Networking Should Never Operate Like a Vending Machine 'I'll give you this; now you have to give me that' is simply not going to help you build a long-lasting, productive relationship.

By Ivan Misner

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Coin-operated networking is just like a vending machine. You take some coins, stick them in the slot, push the button and wait until your candy bar pops out the bottom. That's transactional -- and while a transactional process is great for vending machines, it's just the opposite for networking.

Related: Become a Networking Beast by Following This 5-Step Plan

If you're trying to network by saying, "I will give you this; now you have to give me that," you're going be sorely disappointed.

Instead, the proper mind-set is, "Let me help you out. I've got some ideas. I have a referral for you." Over time, the person you're talking to will give back to you. In short, if you try to make networking transactional instead of relational, that won't work because there'll always a scorecard. There'll always be that businessperson who doesn't get it and says, "Well, wait a minute, wait a minute. I've given you two referrals. I expect two referrals back."

True, networking may not always work that way; for example, the value of the referrals may be different. But that's just another reason why you can't simply go by the numbers: "I give you two; now you have to give me two."

Two referrals to a florist are vastly different from two referrals to a real estate agent. By the same token, it's unrealistic to expect $1,000 worth of referral business from someone just because you passed him or her referrals of that magnitude.

If you try to make referral marketing a transactional process, it will absolutely, categorically fail. You have to enter into it understanding the whole concept of "Givers Gain," a philosophy based on reciprocity. By working with other people over time and building relationships with them, value will come back to you.

How do you apply the Givers Gain philosophy? There's a proper way to apply it at the beginning of a relationship: Say that there's somebody you don't know well, but whom you want to know better and build a referral relationship with.

You think this person may be able to help you, and you know you can help him (or her). But you don't start a referral relationship by asking a person to sign a contract stating that for every referral you offer, he or she has to give you one in return! Instead, the way to start the process is to give.

In business, the best gift you can give is a qualified referral or something else that will help a person succeed. Now, you may not want to give a referral straight out of the gate because that could hurt your reputation if something goes wrong. So, take another tack: Before giving somebody a referral, really get to know him or her first.

If you meet someone who expresses a need or a problem that's gnawing at him or her, you might say, "Gee, you know, I just read an article on that very subject. Give me your business card, and I'll email it to you. You might find that of value."

Related: Don't 'Stop Networking.' Just Start Doing It Right.

Now, that may seem small, but now you've opened the door to deepening that connection, because you've taken the time to help that person. Using this approach, you haven't asked for anything other than a business card! In fact, you're offering ideas or information that will help that person in his or her business. In my experience, many of those people have come back later and said, "Hey, thank you so much for that article. That really helped me -- it really addressed the issue. You know, I'd love to get together sometime and learn more about what you do."

Now, that's the beginning of a relationship.

The referral-marketing process is much like fishing, but it can also be likened to farming. You begin by sowing seeds of helpfulness into the lives of others. And before long, those seeds begin to sprout, and eventually blossom into fruitful relationships. It's hard to build relationships with a transactional process. And, if you do, you'll constantly be "checking the contract" to make sure that the other person is living up to the letter of the law.

Clearly that's not the way to make this work. Referral relationships in contrast require nurturing and patience. Are you ready to give them a try?

Related: Networking Is a Contact Sport

Ivan Misner

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Bestselling Author

Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of the bestselling book, Networking Like a Pro (Entrepreneur Press 2017). He is also the founder and chief visionary officer of BNI, the world's largest referral marketing and networking organization.

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