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Why your networking isn't working

            You know the scene. You walk into a room of people with the purpose of expanding the network of those who know you, trust you, would buy from you or recommend you to others.

            You know you need to be out among prospective customers or clients. You have yet to see a single such event (breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour) result in your meeting someone who promptly did business with you. You’re behind on a critical deadline back at the office. Yet here you are, with a string of similar, non-productive events in your past. Do you simply endure it and rush back to work? Or do you slow down just a bit and make the most of this opportunity?


Your networking experience coroner’s report

Cause of death by networking could be any of several, including:

  1. Ridiculous expectations – Did you really think that you’d walk into that crowded room, introduce yourself to someone and make a sale on the spot? If you did, recall from Selling 101 that trust is the single most basic, important and first thing that must happen before anyone buys anything from anyone. Trust usually takes time, whether directly between two people or by way of a mutual customer/friend/acquaintance.
  2. Failure to engage – You had plenty of business cards and would have been happy to give them away three to a person had anyone simply asked. You didn’t take the leap yourself of asking someone, at least one person for his or her business card.
  3. Mistaking a process for an event – Networking is often perceived as the time between the beginning and the end of the breakfast or luncheon. One of the most common causes of death by networking, this misperception kills almost instantly.
  4. Missing on the follow up – You shook some hands, gathered some cards and promptly stacked them in a corner of your desk with the rest of your collection. In lieu of a note, e-mail or follow up phone call, the cards became casualties as well.


Make a friend, be a friend

            Unless your business is permanently closing tomorrow, chances are good that a friendship initiated today could turn into an opportunity to serve in the future. Handled properly, that’s exactly what you should be hoping to do in each situation where you are meeting someone for the first time.

            So how do you make a friend in this seemingly high-pressure situation? Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Offer a friendly greeting – “Hi, I’m new here. My name is John Carroll. And you are…” This opens up the communications channel and gives the other person the chance to reply in kind.
  • Follow up with a chance to listen – “I’m pleased to meet you. Tell me what brings you here today.” This allows someone to be as specific about his or her hopes about today’s event or as general as a thumbnail sketch of this person’s business or organization.
  • Reflect what you’ve just learned – “So you work in the technology business. Terrific! I really value what I know about the technology tools I use and enjoy learning ways to be more productive with all those electronics. Tell me, what do you enjoy most about your work?” Now listen closely again as you may gain a personal insight to help you remember this person the next time the two of you meet.
  • Ask for a business card – This is much more professional than handing one of your cards to another person unsolicited. More often than not, you’ll be asked for one in return. According to nationally recognized protocol expert Cynthia Grosso, you should take the card and immediately read it, again showing interest in the other person.
  • Make a note on the card for easy recall later – Having had a short conversation, note something that you learned to serve as a quick and easy reminder of that person when you pull out that card later at the office.
  • Make a courteous and graceful exit – “I’m pleased to know you. I know you want to meet some others here today, so I’ll let you do that.”
  • Write a follow up note – Remind the person that you met at this certain event, that you’re pleased to know him or her and that if there’s any way you can be of service, please don’t hesitate to call or write. A handwritten note is the best impression you can make here. An e-mail, while falling far below the impact of the handwritten note, can still be that second touch that creates the basis for a friendship or business relationship in the future.


Use these steps to make the most of your networking opportunities. Remember, your time is valuable and an approach such as this provides you with greater value for your time invested in getting out and getting among others who may be prospective customers, suppliers or advocates for you and your business.


John Earl Carroll is a businessman, national award-winning columnist, author, consultant and speaker. John is president of Unlimited Performance, Inc. He strategically connects strengths that create dramatically improved productivity, sales and profits for executives and organizations where such improvement was previously deemed impossible. John is past president of the Mount Pleasant Business and Professional Association and leads a weekly group meeting focused on applying one’s Christian faith in the workplace. You can reach him at (843) 881-8815, via e-mail at jcarroll@uperform.comor follow him on Twitter at


What value signals are you sending in your selling?

             In our high-tech world where we seem to develop and adopt newer, faster forms of communication more rapidly than ever, we continue to communicate to customers, clients and prospects in ways that don’t involve computers or artificial intelligence of any kind.

            Consider then the value message we send to others with our presence, our presentation and our poise.


Being there

            In this high-tech world where we can respond at a moment’s notice, some tend to downplay the value of meeting face to face with people. With the movement to conserve and be kind to the environment, people may justify long-distance communication as saving energy and producing a smaller carbon emissions footprint.

            Here’s one element of human nature that technology doesn’t change: you show up in person for what you value.

