Improving Your Networking Skills

If you think yours could use a little polishing, here's one way to get your networking skills up to speed.

By Cliff Ennico

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Everybody says it's important, and they're right. To get new business, you've got to network.

Yet I would bet that 95 percent of all networking done in this country is a total waste of time. You go to a "networking" event sponsored by a local organization. You have two (maybe three) glasses of wine. You give out lots of business cards and get lots of business cards in return. Most of the business cards you get, you throw in the garbage, and the ones you keep won't answer your calls.

Still, you feel good about yourself because you've gotten out of the office and done something. Sound familiar? Don't beat yourself up--a lot of people really don't get the subtle science of networking.

Someone who does is Michael Salmon, founder of M. Salmon & Associates, a networking methodology training and consulting firm in Framingham, Massachusetts. A former executive recruiter, Salmon saw hundreds of his clients networking the wrong way, and it was painful for him to watch. "These people were being told what to do, but they weren't being told how to do it," says Salmon.

To teach people "how to do it," Salmon has created, and is offering to small-business groups around the country, an all-day seminar to train business owners and managers on the "technology" of networking: "Salmon Says: How to Meet a Thousand People at Lunch the Network Way." Those who cannot attend a seminar in person can order self-study materials for $140 per workbook if they sign a confidentiality pledge.

What's different about these programs is that Salmon walks participants through the networking process step by step, so they can see clearly what works and what doesn't. So, for example, let's say you want to sell your products or services to Company X. By doing a little digging, you find out that the brother of Company X's COO is an old college friend of yours. Time to network.

Step 1, according to Salmon, is to know your objective, that is, what you want to accomplish in this call. In this case, it's "I want to get a meeting with the COO of Company X to see if they might have an interest in selling my products and services to their customers."

Step 2 is to know the target. According to Salmon, "COOs are visionaries; they want to talk big picture stuff. So anyone who is introducing me to the target has to be spoon-fed the big picture stuff I want the target to hear like how selling our product can improve their gross margins."

Step 3 is to meet your contact, deliver an "elevator pitch" of not more than 40 seconds with the most important points you want to get across, and (most importantly) ask for a personal introduction to the target. "A lot of people will ask for the COO's name and telephone number," says Salmon, "but that's not enough. You want the COO's brother to make the call and give a personal pitch on your behalf, so that the COO's secretary won't stonewall you when your call comes in," says Salmon. What if the two brothers hate each other and haven't spoken in years? "Make sure you find that out before you waste your time asking him for the introduction," Salmon says.

Step 4 (the hardest part): When you finally get what you want, don't let your contact off the hook. "This is the hardest part for most people," says Salmon, "but it absolutely has to be done." When your old friend agrees to call his brother, the COO, you should ask him to arrange a specific day and time for you to call the COO.

Salmon says you should not be afraid to make a personal appeal to make sure you get what you want: "You should definitely say something like 'Getting through to Company X is mission critical for my business, and you're my best resource here; I value our relationship and need you to please find the time for this.'"

What if you haven't a clue where to begin? Salmon calls this process "peeling the onion," to get to the core, the right person who can help you. It can begin in some strange places. "Your barber or personal trainer are great networking contacts, believe it or not," says Salmon. "Think about it. They see 80 to 100 important people a week and spend a half hour to an hour a week with each person. What do you think they talk about? You don't think important people who care a lot about their appearance won't do a favor once in a while for their trainer? Try it; you might be surprised."

One more thing: When you do attend "networking events," the best advice I've ever heard was given to my Dad when he was a junior bank officer in the late 1940s: "Hang around as much as you can with the people who are bigger than you are, and avoid the people who want to hang around you because you are bigger than they are."

Cliff Ennico is host of the PBS television series MoneyHunt and a leading expert on managing growing companies. His advice for small businesses regularly appears on the "Protecting Your Business" channel on the Small Business Television Network at E-mail him at

Cliff Ennico

Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist and author of several books on small business, including Small Business Survival Guide and The eBay Business Answer Book. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.

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