The Wrong Way To Network

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Like most successful legal professionals, I engage in a fair amount of networking. Much of my networking time is devoted to developing my own business, but sometimes I am on the “receiving end” of a networking exchange — someone is trying to develop their business through me. I am almost always happy to do this, even when there doesn’t seem to be much in it for me.

I do this because I take a long-term view towards networking. Networking is not just about making yourself more successful; is should be about making both parties more successful. If I can help someone become more successful today, maybe he or she will be able to return the favor in the future.

I also approach these seemingly one-sided networking events as a learning opportunity. I am always curious to see how effective other people are at networking for business development.

Recently, I had a networking coffee of this type with an individual who had created a software product for in-house counsel. He wanted my feedback. It did not go well.

First Mistake: Not Being Inquisitive

This guy did not get a passing grade from me in networking. At an initial meeting like this between two people who do not know each other, an exchange of questions is expected. I certainly peppered him with questions about his background and product. To prepare, I had reviewed his LinkedIn profile and the product’s website before our meeting.

What did he ask me? Nothing.

When networking, you want a new acquaintance to walk away liking you. In this case, there was nothing to indicate this person was remotely interested in me beyond what I could do for him. His total lack of interest in me created no positive feelings in me, and I did not walk away liking him.

His performance did not improve over the course of our meeting. It was obvious to me why he wanted to meet me: although I wasn’t a potential customer, I could provide him with ideas for marketing his product to his target demographic. I market my services to lawyers and have learned much from my experiences. In addition, I suspect, he was hoping for some leads.

Second Mistake: Being Pushy

I am more than happy to let others pick my brain about marketing ideas via networking, but I always warn them in advance that the advice may be worth only what they are paying. I am not nearly as generous when it comes to my leads. I am willing to leverage my relationships to help people I know well, but rarely for strangers. I certainly cannot make a sound judgment about someone after only 45 minutes, and I am not willing to risk offending or wasting the time of a close professional colleague if I guess wrong. I am especially wary when I know that the follow-up to any lead will be a sales pitch.

In any event, this individual didn’t hesitate to ask for names — several times during our meeting. I found his requests annoying, but also a bit naïve.

Final Mistake: Forgetting to Say Thank You

Finally, it is fundamental to thank someone for taking the time out of their busy schedule to meet with you. I would like to think some of the information and ideas that I provided were helpful to this fellow. A thank you at the end of our time together would have gone a long way towards softening the above mistakes. But do you think I received any sort of acknowledgement? I did not. Hence the failing grade.

Whenever you meet with someone in a networking context, ask questions. Be interested in getting to know more about that person and their business. If you have to ask for leads, save it for a subsequent meeting or a follow-up conversation. And always say thank you.

Updates

  • 2013-07-17. Originally published.
  • 2014-09-08. Revised and re-published.

Featured image: “Airport Moment” by Antonio Viva is licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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  • static

    “Like most successful legal professionals, I engage in a fair amount of networking.”

    Cool, Roy! You’ve given up your horrible dalliance as a marketeer and returned to the practice of law. Good for you!

    You should clean up your short bio at the end of your post. It still has that nasty marketeer thing in there.

  • Roy, you get props for taking the high road. It’s unfortunate that the offender is unlikely to reap the benefit of your advice, because (imho) people like that tend not to listen to the conversation, they just talk.

  • Shaun Jamison

    Roy, I think the problem is when one person thinks it’s a sales/lead call and the other thinks it’s networking. I’ve been very explicit with people that I am NOT buying, but happy to provide feedback. Inevitably, they are upset when they cannot sell me. I stopped taking those kinds of meetings. I agree with you about leads. I always wonder why sales people think it would be great for your career to serve up your friends and colleagues for a sales call? If you have something which I think would be fantastic, I’ll be the one making the call for you.

  • Paul Spitz

    Also annoying are the people that ask to connect with you on LinkedIn, and within a day after accepting, they hit you with a sales pitch.

    • I’ve started being more selective in which connections I accept on LinkedIn. If I don’t actually know the person, I don’t accept. This cuts down on the sales pitches and keeps crap from clogging my newsfeed.

  • Nice article. The general idea is a good one – try to make it a win-win for everyone.

    I learned a lot from two books on the subject, both by Bob Burg: Endless Referrals and The Go Giver. I make all of my associates read both when they start at my firm and encourage them to adopt the philosophy outlined in The Go Giver.

    And, for me, I pretty much accept all requests for everything. I know some of my best relationships and referral partners have come from cold introductions. I think it’s important to meet with someone and see what they’re all about instead of assuming they are going to try to pitch you something. And, sometimes, if I get pitched really hard, I’ll flip the conversation and try to figure out where that style originates for them. Sometimes people just don’t know they are turning people off.