            Think in terms of your personal relationships. Let’s say your child has an athletic event or artistic performance. With the technology available, you can easily arrange and view a recording of the entire event. You can even view the event with your child after the fact, discuss the highlights and get the child’s unique perspective on exactly what happened. None of that comes close to taking the place of your being in place as the game or performance begins with you witnessing the entire event in real time.

            Once you’re there with your loved one, you can use technology to capture the real value of that moment in time. Grab your camera (or your telephone with the camera feature) and get some shots of your son or daughter in action. Keep it available for the post-event activities, including photos of you with your child that you both can treasure as evidence of what you value highly in your life. Often it’s one of those somewhat candid pictures that prompts vivid recall of a funny or touching story that will live for decades to come.

            Similarly in selling, getting in front of customers and prospects shows that you care and that this person or account holds a high priority. Never have so many elements of life competed for our attention. The opportunities we address with our personal presence speak volumes about exactly what we value.

            Recently a client called to discuss specific steps planned in its immediate response to a potentially adverse increase in regulatory compliance. As I listened, I heard extremes both in the content of the message (“We’re cutting off…”) and the tone (“We need to do this now because we don’t know what will happen 90 days from now.” Wanting to continue the conversation when I could give it my complete attention, I finished and exited a meeting and postponed or cancelled the rest of the day’s schedule in favor of a visit that involved a two-hour drive to reach the client’s office.

            Arriving unannounced, I was able to spend time with two of the client firm’s officers. I listened to what they sensed they were facing and learned how they were addressing the weeks and months heading into the last part of the current calendar year. I found a reasonable number of proactive steps blended in with more urgent reactive decisions. Without expressing it in words, I clearly communicated that the client’s priority in this situation had also become my priority. Though they didn’t say it in words, I could also tell that my presence had made a difference in how they were facing and addressing the issues at hand.


Dressing for the part

            For those who have been taking a Rip Van Winkle-length nap and missed looking around for 20 years or so, there has been a considerable trend toward dressing down to business casual and beyond in the American workplace. For some companies, it’s a long-standing tradition to dress business casual while in one’s own office or plant and raise the standard when meeting customers, clients or prospects away from the office.

            What has changed is that far fewer companies now require men to wear jacket and tie and women to wear a business suit regardless of the meeting site. This translates into increased business for the manufacturers and retailers of sport shirts, golf shirts, casual pants, casual outfits and the like.

            How we present ourselves also communicates value, both of ourselves and of those we meet. If it’s up to you to decide that for yourself or your team or company, you may want to consider the advantages and disadvantages of raising the standard of your dress code. Three obvious advantages are sending a message to your customers and prospects that you would never handle their business in a casual manner and therefore wouldn’t dress casually, either. A second advantage is setting yourself and your team apart from the competition. Picture the networking event in which several accounting firms regularly attend and participate. Other attendees may hold the best-dressed firm in higher esteem regardless of whether you consider that to be fair. A third advantage is the expectation of professionalism that a higher standard of dress communicates to your team.

            Disadvantages of raising your standard of business attire include pushback from team members who enjoy a more casual dress code as well as the higher personal investment in wardrobe and maintenance, including dry cleaning. In a time when prospects and customers are looking more deeply than ever for value in all aspects of their lives, something as basic as raising the level of one’s appearance can send that signal of value. Don’t take my word for this. Check the research on people’s first and ongoing impressions of others based almost exclusively on dress and personal presentation. If you decide to leave your dress code exactly as is, I recommend you do so with eyes wide open to the implications of your decision.


Poised for success

            In this age of media outlets clamoring for our attention with the latest horrible news of disasters and possible disasters of all types and sizes, the person who remains poised throughout sends a strong message of confidence, trust and hope.

            Sure, you could join the masses who participate in “The sky is falling!” exercises and catalyze some short-term commotion and decision. Other than decisions not easily reversed, however, you may be expending disproportionate energy for precious little long-term value.

            Yes, it may rain today and yes, that could mean slippery driving surfaces that could indeed result in automobile collisions during the highest travel part of the day. Rarely does weather rise to the level of disaster coverage. Those who take proper precautions in their driving and drive defensively without the tempting distractions of handheld technology will more often than not avoid and even prevent such mishaps.

            Be clear on the fact that the recession is ending and the recovery is in full swing. There’s evidence if you choose to heed it, from General Motors paying back its loan with interest well ahead of schedule to the stock market showing sustained strength. Some will play the victim card continuously as long as anyone pays attention. Others will handle occasional setbacks with grace and poise, understanding that anything of real and lasting value comes at a significant price.

            Your key opportunity as a leader in this and any market condition is to fill your own tank with enough confidence, poise and energy not only to propel yourself and your organization onward but also to encourage others to do the same.


John Earl Carroll is a national award-winning columnist, author, consultant and president of Unlimited Performance, Inc. in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Follow him on Twitter at contact him at



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