Throughout your career, networking has been recommended as a staple of success. So you attend conferences, meetings and parties in order to mingle. As you travel for business, you seek out ways to network, from planes to restaurants. You overcome any introversion and find a way to talk up people you’ve just met. But my question is this: Do your networking efforts move the needle? Have you built a network of relationships that gives you superpowers in the business world?
This is something I’ve been studying since I wrote Love is the Killer App at the turn of the century. Over the course of my travels, I’ve encountered Super Connectors like Keith Ferrazzi, Raj Setty and the Dean Of Networking theory, Ivan Misner. We’ve compared notes and through it all, I’ve discovered what they do differently than most people.
Super Connector seeks to help, not solve their own problems. Their paradigm is that networking is the act of helping others find success by introducing them to people they should meet. Average networkers look for well connected people that can help them. That’s not networking, that’s prospecting. When your point of view is that you meet people to serve, you open more doors, make more friends and build a robust network of people who LOVE you.
Whether you are rubbing shoulders with movers and shakers daily or only get a few networking opportunities a year, the following steps will dramatically lift your networking prowess:
1. Ask the Right Questions Too often, we open up networking conversations by asking, “So what do you do?” While this is a seemingly logical question, it’s actually just a method of screening someone to see if he or she is relevant to you. We then either take our turn, talking about what we do, or ask more questions about your new contact’s company. I don’t mind asking this type of question early on in the conversation, but soon, you need to transition to exploring how you can help your new associate. Super Connectors ask: “What are you working on these days you are excited about?” or “What’s your wow project?” At this point, you will hear about dreams, opportunities and passion projects from your conversational partner…not a rote job description or corporate overview.
2. Listen for Opportunities If you keep digging (listening) you’ll usually hear about obstacles, challenges and needs that keep the Wow Project from moving forward. Super Connectors are well known for listening more than they speak, which opens up the door to help. Screen the situation to see if you have an opportunity to help your conversational partner by making an introduction. The more you ask the right questions and seek opportunities to connect, the more likely you are to realize, “hey, I know someone that can help!”
3. Record the Opportunity When you step away from the conversation, if you exchanged business cards (you always should), take a minute to write down on the back of your new connection’s business card their passion project headline and who you need to introduce him or her to. Bend the top right corner of the card back to flag it, so you don’t forget! When you enter the business card into your contacts program, treat the misc 1 field as the “should meet” field and populate it with the person or people your new contact should meet.
4. Act on the Opportunity Within just a few days, you should connect your new contact to one of your existing network-nodes. If possible, reach out to your existing contact (the potential helper) and let him or her know that you want to make an introduction. Summarize the project or challenge your contact is working on and why you think this is a win/win connection. If you can make this scale, introduce them face to face, over video chat or at least by phone. If you have to introduce them via email, make sure and include their LinkedIn profiles, along with a summary as to why you think they should connect. If you feel like this is a really good match, follow up in a few days with your potential helper to make sure he or she is planning to invest some time on this opportunity. For more on email-networking, read How To Connect People Over Email.
5. Expect Nothing in Return This is by far the most important thing to understand about Super Connectors: They aren’t networking to gain. They are networking to make the world a more effective place. They assume that the good deed will be paid forward by carpe diem or better yet, influencing others to share their network as well. When you expect something in return, you are not a networker — you are a broker of relationships.
From my keynote at the annual ISACA-NACS Convention: