Curiosity is all you need to develop business
- Victoria Pynchon
Too many people believe that networking is all about selling yourself, developing an "elevator pitch" and having a dozen or so killer persuasive sales phrases in their back pocket.
No. No. No. And No.
People Do Not Want to Be Sold
If people tend to edge away from you at networking events, the problem is not with your sales pitch, it's with your selforientation. People do not want to be sold anything at any time anywhere unless they are actively looking for a new product, service or commercial opportunity.
People want to be helped. They want to have a pleasant conversation. They want to meet interesting new people. They want the opportunity to talk about their accomplishments or their needs. And I've never met a man or woman who didn't appreciate a little flattery and a lot of empathy, fellow-feeling, and comfort.
The Women Who Met Snap Chat's Dad
I attended a small soiree of MBA students last night. They were all about to graduate and had been spending most of their time in job interviews. In small talk that preceded the negotiation question and answer period I came to participate in, two of the women excitedly told me that they'd met the father of the young man who founded snap chat.
What he did for a living, I asked.
Uh . . . we didn't ask. He was flirting with us.
Did you get his card?
We think he might have been retired.
I didn't have to tell them that they'd missed an important opportunity to develop, at a minimum, a passing acquaintance with a man of enormous power. They'd begun to look sheepish as soon as I asked them what Snap Chat's dad did for a living.
He wanted to flirt, I said. But the relative power between a couple of 20-something woman and a 60-year old man who is sitting at a bar mildly flirting is with the 20-something women.
Don Draper's key advice, if you don't like the conversation you're having, change it, comes immediately to mind. As does David Geffen's note on how he signed up enough emerging music talent to make him a rich man. I was always the only sober person in the room.
If you have the unique opportunity of meeting someone with the power to connect you to someone else with the ability to hire you, just be curious. Here are just a few of the questions I would have asked Snap Chat's dad.
What was Evan's childhood like? Could
you tell he would be successful when he was just a kid?
You must be ridiculously proud. Does he come to you for advice?
You must have done something right as a parent. If I wanted to raise a child with the chutzpah to start a business like Snap Chat, and the discipline to follow through with a great idea, what would you recommend?
What do you do? Is Evan following in your footsteps or did he take a path you never expected he would?
The questions these young MBA students would have asked would likely be far different from mine. The questions don't really matter. Nor do the answers. What matters is your willingness to take a lively interest in another human being and let your own curiosity drive the conversation.
Always Be Closing
Networking is not smarmy and it's A-OK to let a powerful man's interest in you as a pretty young woman open the door to a conversation that will be as beneficial to him as it is to you. But the effort will come to nothing if you don't close.
The only thing you have to do to close a networking conversation is to get people's details. Ask for their card. If they don't have a card, ask them if they'd be willing to have coffee with you some day when they're free because you're just beginning your career and you need all the advice you can get.
You can give them your card but understand what most people do with other people's business cards. They carry them in their wallet for a while before throwing them out with all the receipts they save but never intend to organize, let alone use.
And remember, not every contact results in an immediate benefit. For young people on the verge of a business career, practicing networking is a benefit all by itself. If you look your new acquaintance up on LinkedIn, you can stay in touch by sending them an invitation to connect. Remind them who you are and where you met. Say something nice. Send them links to articles that remind you of them from time to time. Be of service.
Networking is not about taking. It's not about manipulating and it most definitely is not about sales. It's about relationship building and establishing a trusted network of advisors. It is its own reward.
Go. Do. Prosper.