Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Evolution of Networking, Part 1

Are you an Enlightened Networker?

100% of my clients want networking to be easier. Me too. It seems to come so naturally for some and still others seem to navigate at a higher level. If you've attended more than a few networking events, you've probably crossed paths with them.

I’m talking about those people who seem to breeze into the room and the mood shifts. The energy in the room starts to buzz, ears perk up and next thing you know, people are lining up to talk to them. They seem to know just about every body and those they don’t know, they quickly meet. Although they’re going from person to person in just a few minutes, when they’re talking to you, you feel like you’re the only two people in the room. They’re always gracious, have a helpful tidbit of information and are willing to put you in touch with just the right contact you’re trying to meet. I call them Enlightened Networkers. Don’t you want to be more like them? I know I do.

Here’s the deal. Enlightened Networkers don’t happen overnight. Getting to that level of networking skill is a process that can take years, if it happens at all. To speed up the cycle, you have to understand the evolutionary stages, find your own stage in the cycle and create an action plan to move yourself to the next level.

When I was first introduced to networking in the early 90’s, I thought networking was about image, schmoozing, and who you know. This was during the period of my first business venture. When one of my sales people invited me to a leads group, I was curious to see how it worked. It sounded good—other sales people out looking for leads for each other—but did it work? What I experienced at that time was everyone had their hand out looking for sales for themselves not really contributing to each other. This left me thinking that networking was a hit or miss sales tool and a waste of time. In retrospect, I wish I had only known then what I know now about value of purposeful networking. With that knowledge my first business might not have failed.

When I returned to the field of sales a few years later, I found myself introduced to a new form of leads group. With more structure, this organization held each person responsible for contributing leads to other group members. It seemed to work; but I noticed it worked better for some than for others. This got me wondering why and led me to observe the evolution of a networker. Here is what I discovered. When we are new to networking or motivated by sales quotas, many of us begin as…

The Neanderthal Networker or “Survival of the Fittest” Our earliest adventures in networking are typically spent in survival mode. You know how early man was in basic survival mode, always on the hunt for food? When we are sales driven, we operate in the same mode. Our focus is on meeting our basic needs for food and shelter. For us, that means SALES. If you can identify with being a Neanderthal Networker, I hope this article challenges and inspires you to move into the next stages of growth.

The Medieval Networker or “Man Discovers Tools” The Medieval Networker has learned the importance of reciprocity and leverage. They build relationships with other networkers who share a common interest or market and work together to generate leads and new business for each other. They understand that networking isn’t just about sales but also about helping others. While reciprocity sounds good in theory, it works best when working with those who have similar values and are mindful of giving when they get. Many a networker exists at this level and gains consistent results. But here is what I know. There is SO much more to be gained and shared within these relationships. If this is your current networking reality, you might find yourself feeling frustrated because you are giving more than you get in return.

The Enlightened Networker or “The Super Connector” This distinctive group of people is emerging as the new Super Connectors. They are well known within their business community and beyond. This is the ease the rest of us long for. We see them navigate relationships, events, and opportunities with skill and grace. These leaders appear to have a special gift or secret.

Honestly, they intimidate us a little. When we can, we buy their books, attend their workshops, and download their free stuff hoping to glean some information which will give us the same edge.
What makes Enlightened Networkers different? They really do operate at a different level. We mentioned the fact they fully understand and utilize their partnerships, resources, and opportunities. It is more than just simple utilization; they are active participants in creating their reality. They aren’t willing to passively allow the fate of their business to rest the hands of those who may or may not be interested in contributing. They know what they need and are able to ask for it. They get involved in others’ business and personal growth. They are generous with both information and resources. They understand what they have is not unique to them. It is available to all. What differentiates them from others is that they have invested the time, energy, and perseverance to gain this level of mastery and abundance mindset. As result, they unlock exponential results from their network.

So how do you move your own evolution forward and become an Enlightened Networker? It starts by understanding where you are. Let’s do a quick self check to find your current state.
When networking, are you in sales mode? Does your networking focus begin and end with what’s in it for you? In generating leads for your business and closing the sale? I’m not saying it’s wrong to focus on finding clients and customers. After all, that’s why you’re networking in the first place!

Is your referral network not as forthcoming as you would like? Are you working harder than you’d like to get the results you want? Are you counting the cost, both in time and money, to continue working harder rather than smarter? If so, does it hurt a little? Let’s ease the pain and move together into the Enlightened Networker stage!

The shift happens when you do three things.

First, you re-frame your perspective. Take a look around and begin to tap into the wide variety of opportunities and resources available in your network. When you’re open to it, there are more than just sales to be made.

The second and just as important factor in becoming an Enlightened Networker, is to freely offer opportunities and resources to others. It’s about reciprocity. When you give other’s your time, expertise and connections, they remember it and want to give back.

Lastly, you network on purpose. You calculate your activities, partnerships, and opportunities by their return on investment. You build strong core relationships with a long term view. You do this for more than your bottom line. You do this so you can better serve others; your network, your customers, and yourself.

In closing, I know you can evolve yourself. I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t moved myself through the evolutionary stages of networking. If I can do it, you can too.
Stay tuned! Our next post will address more on becoming a Super Connector.

Networking. It’s more than who you know; it’s how well you connect. Connect on purpose!

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