Yesterday I had to attend a networking event for the International Business Forum, an association that JWA is very involved in. Of course I am biased, but nowadays the IBF events are about the only business events that I feel are worth turning out for in the evening, as they are always good fun, and the people are serious about business. But the thing is, whilst many of us do a lot of business together, we talk about all sorts of other things; last night it was mostly tennis. One of my favourite subjects!
The thing about Prague is that it is a small village. And business people here regard networking as a very important part of their marketing. The problem is, they don't always understand how to network successfully.
Years ago, JWA was asked to assist in training some of the staff of a major international company in business development or, more exactly, how to generate business by attending events. One of the senior managers told me that he had had some training in the UK, but he didn't feel that it was working. He was told:
(a) Never spend more than 2 minutes talking to one person - move on
(b) Always be sure to give and receive a business card
(c) Always follow up
The thing is, and I am afraid that I am going to be harsh here; he had no real personal skills, and he took the training at its word. So he would walk up to someone, barge in on whatever conversation they were having, thrust a card under the person's nose, say nothing much for two minutes, and then walk off mid sentence (he wont guess who he is as there are many people here that follow a similar strategy!).
Networking is a great marketing tool if you know how to do it. But it is not enough to just attend the event, or to hand out cards like sweets, or, worse, bore whoever you talk to to death - in fact, if you do this, you might drive all your potential business away! I believe that most of us prefer to work with people that we like, and wooing a potential client or customer is similar to wooing a boyfriend or girlfriend. My mother used to tell me when I was young and single 'when you go out with a boy, spend as much time asking about him as possible, listen and don't say too much, and he will go away thinking you are the most interesting person he has ever met.' I think that is pretty much the same in networking and pitching - ask about the other person/company, listen, don't say too much, and they will go away thinking 'boy, I want to work with this person!'.
More on this soon.