Traditional networking advice dictates that before you pitch to someone, you should go out of your way to provide them as much value as you can. While networking should never just be an all-out pitch fest, trying to bend over backwards to help someone you’ve just met can come across as off-putting.
Serving before you sell is important, yes. But going to extremes should really only be reserved for people who you know feel comfortable receiving such favors. That said, there are plenty of ways to work your network so you can make your network work for you — without making anyone feel remotely uncomfortable.
Make One New Introduction a Week
Most likely, everyone in your network does not know everyone else in your personal network. It’s also highly likely that the people who don’t know each other could benefit from meeting. Making those introductions is a great way to become known as a connector and someone who’s readily willing to help out (without creating any feelings of unease or discomfort).
The introductions might turn into something productive, and they might not. That’s not the point as much as it is staying top-of-mind as an influential member of other peoples’ networks.
Use a CRM to Stay in Touch
You probably already use a CRM to manage your lists of customers, potential customers, leads, etc. And you should continue to do so. But most CRMs have a setting where you can add a contact and set how often you want to be in touch with that person. For most people in your network, especially if you want to make sure that you’ll stay top-of-mind, it’s a good idea to keep in touch once every 30 days. Have your CRM notify you if and when you’re overdue.
Make Your Business Card Stand Out
In a world where being ignored — even by a complete stranger — hurts our self-esteem, being noticed is a huge boost that helps us feel important and worthwhile.
Once you’ve had a great conversation with someone important, don’t let them forget who you are. In general, once everyone has left an event, they’re going to have a huge stack of business cards. I know I have a hard time remembering who each business card belongs to, and what conversation we had. That’s why on my business cards, I have a headshot and a few words describing what my company does.
As simple as this may sound, it’s paid huge dividends for me and has helped me land deals that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
Ask for Introductions
If you’re at an event where you don’t know many people, ask one or two people in the room you do know for an introduction. The people you already know will make sure it’s someone that actually makes sense for you to talk to. You’d be surprised how much people are willing to help if you just ask them sincerely. I’ve had people introduce me to CXO-level executives of Fortune 500 companies just because I asked them nicely.
Sending someone in your network a gift is a gesture that goes far and beyond a typed-out “thanks” on LinkedIn. It catches people off guard. Books, flowers, or relatively inexpensive food delivery are all good options.
When you do something truly unexpected, you’ll be remembered no matter what. But when you do something that’s both unexpected and provides value to the person, you’ll be remembered in only the most positive light, and they’ll look to repay the favor from a place of kindness rather than obligation.
If you’re in the software business like myself, you’re rarely dealing with anything physically tangible, so getting something I can touch really stands out. I’ve had companies who have tried winning me over as a customer send me handwritten notes, t-shirts, boxes of energy drinks for the team, coffee, etc. And each time it puts a smile on my face. As a result, I feel much more connected to that company, leading to a much higher chance of me working with them because I know they’re willing to go above and beyond for their customers.
Forget “Working the Room”
There’s a fair amount of networking advice that tells you to plan your exits before you even start talking to people so you can work the room and get your business cards out to as many people as possible. And while you might have to plan your exit so you can make a quick escape if you get caught talking to someone unhelpful, this piece of advice is best if forgotten — especially if you’re the kind of person who wants the people you meet to remember you for a long time.
Establishing a solid, meaningful relationship with just one person is better than having a mini pitch-fest with 10 different people who won’t care about you two days from now.
Trying too hard to provide value to someone you’ve just met upfront is off-putting. People appreciate help. But if you’re overly eager, it will raise suspicion and make them wonder what the catch is. So instead of going too far out of your way (which would take up a ton of your time and energy anyway), try these approaches to become remembered as a connector, a value provider, and an influencer.