Networking. A decades old buzzword that a lot of people use, but have absolutely no idea what it means. In real estate, we’re bombarded with different strategies to build the numbers in our database. We’re told to door knock, visit all the businesses around our area, and call our “sphere” to ask “who do you know that might want to buy or sell real estate in the next 30 days?” This collecting of contact information and adding it to a database is not networking. To create a network of individuals that trust you enough to refer business to you, you must give your contacts more than a business card and an email touch every month.
Over a 15 year sales career, I’ve had many networking failures. Over the years, I finally figured it out. Building an effective network is just like selling, you have to start by focusing on another’s needs, not yours. Based on that experience, here is a simple 6 step process you can use to start making valuable connections that lead to more business.
Stop leading with your business card. When I first experienced a professional networking event, I thought the right thing to do was deal out and collect business cards like a madman. Maybe have some superficial conversations between trading cards with the next victim. Unsurprisingly, no value was gained from these events. Everyone was walking around trying to tell everyone else what they were about. Because of this, no one cared about what anyone else was saying. Futile.
So, stash the cards in your pocket and use a handshake instead. When you catch someone’s eye, simply walk up, extend your hand, and say “Hi, I’m (your name), what’s your name?” Follow it up with “nice to meet you, (their name), what brings you here today?” It’s a simple conversation starter you can use anywhere and nearly anytime.
Listen more than you talk. The first step of networking isn’t to tell people about what you do or what you need. You must first find out as much as you can about the contacts you’re making. The last thing you want to do is put every person you meet into your database of contacts. Screen your contacts with lots of questions. Find people that are interesting to you because of their business or their personality. Your intention here is to build a lasting business relationship, so make sure you choose contacts you’ll be comfortable following up with.
To make this easier, make sure you practice simple script questions to keep the conversation flowing. Questions like “that’s cool, how did you get into that business,” or “that’s an interesting field, who is your typical client?” If you can’t think of a question quickly, just use “no kidding, I’d love to hear more about that.” If a subject isn’t interesting to you, be polite, don’t lie and say you’re interested.
Should you find someone you think would make a great connection, close them on extending the relationship. “Bill, I’d like to get to know you and your business better, would you like to grab coffee sometime next week?” “Great, what’s the best way to contact you?”
Choose 3 interesting follow ups. As you schedule meetings with new contacts, don’t overextend yourself. If you tell 6 people you’ll be following up with them shortly, you might end up dropping the ball on arranging one of the meetings, then you’ll have damaged your chance to ever make a valuable connection with that contact. Keep it manageable so you’ll be putting your best foot forward. If you find it easy, start increasing your numbers as you move forward.
Once you’ve met and closed 3 people at your event, just switch to a backup plan. Instead of closing for an immediate get together, just say “I’d love to hear more about your business. I’m really swamped with appointments in the next couple weeks, can I contact you after that to discuss a meeting?” Most people will say yes to this, then you can create a reminder to contact them for a meeting time later.
Just a warning, you’ll soon figure out that certain industries are generally not worth focusing on for new contacts. If you are attending formal networking events, you’ll typically see many financial services agents and insurance agents. I hate to pigeonhole people but they will frequently be ready to turn your next meeting into a pitch time for their services. There’s no value to you or your network gained from these meetings. If you want an example of exactly how not to network, this is it.
Research before your meetings. It’s cliche, but “be interested to be interesting” just plain works. Look up your new contacts on LinkedIn. Read their blog if they have one, find out about their company and the major initiatives in their industry. You’ll be able to ask intelligent questions about what’s important to them during your meeting. For example, “don’t people typically hire your firm for intellectual property work” is a much more effective conversation piece than “what kind of law do you practice?”
I know you’re chomping at the bit to tell them what you need, but resist. As the conversation flows, let them ask you questions about your ideal client and your business naturally. Don’t force it! If you’ve screened and chosen strong contacts, their trust in you will grow as you show interest in their business.
Offer introductions to help their business. In real estate, your most valuable resource is your network. Once you’ve learned more about your new contact’s business and who they are looking to work with, suggest a contact you can introduce them to. It’s easy to say “I know someone at XXX company that I think you should meet. Can I introduce you?” I like to use LinkedIn to make the connections, but email works fine as well. After the meeting, message the contact you wish to connect and say “I’ve recently met XXX and spent time learning about his/her business. I think you two share a lot of common ground and could benefit from connecting. Do you have time to chat with them? If so, I’ve cc’d XXXX on this note so you two can follow up.” You can also make the same introduction on a phone call to your current contact if you prefer. Sometimes this is better if they are an extremely busy professional you think might say no to the connection. Even if they do decline, you’ve still made a powerful statement to them that you’re interested in helping them.
This is probably the most impactful part of your networking process. Why? Because you get to meet a professional need for two of your important contacts! I don’t know of a better way to build trust with both contacts than connecting them with someone who can benefit their business. Instead of calling to “check in” you’ve offered a valuable connection for that may serve their interests. If a contact isn’t currently buying or selling, that’s the type of need you can be meeting for them.
Don’t ask “who do you know who might need to buy or sell real estate?” By now your new contact should be comfortable with you and reassured that you aren’t just there to farm them for their connections. This question is still the equivalent of “what can I do to get you in this car today?” Should you get to a point that your contact has told you who their ideal client is, it’s okay to say “thank you for telling me who I can look for. Can I share the profile of the ideal client I look for?”
I’m sure you’ve figured this out by now; this isn’t a quick-fix, silver bullet, or a get rich quick scheme. This is for the long haul. What you’ve also probably noticed is that this approach isn’t real estate specific. I used this technique before I was in real estate, and contacts from that part of my career have now brought business to my real estate career. Effective networking is a simple skill that will absolutely benefit your career in the long term.