Have you ever been minutes into a conversation with someone and realized that the two of you were talking about completely different things? You’re moving along in the conversation, everything’s going fine, and then BAM! Out comes a comment that makes you realize the two of you are NOT on the same page. Since starting RFN, it’s happened to me quite a lot! Networking is one of those English words that have multiple meanings. I’ve found that a person who is talking about networking can mean an interesting variety of things! If you’re talking to someone in direct sales, networking is going to be about making connections to find people who need their products and services. If you’re talking to an office professional, they’re more likely to mean finding other people in their profession to share ideas and get advice. While the basics of networking are the same for all, the execution can be slightly different depending on your goals.
Let’s take a look at the different types of networking, who uses it, and what types of challenges they face.
Professional Networking (non-sales)
For an office professional, networking is about finding others in similar or related professions. Networking is particularly important if they’re in a profession with only a few other people doing that job at the company. For example, there is often only one Executive Assistant or IT Network Administrator on staff. Who do they go to when they have questions or need ideas on how to handle something? There’s no one else at the company with the kind of knowledge to give them the help they need. These connections are beneficial when looking for a job, getting advice on how to accomplish a task, soliciting recommendations on tools or vendors, or even just commiserating on the difficulties of the job.
The Challenges: Finding networking events and places to meet potential connections, successfully using networking techniques when at a conference or event, creating a method for keeping track and keeping up with connections they make, and doing the follow up, using social media to build their online reputation.
Referral Networking (selling products or services)
While Direct Sales Representatives and Small Business Owners can also benefit from the Professional Networking described above, they’ve got another layer of networking they use. They are on a mission to match their products with people who need to use them and have a desire to buy them. Direct Sales representatives are independent contractors who are building their own business selling a product away from a retail location. Some of the most widely known examples include Mary Kay, Pampered Chef and Tupperware. Many of the people who try Direct Sales aren’t professional salespeople. They are people who believe in a product so much, they want to bring that product to others through their business.
Small Business Owners often base their businesses on a talent or interest, not on their ability to sell a product. For example, their friends and family rave about their baking abilities and so they open a cupcake shop. They might have a physical store or office, but could run their business completely online or from their homes.
The Challenges: Creating an introduction that’s not “salesy”, finding a balance between making a lasting connection and selling, maintaining relationships with existing customers without putting too much pressure to buy, using social media to engage potential customers, and building relationships with other people who serve their client base.
Referral Networking poses some very big challenges. I talked with Sharon Small, Independent Representative for LegalShield and she phrased it perfectly. “Nobody wants to be SOLD anything. It’s all about being authentic and showing someone how your product can truly add benefit for them.” Working the value proposition for your product or service into your networking techniques in the right ways takes some planning and practice.
These are the two most common types of networking that I run into, but I’m very curious to find out if networking means something different you. Leave me a comment and let me know if there are other networking perspectives you’d like me to write about.