Here we are, deep in the throes of a global pandemic that threatens the existence of almost every business. Maybe not the juggernauts, but you get the idea. Covid 19 has changed every single part of the business world. From how businesses sell to the goods and services they produce, the crisis has turned the business world on its head. From a non-business sense, we are seeing fewer and fewer people in face-to-face environments. Our kids, some of them, maybe going to school virtually. Hell, even movies are being released in theaters AND streaming services on the same day. Everything has changed.
So, how have we discovered to innovate? How have businesses continued to bring in customers, both new and old? Networking! Don’t roll your eyes, because I can almost guarantee that this entry will not go as you think it will, as I’m going to be critical of some things, groups, and people. In a time in our lives when everyone is networking constantly, and most virtually, so many of them are doing it entirely wrong.
I have had a love-hate relationship with networking. I never really had to network until I started selling a product door to door, working commission only. It was a small family-owned company, and I learned an absolute ton from them, not just in a sales role. This was early in my sales career, like very early, so to say I was green around the gills would be the world’s biggest understatement. I was told “Kyle, you need to network! We want you to go to these groups and meet people. Referrals are a great stream of business,” said my sales manager, who is also an entrepreneur, himself. So I did. I had no clue what I was doing and felt out of my element. Fast forward to now, and I am insanely in my element at these types of functions.
So there I am. I walk into a country club at a time so early in the morning it was ridiculous, and I attended my very first networking event. I hated it. It left a horrifically sour taste in my mouth, so bad that I very rarely tell ANYONE, client or not, to go to any of these specific groups, as I have not seen a single positive thing about these groups. From the annual fees that must be paid to the rules, I found them clique-like, confrontational, closed off from outsiders, and poorly run. Now, is there a benefit to them? Of course, there is, I just feel that there is a greater benefit if you concentrate your networking skills towards other areas.
I attended a few of these events during my time, with various big-name groups and various chapters. Not one went well. I remember sitting at one where a new guy came in who was selling solar panels. He said that he would offer a free something or other as part of the referral bonus. Out of nowhere, the guy next to me stands up and very angrily goes “No! Stop! You can’t do that! That is against the rules! We don’t need to be incentivized to give referrals! Knock it off or leave!” I was stunned, and so was the solar panel guy. I refused to go back, and the solar panel guy did as well. I attended a few of these chapters in various positions. I liked, generally speaking, most of the people in the groups, at face value, so I had no problem when a manager would tell me to go.
I attended an event at a local rooftop bar in my town and there were a few of the people there who were in one of these groups. I went up and said hello to one gentleman whom I liked from the group and he responded with an eye roll and said “Great, what are you hawking now?” I was irate. What an unprofessional thing to say, especially when I gave this guy quite a few referrals. That brings me to another thing. I gave plenty of referrals to people and saw absolutely nothing in return. Not a single referral was given back. I would sit in these groups and listen to the people I gave referrals to that they closed, talk about how they needed somebody that did what I did, but ultimately gave it to somebody else.
This is one of my largest problems with networking in a general sense, it mostly takes and very little give. If you come to me and you send me business, you. Better believe I will do EVERYTHING I can to bring business to you. It is, quite simply, returning the favor. I don’t ever take it lightly when somebody has enough faith in what I do to stake their reputation and send me someone else’s business. That is a big deal. If you want networking to work, I mean truly work, no matter how you choose to network, you absolutely must be willing to give as much as you receive. If you aren’t seeing a return on your networking efforts, you are either doing it the wrong way or are not giving enough. Ask any business that I partner with, I send business every chance I get. If you aren’t sending anything in return, I will send that business to a person who appreciates it.
Let’s talk about another networking horror story. One day, a sales manager said “Kyle, I need you to go down here and be there at 6 AM. I got us into a Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast and you have to be there. It was really hard for us to get into.” Sure thing boss. So I woke up at 430 and drove way out of my way to be there by six. I introduced myself, eager and ready to go, only to be told by people that they only work with a coworker of mine. Not just one or two people said this. They ALL said this. Every single one. Some even got angry that I was there. “I don’t know why you are even here; we only work with (coworkers name). Enjoy your breakfast.” Talk about frustrating! That’s how intense things were in these networking groups.
I want to take a moment here and discuss the coworker. I will never mention this coworker by name or gender, because for a few reasons. One is anonymity. This coworker was a teacher of sorts with whom so many people had very bad experiences. People left the company altogether because of this person. This person was disliked by many more than they were liked by. I can’t even tell you how many times I encountered customers of this coworker who blatantly stated their absolute disdain for this person and how they conducted business. This coworker, however, was an absolute Rockstar when it came to numbers. Almost always at the very top of every list, this person made a boatload of sales. They were very quantity over quality and were vocal about it. The sale ends when the contract is signed. Anything that happens after that, good or bad, wasn’t their problem. I was even asked to speak in multiple classes about my experience with this person because they were so insanely toxic, that actual case studies were done on the behavior and narcissism. This person routinely pops up to look at my profile on social media platforms in “private” mode, even though I can clearly see who it is, and often still asks people in former jobs about me. I will be making an entry on the toxic top performer in the coming weeks, but for now, I just wanted to mention that caveat.
So what networking works? How do we network if we don’t go to these groups? The answer is simple. You do it yourself! You make as much effort as possible to talk to as many people as possible every chance you get. You flat out ask somebody what they do. Ask them what their ideal customer looks like. Tell them what you do, and how YOU can help THEM, not how they can help you. Show them what you can bring to them. Don’t turn down any conversation at all. You never know who could bring you business and vice versa.
SOCIAL MEDIA HAS BEEN A NETWORKING GODSEND! Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Clubhouse, all have been awesome for networking. You can join groups based on your interests and can easily interact with so many people. Utilize this, especially in this virtual environment. I can’t even begin to tell you how much of my business comes from Facebook networking groups. It has been astounding.
Get out there and meet people. Turn your screen on, and take an hour a day, or half-hour, and peruse the pages while messaging everyone you can and commenting on everything you can. This will pay out more than you have any idea. Just GO DO IT!