumstances in which they might be able to provide a solution.
For me, an example of a triggering event would be someone having a baby. People tend to become more motivated about and concerned with financial planning when they have a child–and I’m a financial advisor. The baby opens the door.
Going through this exercise with your clients will make you look like a hero, even if nothing else comes out of the meeting, because you will have unlocked deeper understanding and better communication. They need to understand that while you know they are a consultant or a government contractor, you aren’t necessarily sure what that means in terms of identifying potential clients for them. Here are some questions you can ask to get greater clarity:
- What is the role of the person who typically hires you?
- What problem(s) are they primarily looking to solve that you can help with?
- What is the size (employees and revenue) of your ideal client?
- What are some of their triggering events?
There are many others, but this should get you started.
Networking 3.0 opportunities present themselves online all the time. Finding them can simply be a matter of increasing your awareness of the concerns that people express on social platforms every day.
Once you know the key triggers that can lead to potential new business for your clients, create a list on Twitter and set up Google Alerts for these keywords. You’ll be amazed how often people have a problem that you can help solve by simply making a suggestion or an introduction. And you’ll be even more amazed at how much people appreciate it when someone helps them with no personal agenda in their back pocket.
Do you proactively represent your best clients and professional relationships online? I’d love to hear what’s working for you.