Repeat after me:

Networking is not selling.

If I ever do decide to create a networking event, I may have that posted over the entrance and make every person who walks in repeat it before walking through the door.

It was several years ago now, but I was out in Anaheim at the National Speakers Association annual conference. This was my first time here and it had been an amazing experience. The sessions were not only full of useful and thought-provoking information, but almost without fail the folks at the front of the room had delivered it in a delightful and entertaining way.

I wish all of my high school teachers had been members of NSA.

Outside the sessions, the networking had been a lot of fun, too, with one glaring exception — and, be assured, she was the only exception I ran into. We’ll call her “Jane”.

Jane was selling.

I won’t say what she was selling, because, frankly, it just wasn’t that interesting.

Jane had staked out a position in the common area outside the ballrooms where the breakout sessions for the conference were being held. She chose the space set up as a conversation area (complete with comfortable chairs) to lay her snare.

Think of a trapdoor spider lying in wait for its prey and you’ll get some idea of what was going on here.

I, not realizing the danger I was in, sat down to collect my thoughts and record a few notes about the most recent session.

Jane pounced.

First broken rule of networking: If someone is obviously focused on something other than networking — say sitting alone in a chair with pen and paper in hand, madly trying to write down all of the ideas they have spilling out of their ears — leave them alone. Networking should always be interactive, not interruptive.

She didn’t really say hello. She just started delivering her sales pitch. Trying to be polite, I listened, but quickly determined that this wasn’t something for which I had a use.

Second broken rule of networking: If someone asks you what you do, keep it short, simple, and non-probing. A networking event is not the time to trot out your 60-second commercial. You are trying to establish a relationship. Get yourself out of the way, so you can focus on them. Really, the most you can hope for is that they will remember roughly what you do. When you contact them at a later date you can each find out more about each other, including the details of your businesses.

As I had learned from one of Debby Peters’ blog posts, though, I continued to listen to see if there was some way I could help her or connect her with someone who could use her services. The problem was, Jane was so heavily invested in getting me to buy that she just kept coming back to how much her product would help me.

Third broken rule of networking: Never, ever, ever sell. Pay attention to what the other person is saying and asking and — here’s a thought — pretend you are in a conversation with another human being. Expecting to get a sale at a networking event is like expecting to get a wedding proposal at a singles bar. It’s vanishingly unlikely to happen and, even if it does, it’s highly likely to end badly for all involved.

Oh, at one point she did ask what I did — good networking practice, right? — and then proceeded to tell me how her product was particularly good for someone who focused on networking.

Fourth broken rule of networking: Never “technique” someone. “Techniquing” is the practice of using some sort of communications method in order to achieve your own self-interest — usually involving a noe-way cash flow — even at the expense of the other person. I do teach networking technique. The difference here is that networking techniques are designed to foster a relationship which will be beneficial to both parties. 

Did I mention that she also told me that I would be great as a salesman — for her product?

Fifth broken rule of networking: To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure what to say about this. She is basically telling me that, after speaking at me for fifteen minutes, she thinks I should throw away the business that I’ve developed — that I have such a passion for — in favor of selling her widget. Um, “Don’t tick off the other person”?

I finally extricated myself by telling her that I was hoping to check out the vendor area (where, ironically, they were much more interested in creating relationships) before the next session started. As I left, I could already see her sizing up her next victim.

Good luck, Jane. I hope you achieve all your sales dreams. Just be assured that if I see you coming, we won’t be having any further “conversations” in the future.

Have you run into any Janes recently?

Image by Flickr user EveryCarListed P