As people realize we like them and respect their opinions, they share information about themselves that can be helpful in analyzing whether they can use our products or services.
So says Canadian businessman Michael J. Hughes, who is known as “THE Networking Guru.” Hughes runs a highly successful Ottawa, Ontario-based consulting business that works with Fortune 500 companies and international associations across North America.
The most interesting thing about Hughes’ business? He built it using networking as his sole marketing vehicle.
Networking is simply one of the most important activities in which professionals engage. As Hughes says, the opportunity to create, nurture and develop relationships is one of the most rewarding processes of human activity. If we capitalize on networking opportunities properly, they can be quite profitable for us while making the world a better place for everyone else.
The problem with networking is that too many professionals don’t do it very well. What’s worse is that some people are terribly intimidated by the process.
That’s where Hughes comes in. He breaks networking encounters into six logical steps. To succeed in networking, you need to master all parts of the process:
1. The first five seconds
2. The next 20 seconds
3. The next two minutes
4. The last five seconds
5. The next 24 hours to seven days
6. The final outcome
At the beginning of the networking encounter, Hughes believes the key is to make your discussion partner comfortable. After all, most people are stressed by networking events. You will make a great impression if you take charge, smile, listen carefully and “pretend you’re the host.”
In the next 20 seconds, the key is to build rapport and make your networking partner feel “safe.” Active listening is crucial, because “wanting to know more about a person is one of the biggest compliments we can pay,” Hughes says.
The most important part of the networking process occurs in the next two minutes. Hughes says this is where the real test occurs for both partners. The more you structure the discussion around your partner, the more earnest interest you show in him or her, the more you develop trust.
Once you have trust, your discussion partner is open to your ideas. This is when you present your message, your unique selling point. But don’t get preachy, because as Hughes says, “the objective of networking is to create a relationship, not make a presentation.” The value comes over time.
Trust is especially important if the purpose of your networking efforts is ultimately to make a sale and land a deal. “Selling is a people business, not a product business,” Hughes says. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
When the networking encounter is coming to an end, Hughes recommends you take control in order to transition out of the conversation and help the person bridge to another conversation. In the last five seconds, try to create an opportunity. An offer to keep in touch or a scheduled appointment makes the conversation much more productive.
Finally, be sure to thank the other person for conversing with you and for giving you their precious time.
Lest you think you are done, remember that networking is a process. Follow up with the person or you will eventually be forgotten. That kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Find a legitimate reason – one that benefits the other person – to stay in contact. Not only does follow-up keep you front-of-mind, it makes an impression in other ways. After all, “following through on commitments and promises goes against the grain of how the world works today,” Hughes says. In other words, you will shock people if you’re one of those rare professionals who actually returns email and voice mail messages.
When it’s all said and done, good networking can lead to career-long relationships. This means you might take care of clients together, create referral opportunities and find complementary products. Gaining exposure to others’ networks will increase your opportunities.
By the way, if you would like to learn more about Michael Hughes, go to NetworkingForResults.com.