Networking and LinkedIn: Build Relationships and Don’t Sell

I have been posting frequently about networking and personal marketing over the past few weeks. Networking is an important part of most business people’s marketing efforts. There is no better way than networking to get in front of people and speak with them, get to know them and build relationships. In a previous blog I described being accosted after a speaking engagement by an overly aggressive and hard selling insurance agent. The person followed me down a hall, into an elevator and for several blocks in Manhattan.

I was thinking about this incident and remembered the famous scene from Groundhog Day were Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is accosted by Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), a hyper aggressive insurance salesman in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This is the clip from the movie if you have not seen it, but I am sure the experience will be familiar:

Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day.

Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day (click for video).

I have managed networking groups and hosted many networking meetings.  I think of Ned every time I am at a networking event where the person I meet, immediately or almost immediately starts to try to sell something to me. To some degree I can understand this approach. Some people receive training that encourages this activity and others are simply business card collectors. People are desperate for immediate business; they need to make sales quotas or commissions to survive. I understand the sales process, but networking and using LinkedIn are not for selling. We all have to sell, but networking is a marketing function that leads to the sales process. You have to build relationships first to generate business leads.

I also have nothing against insurance professionals. I work with many of them to develop personal brands and LinkedIn marketing strategies. As a matter of fact, insurance professionals can be, with the right approaches, some of the best networkers. Insurance professionals often have many clients from many business sectors and professions. They also frequently work with business owners and decision makers. All are important contacts and relationships that can be brought to the networking table.

The hard selling approach simply does not work. It actually repels people from you and what you are seeking to accomplish. I call hard sellers “marketing kryptonite.” If you don’t know, kryptonite is the fictional radioactive stone remnants from the planet Krypton, the original home of Superman. Kryptonite weakens Superman and removes his super powers.

Superman suffering the effects of kryptonite.

Superman suffering the effects of kryptonite.

A person who is marketing kryptonite removes the energy from a networking event and limits the abilities of quality networkers to do what they need to do to develop relationships. On LinkedIn the same approach drives people away. How? Getting an unsolicited sales message creates a negative perception of you; it shows that you don’t care, as well as that you don’t understand how LinkedIn should be used. LinkedIn is a networking and relationship building platform that opens doors. A hard sales or miss timed sales message will close doors and limit opportunities.

The key to successful long term networking efforts is relationship building. Invest time to get to know people. Getting to know people does not happen overnight, you must meet one on one and be part of groups that focus on this aspect. It is well known and proven that people do business with people that they know, get to like personally and trust. They will do more business, give referrals and act as brand advocates for people who think of them and look for opportunities for them to expand their networks, refer business and give them information, as well as support that will help them be more successful. This process demonstrates that you have value and that you value the relationship with your contact. If you don’t give and provide value, you have no value yourself. This often happens when the individual is focused on themselves vs the other person. Leverage the power of LinkedIn to communicate with new networking contacts and use the platform to make introductions and share business growth strategies.

What not to do when networking – some simple rules:

  1. Never hard sell.
  2. Build relationships first before asking for business.
  3. Ask for referrals only after you have built trust.
  4. Never set up a meeting just to have a one on one session to present a sales pitch.
  5. Don’t focus on collecting business cards just to reach a goal.
  6. Never follow up by phone or email with a sales pitch.
  7. Don’t lead or start conversations with a list of your services.
  8. Don’t ask, immediately, who are you using for (insert your industry or profession)
  9. Don’t ask probing questions just to qualify people.
  10. Don’t use an elevator speech as a sales pitch.

What to do if you encounter Ned Ryerson or a hard seller? They are persistent so you have to hold your ground. It may be a challenge because most people are not seeking conflict. Start with this:

Ask them a personal question. If they don’t answer, ask it again.

Tell them that you are here to get to know people and find out who has the personality to work with you and your clients or customers.

Do your best to extricate yourself from the conversation and move on. Warn your friends and if possible, work with group leaders to discuss the group’s culture and approach and that hard selling is frowned upon.

In a perfect world wouldn’t we all like to do what Bill Murray does to Ned Ryerson?

See the video below:

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) and Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day.

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) and Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day (click for video).

Of course we can’t do this but we can fight back and let people know the importance of building a relationship with you and let them know who you are, why you do what you do and finally what you do.

Your reputation matters. Being known as a hard seller is a quick way to destroy your reputation in a group or online. Build relationships and you will gain value in many ways. By taking this approach your investment will be rewarded with referrals, recommendations, introductions, new business and interesting opportunities.

By Bill Corbett

Corbett Public Relations Long Island and the World 


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