Not Everyone is a Customer

In a recent article I wrote for a local organization, I discussed an approach to networking that involves whispering, not shouting. The article addressed a common issue with organized networking events in which people shamelessly self-promote without establishing connections, turning the event into a mass marketing forum.

What many people fail to realize at such events is that not everyone is a [potential] customer, but that does not mean they are not worthy of your time. The next big lead for your business can come from anywhere or anyone.

Once you realize this fact, though, your approach to networking may change significantly. Instead of trying to push a product or service, you might try to inform. Instead of trying to sell, you might start to listen and have conversations.

Networking is about establishing connections that will endure long beyond any short-term benefit. As an example, you might be able to close a sale with some aggressive marketing for a few cans of paint to someone who just moved into a new house. If you spent time to connect with that person, though, they may have referred you on to their contractor, who would continue to buy from you for many years. Does that mean that you should not sell to anyone who could use your service?

Not really – it just means that your approach might need to be fine-tuned. Listen, connect, interact. Eventually, the sale will come. If you provide paint, as in my previous example, then the person who moved might ask you if you sell privately, or only to contractors and professional painters. Not only have you opened yourself to the possibility of referrals, you have managed to close the immediate sale as well with far less effort.

Oddly enough, many people are well aware of this sales technique, and yet they persevere with the bullhorn approach to networking. Perhaps this is because when they enter the events, they are seeing other people behave this way, and they immediately try to fit in.

From personal experience, though, I’ve found that you’ll actually make more of an impact if you use the soft-sell approach – you’re at the event not to sell products or services, but to meet people. When you tell others this, they will be initially surprised, and try to find the ulterior motive. But if there truly isn’t one, you’ll have made great progress is establishing new connections that will have the potential for huge returns over the long-term.