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In my more than two decades of developing business networks and coaching networkers, I've noticed some very different styles of networking. One of these styles, which results in the ground smoking wherever these networkers tread, I call "scorched earth networking." Let's talk a little about this style, so you understand how important it is to avoid this type of networking in cultivating a successful business networking model.
Just what are the hallmarks of a scorched-earth networker? Experience has shown me that this type of networker...
1. Moves from networking group to networking group, constantly dissatisfied with the quality and quantity of referrals they get from each. The scorched-earth networker doesn't stay in one place long enough to build the type of relationships it takes to really capitalize on networking. It's like planting an apple tree in one spot, not being satisfied with the tree's growth after a matter of days, uprooting it and expecting it to grow faster in another spot. When the growth isn't happening fast enough in the new spot, the tree is uprooted yet again and replanted. Every time that tree is uprooted, it takes longer to build itself back up to even where it was before it was moved. A serious networker understands that in order for that tree to grow a bumper crop of apples, it needs to be cared for right where it is.
2. Talks more than listens. If you meet someone who talks on and on about their services, what they can provide for you, how they can help you increase your bottom line and so on--and doesn't seem genuinely interested in your business, what you do and what you need--chances are you've just met a scorched-earth networker! A serious networker will want to learn all about you, what your professional goals are, and how they can play a part in helping you accomplish those goals.
3. Doesn't "honor the event," or networks at inappropriate opportunities. There's something to be said about constantly looking for an opportunity to develop a business relationship, but a serious networker is always aware of how that networking comes across. You've seen the scorched-earth networker, for instance, wanting to do business and passing out business cards at a church function, funeral or other inappropriate event. The key to networking at all times is to do it in a way that's appropriate. While it can be entirely appropriate to begin a relationship at such an event as a wedding or a funeral, going around looking for an opportunity to pass out your business cards isn't the right way to do that!
4. Thinks that being "highly visible" is enough to make business flow his way. In my book, Business by Referral , I talk about the VCP factor: visibility , credibility and profitability . The more you're seen in the business community (visibility), the more you become known and trusted (credible). The problem with the scorched-earth networker is that they seem to think that anything they do that makes them visible is beneficial. But that's just not so. As people begin to trust you, seeing that you're dependable, honest and outwardly motivated as opposed to selfish and demanding, they then begin to refer you to others. This is when you'll see more business referrals coming in (profitability).
5. Expects others to be consistently referring them. When they're considering developing their social capital, the scorched-earth networker expects that this means finding a source of referrals who's dependable and constant. This is a "get" mentality. Scorched-earth networkers view networking as a transaction, not a relationship. Wayne Baker calls this negative type of networking "coin operated networking"--you put something in and get something back right away. Serious networkers understand that developing strong social capital means that your focus is on what you can give to your inner circle. There's a law of reciprocity and synergy that can't be denied when you focus on giving referrals to those around you. Think about how you feel when someone refers you to another person. You feel driven to repay the favor likewise.
Scorched-earth networking doesn't work, because building your business through word-of-mouth is about cultivating relationships with people who get to know you and trust you. People do business with people they have confidence in. One of the most important things I've learned in the past two decades is this: It's not what you know, or who you know--it's how well you know them that counts. If you go into this process understanding this one key point, you'll have a better opportunity to build your business through word-of-mouth.
As you network, look around at what you leave behind. Are you creating relationships by building your social capital (farming, as opposed to hunting), or are you leaving a scorched earth and many bodies in your wake?
Thanks to Soni Pitts for her contribution to this article.