Are you trying to meet the sheep or
the shepherd?

I was attending a networking event this morning — Bruce Webb‘s amazingly awesome Educational Breakfast — when I ran into this particular myth. It was the end of the meeting and everybody was packing up and getting in a last few minutes of conversation. I had been introduced as next month’s speaker earlier in the meeting, so there were a few people who came up to me to say they were eager to hear what I had to say.

One gentleman told me that he was looking forward to it because he felt this was an area in which he had a lack. “I can talk with people at events, but I just can’t seem to close the sale with them later.”

Sigh. I don’t blame this gentleman. After all a lot of people hold this view of networking.

OK, yes, for some, that’s all that networking is — a means to get sales and improve their business. That’s OK. Done properly, networking will lead to sales in the future. That said, though, trying to close business with someone at a networking event isn’t networking. It’s sales.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with sales, but just because you engage in that activity at a networking event doesn’t make it networking. Sales, at its base, is about convincing someone that they want to buy what you have to sell. The ultimate goal of networking is to create and nurture mutually beneficial, long-term, give and take relationships. Those relationships are what will eventually deliver the sales that you are seeking.

And support you in your success in all areas of your life.

Let’s put that in a more agrarian analogy. Someone who approaches an event wearing their “sales hat” views the other attendees as sheep that they have to chase down and shear to gain benefit from the interaction. Someone wearing the “networking hat” views the other attendees as potential shepherds who will go out into flocks you’ve never seen and bring you the sheep who want you to shear them.

So if you ever hear someone referring to “closing sales” when talking about their networking practice, understand that what they are talking about is not in fact “networking”. It is “sales”. It’s still a noble pursuit, but the specific results they are seeking are different from those of a networker and the techniques they will employ will, therefore, also take a different path.

You just have to decide which “hat” you want to wear.

Photo credit: Flickr user yuko_okuy