To network or not to network that is the question often asked by many senior executives.
On one hand, networking is an important way to establish relationships and drive business development. At the same time, networking can be time-consuming and not always a productive exercise.
So how should senior executives approach networking, particularly at a time when digital tools such as LinkedIn offer new ways to make connections? Has networking become an anachronism? Has the concept of having to meet people face-to-face lost its value?
In speaking with several business executives, I found that networking is still very much alive and well. As much as we live in a digital world, no replacement is as tangible for making real-world connections as meeting in-person.
“There is still nothing like good, old-fashioned, face-to-face networking because there is no much more emotion conveyed,” said John Sacke, an investment advisor with a major bank. “You get to see body language and the degree of confidence. You get to see levels of credibility.”
Another key element of real-world networking is trust. In many ways, trust is a key business ingredient. As consumers and business people, we make decisions based on emotions – it is the way we are wired. When we trust someone, it can be easier to make a purchase.
“All business transactions occur because of trust relationships,” said Peter Lamantia, CEO with Authentic Web, which operates a registry platform for domain names. “That can be trust in a brand promise to deliver the value proposition it espouses, or by the trust we place in a personal referral where we do not know or have experience with the brand promise. We buy a widget because we trust the brand promise to deliver us an experience that we will value. That can happen without a personal referral, if we know the brand.”
One of the challenges when it comes to networking can be identifying the best networking opportunities. In many sectors, there is a variety of networking events, so the trick is deciding which ones make the most sense. From personal experience, it comes down to the people attending an event. If the cast of characters is the same at each event, you can afford to be selective.
‘Play the hand you’re dealt, not the hand you wish you had’
Lamantia said networking, in many ways, is a state of mind and having a positive attitude.
“Networking can be fun or it can be dreadfully painful,” he said. “It depends on the event and sentiment of those attending. Pure sharing in a welcoming environment where participants share and are truly interested to learn can be a joy in learning reciprocation.
“Networking in environments with purely sales motivated intent where individuals simply want to communicate and sell you their stuff is one sided. That really isn’t networking; it’s selling. The two are very different. I like it when it’s real. I detest it when it is sales driven. I attend events and am rarely disappointed simply because at any event there is always a valued connection to be made. Just one is all it takes for value to be gained.”
Sacke adds a successful networking experience often comes down making a leap of faith and making the best of the situation.
“You only know a networking opportunity is good if you’re there,” he says. “One of the key things that I have learned is you play the hand you’re dealt, not the hand you wish you had. If you’re at a function or event where there doesn’t seem to be real opportunities, you need to start find the opportunities. Go to the person to the left or right of you, and introduce yourself.”
The reality is networking is not a science. There are no hard and fast rules about networking success. You can look at networking as ways to create new opportunities, or see it as necessary evil. Either way, it is still a valuable business tool, even in an increasingly digital world.