Business and networking are a natural combination. The term ‘networking’ is a relatively new name given to an activity that successful business leaders have used for generations – building a wide range of contacts to whom they can turn for a variety of commercial and social reasons.
The connection between effective networking and business success is explained in the well-known sales phrase: “People buy from people.” There is considerable truth in this because, as naturally social beings, we generally prefer to buy from individuals with whom we have a relationship.
This fact has been obscured by modern retailing, where we have become used to purchasing from large faceless organizations, either in stores or over the internet. However, these are typically low-value transactions and when it comes to more significant purchases most of us prefer a stronger element of human contact.
Business and Networking Success Takes Time
The business owner wanting to leverage networking to achieve success must be prepared to invest time in the process, and they need to understand that they will not see results immediately.
Networking requires time because it is based on relationships being established and developed. The process of creating a relationship does not have to take very long — a five-minute conversation is enough to confirm contact with someone and to exchange cards. Speed networking events take this to an extreme, with networkers being given only a minute or two in which to explain what they do before moving on.
Developing the relationship will take longer, and it could be months or even years before it brings tangible commercial benefits. Some relationships will never bring a benefit, but it is impossible to tell at the outset which ones will be the most fruitful. It can also be difficult to measure the benefit of many relationships because networking often leads to referrals, but the business owner cannot always be sure who has referred new customers to them.
Business and Networking Success is Built on Trust
Trust is a vital component in commerce. People buy from organizations that they trust, and that trust is built over time by delivering a consistent quality of service.
Networking is also founded on trust. When individuals meet in a networking environment, they exchange ideas and information, and much of this is taken in good faith. However, the information is usually validated by speaking with other people.
For example, someone who needs their car repaired might talk to a vehicle mechanic who explains that they do work on behalf of many local people, implying that they are well-regarded. The individual with a car might then speak with someone else and them whether they use that particular mechanic.
The reply they receive can significantly alter their perceptions — they might be told “No, he’s not very reliable” or “Yes, he provides excellent service for a great price.” Both comments contain valuable information, and although they are highly subjective and represent only one person’s view, they could directly affect whether the mechanic gets the business.
Trust is won over time and can be lost very quickly. This is another reason why having a strong network benefits business because most organizations will have the occasional failure and dissatisfied customer. However, they will usually have many more satisfied customers, and a strong network will help with promoting the positive messages.
Networking is not a mysterious activity conducted in highly orchestrated ‘networking events.’ It is the day to day process of talking to people, listening to what they have to say and sharing news and information. A proactive approach to networking should deliver commercial and social benefits in the long term.