Networking effectively

Networking is not selling – it requires a different approach. Consider the interview, online and farming techniques…

Networking effectively

Sue Barrett

Although technology has become increasingly important in recent years, the importance of relationships in business has not changed. Some people are predicting that over the next 10 to 15 years, we will see a new era of the relationship emerge. The relationships we have in business with our customers and within organisations will be the key differentiator for businesses worldwide.

This means the role of networking is going to be increasingly important for businesses to achieve their goals. And individuals will need to take a much more structured and professional approach to networking – as opposed to leaving it to chance.

Networking is different from selling. Think of what it feels like for you when a stranger comes up and sells at you and pushes their business card in your face. More often that not, you will feel repelled. This does nothing to foster or build a relationship. Remember, in networking, if one party is chasing, the other is retreating.

Networking is the process of establishing and developing business relationships with other business people or customers that are mutually beneficial to both parties.

The key to true networking is the word mutually. Although the intention is to increase revenue, effective networking must centre around how you can help the person you are networking with rather than focusing on how they can be of assistance to you. As such, developing and fostering a relationship over time becomes extremely important in the networking process.

By far, the most important factors in networking are listening, having excellent communication skills and being focused on how you can assist the other party.

Overcome your networking discomfort – with the interview technique

Many people feel uncomfortable when it comes to networking. However, a lot of the time, this discomfort is unnecessary when you consider the following:

  • Most people have an altruistic streak where their natural tendency is to want to assist others.
  • Most people will be able to identify with your situation, particularly if the network alliance has the potentially to be mutually beneficial.
  • Some people enjoy being seen as networkers and being considered an excellent referral source for others in business circles.

I have to confess I find networking at events a challenge. I don’t like small talk. My style can be too serious at times when I meet new people. I find it much easier to start a sales conversation than a networking conversation. It takes me a while to warm up.

Others, on the other hand, love talking to anyone and never seem to tire if it. They are warm, friendly and engaging. Don’t get me wrong; I can do it, but it takes more work from my side.

So how do I get around this and make the best use of my time networking?

I interview people. I find that I feel comfortable asking people the following: Why do you like coming to networking events? What brought you to this event? What do you hope to gain from being at this event? And then I take it from there – wherever the conversation goes.

I am careful not to interrogate them though. The benefit is that I learn lots about them and find it easier for me to be present at these events. For the other person, they feel important as I paid attention to them.

When at a networking event, it is easier to gain the attention and time of individuals as there is an agreed reason for being there that centres around networking. However, when you are networking and promoting yourself directly to individuals (either within your organisation or as follow up from networking events), it is more important to manage the dynamics of the discussion, as here you are drawing on the relationship and what it has to offer you.

Do online networks work?

With the advent of Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and the like, the online networking opportunities abound. However there is inherent danger in falling into the trap of just collecting names for the sake of wanting to “appear” to have a large network.

Ask yourself the following questions: How long since you actually spoke to any of those people on your online network? Are some people on your connection list people you have never spoken with? Have you understood why they want to be connected to you? Do you know why you want to be connected with them? If you don’t know why, then you may want to think about why their name is on your list in the first place.

Taking the farming approach to networking

Many people are under the misconception that with regard to networking, you must focus on spreading the net far and wide. While this is important, for your networking efforts to be truly effective you must also approach some networking relationships as a farmer would approach yielding his crops.

Consider the way a farmer works. He takes the time to prepare his soil so that it is ready for his seeds to be planted and he does this long before he plants his seeds. Once the seeds are planted, he nurtures them with water, fertilising and tending to them regularly.

He does not pull the seeds out of the ground before they are ready, but rather waits until his plants are strong and the roots have grown deep before he expects any yield from his plants. The farmer understands that there is a process to follow and that gains will not come from expecting a quick return, but rather by putting in what is required of the process and waiting for the appropriate time to yield results.

Approaching networking with a farming mentality will ensure that you will yield quality results from your networking process. While the tendency may be to approach as many contacts as possible as quickly as possible, and expect fast results, in reality taking a more diligent approach will mean that you form relationships that can prove beneficial and bear fruit for you for years to come.

Sue Barrett is Managing Director of BARRETT Pty Ltd. Sue is an experienced consultant and trained coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating High Performing Sales Teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. For more information please go to


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