In my business experience, it is wonderful to see when individuals Network with the “intent” on building a solid, long term relationship. They are not handing out their business cards like a Black Jack dealer.

Networking is defined as a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. The reality today, is that we see many people with different interests, and different agendas. Sometimes these people cross paths and it just works, but in other cases there is not any synergy, nor common interest. Dr. Stephen Covey authored: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of my favourite habits, when applied to Networking is: Habit #5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey suggests that most people seek to be understood, as they can get their point across and ignore the other person. If we take the time to truly understand the other person in terms of business needs, interests and genuinely have this sincere intent, we have an opportunity to establish a relationship for the long term. Effective Networking is so much more than a “pile of business cards.”

Many of us attend Networking events in our community throughout the year. Some events are more effective than others, and have more or less people in attendance. As I see it, you need to attend these events with the sincere intention of Networking for the long term. What I mean here is that if there are 100 people in attendance at a Networking event it is not realistic to assume that you will meet all of them. In this case, you arrive with a base game plan. Perhaps you have an objective of “connecting” with 5-10 people and take the time to get to know them on a high level. This example of networking events, reminds me of a story with a former colleague of mine. We will call her Lila.

She was never too comfortable with such events, and struggled to meet people at an event. Her biggest hang up was, “I do not know what to say, without sounding like I am selling them something.” Ironic, considering she had a career in sales, but this is a common challenge for many people. My advice to Lila, was simply, “Seek first to understand”. She asked what I meant by this. Rather then worrying what your sales script or pitch sounds like, simply introduce yourself and make it all about the other person. You of course ask them their name, ask what they do. You feel the tempo of the conversation and if it is flowing well, as is usually the case, when you make it about the other person, you ask a few specific questions. Example: What are your biggest challenges in your business? How could I help you? The last question usually blows people away, as they are not expecting it. If you ask the question, with the genuine intent on helping them, that has the potential for the start of something great.

In my networking world, I have the great fortune of knowing many people from all disciplines, professions and industries. What I believe that I can offer is my ability to connect people. I do not see it as anything special, but it works in building Networking relationships that last.

Here is a true example of how this can work for anyone. In November 2008, I was attending a Networking event. There were approximately 40 people in attendance. I connected with 5 people. What I mean, when I say that I connected with 5 people, is simply that I spent some focused time “seeking to understand” who they were and understanding their business. I can comment about all 5 of those individuals, but for the purposes of this article, I will highlight one individual, Greg Burghardt. (Arrow Engineering Inc., Edmonton)

He is professional and a very successful business person. The morning after the event, I took the time to follow up with Greg and other contacts that I met the evening before. (Following up within 24 hours is key if you have the intent of establishing some solid rapport to build a business relationship.) At this time, it was not about selling anything to them. My standard follow-up script looks something like this: “Greg it was great to meet you last night at the Networking event. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you at your office and learn more about your business and determine how I may assist you. Assuming that Greg and I hit it off at the event, the probability of Greg accepting my offer is virtually 100%, taking into account his time and schedule.

Greg and I are both established in our respective Centres of Influence. It took time to get there, but it was well worth it. If there was a desired outcome to “Networking for keeps”, that has occurred in this case.

Remember, Networking is not always about instant gratification…..sometimes good things are really worth the wait. It could take months or years to benefit, but when you Network for Keeps, you don’t keep track of who benefited more. The gratification comes in knowing that you added value to someone else. This act goes a long way in building meaningful business relationships that have the true potential of lasting.

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