in Selling Professional Services

The Number One Skill in Business Networking

Business NetworkingBusiness Networking is a vital sales tool for professionals and salespeople alike – yet it's one that many people struggle with.

I've seen a lot of great advice given over the years – but very few people touch on what I have found to be the most important skill of all.

Most networking advice focuses on what to say – how to position yourself, how to answer the “what do you do?” question, how to get people interested in what you have to offer.

This is all important stuff – but there's something that can have a much bigger impact on your networking success than how you describe what you do.

It's the simple technique of asking them what they do first.

Most networkers rush far too quickly into talking about themselves. They're so passionate about what they do and what they have to offer – and so desperate for the other person to understand this – that their discussion becomes more of a monologue.

The reality is that networking is a long term game – and the initial meeting is the very first innings of that game. No one is going to start buying from you or referring business to you after a 5 minute chat. So there's no rush to blurt out all the details of what you do. What is vital is for you to make a good impression – to be seen as someone worthy of continuing a discussion with and finding out more about. And what sort of people do we like talking to? People who are genuinely interested in us and let us talk about ourselves. Not people who dominate the conversation and talk about themselves all the time.

But even more importantly than this, being the first to ask “what do you do?” and to focus on the other person gives you 6 major advantages:

  • You can figure out whether the other person is a potential customer or a potential referrer for you – and adjust your “elevator speech” accordingly.
  • By learning about what the other person does and what they're interested in, you can see how to best pitch your services to hit the right “hot buttons” for them.
  • If you have multiple services to offer you can identify which is the most appropriate for them and focus on a powerful specific message for that – rather than using a generic “catch all”.
  • By listening to the way they communicate and the language they use you can identify the best way to communicate with them in a compelling manner.
  • You may be able to pick up specific areas where you can help them straight away – people to connect them too or resources to point them at. By adding value for them before you've even talked about yourself you'll make a tremendous impression.
  • And, of course, by listening first you'll be seen as empathetic and understanding – just the sort of positioning you want as a trusted advisor.

And one more subtle bonus – by focusing on being the first to ask “what do you do?” and then on listening, you're really taking the pressure off yourself. No need to worry about have a word-perfect pitch – even the clumsiest amongst us can ask a simple question and then listen. So by the time you get asked the return question (and if you've listened well – you will get asked), you've already built up a good rapport with your conversation partner – and your side will be listened to more attentively and more sympathetically.


PS – for more resources on effective business networking hop on over to the site of the UK's leading networking guru and all-round nice-guy Will Kintish.

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  1. Thumb up! Listening and providing valuable information instead of talking about yourself is the best way of winning new customers.”It´s not about us it´s all about them” is probably the most important tip in the social media workplace.

  2. @Jasmina_V
    Many thanks for the comment Jasmina – you’re right – focusing on “them not us” is key in all sorts of other arenas too – not least of which is social media.


  3. If you can go into any networking event/interaction being “interested” instead of trying to be “interesting”, the rest will fall into place.

    After all, what’s everyone’s favourite subject?

    Yup – themselves!

    Remember, networking is not about a one night stand! It’s more like a long term relationship that hopefully results in a marriage (i.e they’ll do business with you) and consumation (i.e you get paid too!)

    My god I’m becoming philosophical in my old age!

    Sean Mc

  4. Ian,

    Timely article as there are a lot of networking events now kicking off for 2009. It’s not speed dating, it’s ok NOT to talk every second, and make your questions short and to the point so that the other person can respond and feel comfortable. Make it easy for the other person and they will enjoy and value meeting you.


  5. Ian,

    Must read, well presented thanks you have focused on the main issue. Very useful tips, will remember this always. In fact we are depended on them, they are not. Listening will sure help


  6. Nice feature again Ian. I think 2 traits get you a long way in networking:

    1. An interest in people
    2. A general attitude of curiosity

    It might be termed the Sir David Attenborough approach – in his case for the natural world!