As was the case with The Great Debate: Quality vs. Volume, once again, I’m in the minority (see Pump Up the Volume). I don't find networking to be an effective way for "sales" professionals to exceed their goals. For that reason, I almost never attend networking events. On the rare occasion when I do, I’m normally there to support the person or the friend of the person who is hosting the event.So, since I believe real networking (not the plastic stuff at 'networking events') is the best way to go, I'll do my best to answer Doyle:
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a lot of nice people and built some good friendships at networking events, but when I’m looking for results… when I’m looking to exceed quota… I get on the phone! Cold calling and pipeline management… that’s the key to sales success!
If I’m going to meet new people at a networking event, I’m looking for people who are big thinkers. Maybe I’ll meet someone who I can collaborate with at some point in the future… But let’s be clear… At this point, I don’t want to sell them anything, and I’m not in the buying mood. Lastly, I’m not looking for an opportunity to get together for coffee. No offense, but I don’t have time for that. The truth is… I don’t drink coffee (smile).
There is another very important fact that has shaped my disbelief in networking. Almost every team I have worked with has members who are attracted to the networking scene. None of those individuals were ever outstanding producers. Most of them struggled to even meet expectations.
Is there a step-by-step formula for those who love networking to produce “superstar” results?
Know your primary market and Interest group. You can discern this often from your best current clients (who may provide introductions to Step 2).
Join relevant associations and groups where your current clients and their peers hang out.
Actively engage and contribute to the group and support the individual members without worrying about return. This is not a quick hit game (though results can occur surprisingly rapidly when you let go of the urgency). Follow the principals sharing, respect, and contribution.
Reap the rewards. This occurs in two ways. One, people will invite you to do business with them or offer referrals as part of the principal of reciprocation. Or, in appropriate circumstances, you can openly ask your friends and colleagues for help. Because you've built the relationships to a high enough level, they will.
That's the formula. Now, if you need results immediately -- if you must get orders in the door yesterday and you have a manager breathing down your back, and you haven't bothered to build any relationships to start, you will probably have to go to the most intrusive and irritating forms of cold calling and canvassing, and hope something sticks. But if you've laid the groundwork with your networking and existing relationships, you will likely have much greater success in a crisis by calling on favours from people who respect and trust you.
Networking done right can leverage relationships. Oh, by the way, I found Doyle's blog through a linkedin.com reference that Ford Harding had joined his group. That's good enough for me. If you can utilize the multiplying effect of really strong relationships and media and social networking publicity, you can speed up the reputation building and relationship development far faster than either conventional cold calling or meet-and-greet networking. But that's marketing, not sales!