In business, the concept of networking is frequently associated with salespeople. Managers often lament their frustrations with salespeople who are unwilling to make cold calls and network for new business. As an executive, in one way or another you too are ultimately a salesperson and depend on other people.
When I attend an industry meet and greet, it simply amazes me to find that most executives, managers, and salespeople cluster together in their pods of comfort. It takes an aggressive host to bring new members or guests around to get anyone to meet someone new.
Frankly, I must have too much Mississippi politician in me, as it is my goal to work every room—not in an effort to garner new business or push some agenda, but to meet other people I may do business with some day. If you go to a networking event with a handful of business cards expecting to sell something, you are wasting your time.
Most people don’t understand that networking is not about selling something in the here and now; it’s about building a group of people who can trust and depend on you and will refer to you in the future—and who can provide you with services and products.
It seems to me that some of the worst networkers in many companies are the executives. Some give off the vibe they won’t socialize with the great unwashed, while others appear to be trying to stay above the fray. They fail to realize that one conversation or kind word can open many doors and give them insight to new ideas and issues within their company.
If you are an executive and you find it difficult and awkward to approach someone from another company, then you really should work on your networking skills. Executives must accept the fact that, whether they like it or not, they are their company’s chief networker.
The problem that executives have with networking is they expose themselves to more interactions with people through more phone calls, text messages, and emails. However, it is through those interactions that you find your next great employee, new customer, or super vendor.
Over a year ago, I joined a large Business Network International (BNI) group in the area. Before attending my first meeting, I had convinced myself it was a waste of time. However, I met a large group of other businesses at that meeting and soon realized they could help me and I could help them—that’s the Givers Gain philosophy of BNI. Even more, I realized that participating in BNI forced me to become a better networker.
Like other things in your organization, the success or failure of networking reflects the commitment of the company’s leadership. Executives who are too timid to network will have employees who act the same way because there are no leadership examples to follow.
The true test for any executive as to their commitment to networking: Do you give out business cards with your cell number and email address on them, and do you have the courage to answer the new interactions? If not, chances are you are neatly tucked away in your pod of comfort.