How many times have you heard a sales trainer, boss, mentor or peer say that you must go out and work your sphere of influence to be successful? There is no doubt that the vast majority of top producers base their business off of referrals and these referrals come from those they know well and/or have served in the past. On the other hand, why do we assume that everyone knows how to successfully “work” their sphere?

Perhaps that is the reason so many sales people wind up cold calling. It is not because of call reluctance—but because they do not know what to say or how to approach those they know with business issues. For lack of a better term, we will call this skill networking. Networking can be described as calling up your best friend and asking for help in building your business. It can also be attending an event in which you don’t know most of the participants and attempting to make key “contacts.”

The contact may be “face-to-face, over the phone or even by email. But in each case the contact is on a personal level as opposed to mass marketing or advertising. It is a more “individual” versus a massive approach. And it is here in which many of us lack the skills to succeed—on a more personal level.

We do know that sales is a relationship business. Relationships are not built through mass marketing. That does not mean that sending a form letter or newsletter to a thousand people is not a positive marketing activity. But this letter will not replace the one-on-one interaction necessary to build referral relationships. What we will be attempting to do in this two-part series is give you tips that will help you sharpen your networking focus and skills:

Build relationships—do not push. One reason that many sales people do not like networking is that they feel that it calls for pushing those they know to do business with them. Nothing can be further from the truth. It involves letting them know what you are doing, how they can help you and something more we will discuss in a moment. If you think that shoving a business card in someone’s face and asking for a referral is networking, you are sadly mistaken.

Speaking of business cards…Forget them. They are a crutch for those who like to think they are networking. Sales people go out “there” and measure their “success” based upon how many business cards they can deliver. As a matter of fact, it is as if you are a delivery service. Try leaving the business cards at home. If you make an important contact, you can always follow-up with a business card (or a few). Let them know that you don’t discriminately hand out cards because your business is focused upon helping a selected few. A reason for follow-up and creating an aura of value? What an interesting idea.

Speaking of numbers….Networking is not a numbers game. The goal is not to make contact with and start a relationship with as many people as possible. The goal is to determine which relationships will be the most helpful. This is why business cards can be detrimental. The key here is the word prioritization. You would like a few relationships that you can go “deep” with, as opposed to many superficial relationships. Well perhaps it is a numbers game—but not in the way we usually describe the game. In this case, less is better!

It has got to be a two-way street. You don’t base your prioritization decision upon whether the target can help you. You base your decision upon whether you both can help each other. True relationships are successful when they become partnerships. The core definition of partnership indicates that both parties are in a symbiotic relationship. If you are out there just trying to see what others can do for you, you are following a recipe for networking disaster.

The next step would be to address how to find out how to help your potential partner. We will address that in the next segment. We will also go over goals, follow-up skills and improving your networking skills. This is far too important a topic to handle superficially.

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