Like most successful legal professionals, I engage in a fair amount of networking. Much of my networking time is devoted to developing my own business, but sometimes I am on the “receiving end” of a networking exchange — someone is trying to develop their business through me. I am almost always happy to do this, even when there doesn’t seem to be much in it for me.
I do this because I take a long-term view towards networking. Networking is not just about making yourself more successful; is should be about making both parties more successful. If I can help someone become more successful today, maybe he or she will be able to return the favor in the future.
I also approach these seemingly one-sided networking events as a learning opportunity. I am always curious to see how effective other people are at networking for business development.
Recently, I had a networking coffee of this type with an individual who had created a software product for in-house counsel. He wanted my feedback. It did not go well.
First Mistake: Not Being Inquisitive
This guy did not get a passing grade from me in networking. At an initial meeting like this between two people who do not know each other, an exchange of questions is expected. I certainly peppered him with questions about his background and product. To prepare, I had reviewed his LinkedIn profile and the product’s website before our meeting.
What did he ask me? Nothing.
When networking, you want a new acquaintance to walk away liking you. In this case, there was nothing to indicate this person was remotely interested in me beyond what I could do for him. His total lack of interest in me created no positive feelings in me, and I did not walk away liking him.
His performance did not improve over the course of our meeting. It was obvious to me why he wanted to meet me: although I wasn’t a potential customer, I could provide him with ideas for marketing his product to his target demographic. I market my services to lawyers and have learned much from my experiences. In addition, I suspect, he was hoping for some leads.
Second Mistake: Being Pushy
I am more than happy to let others pick my brain about marketing ideas via networking, but I always warn them in advance that the advice may be worth only what they are paying. I am not nearly as generous when it comes to my leads. I am willing to leverage my relationships to help people I know well, but rarely for strangers. I certainly cannot make a sound judgment about someone after only 45 minutes, and I am not willing to risk offending or wasting the time of a close professional colleague if I guess wrong. I am especially wary when I know that the follow-up to any lead will be a sales pitch.
In any event, this individual didn’t hesitate to ask for names — several times during our meeting. I found his requests annoying, but also a bit naïve.
Finally, it is fundamental to thank someone for taking the time out of their busy schedule to meet with you. I would like to think some of the information and ideas that I provided were helpful to this fellow. A thank you at the end of our time together would have gone a long way towards softening the above mistakes. But do you think I received any sort of acknowledgement? I did not. Hence the failing grade.
Whenever you meet with someone in a networking context, ask questions. Be interested in getting to know more about that person and their business. If you have to ask for leads, save it for a subsequent meeting or a follow-up conversation. And always say thank you.