By Jeff Ghannam
PR people are born networkers. They rarely shy away from any social dynamic and are quick to introduce themselves with a smile and handshake. But the momentum that comes with overcoming that formidable barrier and making a new contact often goes wasted because most people are content to simply build networks instead of meaningful relationships.
The end goal of networking is not about gathering business cards for prospect lists or connections on LinkedIn, it’s about developing mutually beneficial working relationships that can realistically advance both parties’ business objectives. (So ask yourself why you are networking in the first place). And you really can’t develop those kinds of relationships simply by attending drive-by gatherings (“speed networking,” anyone) where the focus is often on quantity vs. quality.
So how do you develop those meaningful working relationships? Here are a few tips:
Maybe you’re hanging out in the wrong places
Networking gatherings are a great way to meet new contacts (insert plug here for PRSA-NCC’s vast offerings of such meetings), but the best relationships develop in low stress situations because nothing is expected and everyone acts in a very relaxed and open manner. Do you want to get to know (not just meet) other PR people? Then volunteer to help with NCC activities where you can work alongside those people and get to know their work styles and backgrounds. If you can’t commit to volunteer time, attend certain networking meetings regularly where you will see the same people more than once so you can follow up on previous conversations. For example, one of the reasons we’ve developed “20+ LeaderPack” is to go beyond networking and instead nurture relationships. The group holds quarterly luncheons (next one is July 25) for PR pros with more than 20 years of experience so they can get to really know each other.
Stop talking about yourself
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met at networking events who don’t even bother to ask about my interests or background. They spend all of their time talking about themselves or their business and interests. So please stop pitching yourself and show some interest in your new contact. Not only is it polite, but it also shows self-confidence and that you’re interested in them and their needs and interests. If you show that you care about them, they will more likely care about you.
Give before taking
I’ve met people who within the first 30 seconds asked if I can help them in their job search. While I appreciate the urgency we all feel when we’re looking for work, I suggest (whatever your situation or goal) that you offer to give something first and chances are you will get something in return. Find out what your new contact needs and how can you help them. Don’t know how to ask? See the above point: Simply stop talking about yourself. Let them speak and they will show their hand. Give a little before you can get a little, right?
Take your time
Just like dating, people get turned off by someone who comes on too strong. First, if you meet someone at a networking event, take the time to really know them. Don’t get their business card and start looking over their shoulder for your next conquest. And, remember, quality relationships take months, if not years, to develop. I recently met someone at a networking event who seconds after giving me her elevator pitch asked, “So how can we work together?” Of course, I had no idea even if I wanted to work with her because I didn’t really know her just from her pitch and she certainly didn’t know me. I suggest a slower approach if there’s not an obvious need. After you make an initial contact, loop back with your new connection immediately and then every few weeks or months. Follow up with something specific and personalized to their interest when it crosses your desk. And, no, don’t automatically add them to your mass email lists without asking first. You are trying to develop relationships, not data points.
Take your connection offline
Once you meet someone, don’t limit your relationship to emails, texts, Twitter DMs and Facebook likes. The best way to build a distinct relationship these days is in person because many others are content simply with building their Twitter list of followers and Facebook likes. When possible, arrange to meet with new connections on their terms so it’s convenient for them. Come by their office for coffee or go for a coffee after the next networking meeting. And show up prepared; do your homework by reviewing your contact’s LinkedIn profile or their company’s website and they will know that you are interested in them. And if you can’t meet, pick up the telephone. (You know, it’s that thing where you hear a person’s voice on the other end.) People don’t use it that much anymore and it will make you stand out from the crowd.
Maintain your relationships
Once you’ve developed these mutually beneficial relationships, make sure to maintain them. Most people don’t’think about their relationship until a crisis like a job loss or a confounding professional challenge arises. Then they scramble to contact people who they have not spoken to in years. Such attempts are doomed to failure because they scream “the only reason I care about you now is because you can help me.” You should already have effective relationships in place that can help you in just about any situation.
Building professional relationships—just like with personal ones—is more about giving than getting. If you put the other person’s needs ahead of your own, I firmly believe that somehow your needs will be met. So be thinking of how your relationship can work for both of you and you will be fulfilled.
So what relationship building tips do you have to share? Comments are welcomed below.
Jeff Ghannam is president of Crystal Communications & Marketing, LLC, and is a past president of PRSA-NCC.