But I don’t need a bicycle (aka “how not to network”)
Last week was a full-on busy social week for me – I spent a lot of it out and about networking. I know a lot of people don’t like that word so a less technical term that I like to use is simply “talking to people”.
So last week I did a lot of “talking to people”. And there was something I experienced several times which was didn’t feel so good and I’ve decided to share it with you so you can avoid doing it too. And I’m going to do it by way of analogy rather than singling out a specific example:
Imagine I’ve gone along to a village fair where all the local shops and tradespeople have a stall or are milling around on the green.
After approaching a couple of the stalls that I specifically wanted to connect with I started just milling and mingling and got chatting to someone new – a lady who sells bicycles (I’ll call her the “bicycle lady”).
The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hello, what do you do?”
BL: “I sell bicycles”
Me: (making conversation) “Oh, that’s interesting my friend owns a bicycle – she rides it to work and to yoga every day. In fact I think she might have bought it from you.”
BL: (ignoring my conversation opener) “Are you interested in buying a bicycle?”
Me: “Oh no, I don’t want to buy a bicycle myself”
BL: “Oh, you really should – they are so good for the environment and such good fun – plus of course cycling will help to keep you fit”
Me: “I don’t really need a bicycle right now – I live really close to the town centre so I just walk everywhere, and if I need to go anywhere further afield I’ve got a car. But I do like them and I can see how useful they are for some people.”
BL: “If you did buy a bicycle what sort would you get?”
Me: (starting to feel a bit irritated now) “I haven’t thought about that because I don’t want a bicycle” (then, not wanting to appear rude) “but that doesn’t mean I’ll never get one. I’ve had one in the past and I could imagine a time in the future when I have one again – I think if I moved somewhere more rural in the future it would be nice to have one”
BL: “If you did get a bicycle how do you think that might change your life?”
Me: Silence. As my brain cogs whirr and I try to think of what to say next to get myself out of this one-way conversation.
Finally: “Oh, is that Sally over there? I need to speak to her about something. It was lovely meeting you, goodbye”
So what went wrong?
On the surface you might think that the Bicycle Lady was doing a lot right. She is guiding the conversation and asking questions to open up the conversation in the direction of her product. Even asking questions designed to get my creative juices flowing about just how much better my life could be if I had one. This is all good stuff and in fact it is quite possible she learned this approach on a traditional sales course focused on how to turn a “prospect” into a “lead” at a networking event.
But here’s the problem:
She wasn’t dealing with a “prospect”. She was dealing with a human being – me!
And I didn’t feel listened to.
I didn’t feel respected.
And I didn’t feel as if I mattered to her at all outside of the context of whether or not I might be in the market for a bicycle.
(To her credit at least she didn’t start telling me all the terrible things that might befall me if I don’t get a bicycle – like being cornered by a pack of wolves on a dark lane and be unable to get away fast enough – the type of fear based selling I object to the most).
Now of course I want to be clear – when we go networking (aka “talking to people”) we do it because we are hoping to build and develop relationships that are going to grow our business – whether that is finding new clients, referral partners or speaking opportunities and it is important to stay focused on that end purpose.
And so technically speaking everyone we meet is a potential “prospect” in the traditional sense.
The problem is that nobody likes to be made to feel like a prospect. What we want and crave most is to create genuine, meaningful connections with people we like and who we feel like us.
That line is really important. So let me repeat it:
What we want and crave most is to create genuine, meaningful connections with people we like and who we feel like us.
And your prospective clients want the same.
When you fail to do that while networking you lose the potential for future business.
Because just like me, your clients will want to get away from you – and quick.
And you will lose out on business – just like the bicycle lady did.
You see, while I don’t want or need a bicycle myself, I know lots of people who do.
And as it happens, the very next day I found myself sitting next to another bicycle lady at a lunch. This time she totally “got” that I didn’t need a bicycle and acknowledged that they are not right for everyone. And then we got chatting about bicycles anyway. The connection felt genuine and the conversation flowed naturally and we had a giggle over some old cycling stories. The end result? I told her that several of my clients are looking for bicycles and we arranged for me to introduce her to them.
The moral of the story:
When networking (or in any area of sales) never forget that the person in front of you is a human being first and a “prospect” only second . The future of your business lies in your ability to create genuine and meaningful connections with people who believe you are interested in them beyond just their ability to pay you money right now.
Of course you still need to know how to communicate what you do in a way that makes you stand out from the crowd and piques the interest of your ideal client, and you still need to know how to guide an interested person into a sales conversation that will end with them saying a resounding “Yes Please!” to working with you.
Just don’t forget to treat them like a human being along the way.
I’d love for you to share your experiences of networking in the comments below!
And if you’d like to learn how to have effective, comfortable sales conversations that feel comfortable for everyone sign up for my “7 Steps to Yes!” e-course in the box top right.