Attended a session today on networking skills.
I wanted to test whether my understanding of networking was the same as most other people. So it is only fair to say what I believe:
- Networking is not about selling.
- Networking is not about building your profile.
- Networking is not about gathering as many leads as possible.
IMHO, networking should be about giving as much as you can. You attend these functions to meet other people – and try and help them as much as you reasonably can – if not at that moment, down the track. (Assuming of course they are worthy of your referral.) I believe the more you give, the more you will get in return. But here is the catch: you can not do so with the expectation of getting it back. (There is fine line between knowing you will get something back and expecting it.]
To be fair to the presenter and this particular model, it was pretty close. Selling and lead-gathering was suitably de-emphasized. The whole approach was one of the least cynical I have come across.
But the mere fact that people are trained not to sell to their immediate network, but rather to seek referrals with those 1, 2, or 3 steps removed, and the fact that you are trained to do so only once there is a certain level of trust, does not justify the active seeking of referrals.
There is no problem asking for a referral from anyone. Being in sales myself, I fully appreciate the value of a warm lead.
I only have a problem with people attending functions and socialising with specific people with the express purpose of ‘building a relationship’ to be exploited at a future date. A relationship that is built on this foundation can never be an authentic or meaningful relationship.
Is networking acceptable if both parties willingly and knowingly enter into the ‘relationship’ based on its network value? I suppose that it is – but then it is a tacit commercial agreement; just don’t call it a relationship. Relationships have intrinsic value, and are not built on the basis of its potential commercial gain – albeit a few degrees removed. That does not make it any better – it just disguised it better and makes it more palatable. (A donkey dropping coated in sugar is still a donkey dropping, don’t try and pass it off as a fig.)
So let’s stop the bullshit. Ask for a lead if you have to or want to. But don’t pretend to care about a relationship which exists expressly for your personal gain.