The value of human over digital networking

Rob Jones - Founder & MD

I recall my first NBD role over 25 years ago, I was given a brief company induction along with a company car and told to trawl the business parks of Hampshire, door knock every reception and find out who the Marketing Manager was for that business.

Your network is your net worth

My first million pound account was with The Scotts Company (Gardening products – my dream account!); having waltzed into their reception and asking the receptionist for the details of the Marketing Manager. It just so happened that the Marketing Manager was actually in reception, overheard me and came over and introduced herself. Without that brief intro, my attempts to arrange a meeting probably wouldn’t have happened with such a large American company like Scotts.

Building a useful professional network takes a mix of determination, persistence and right-time-right-place-luck! And, even in today’s hyper-Linkedin-connected world, face-to-face still trumps the cold faceless introduction. 

Human over Digital

Many Business Development Executives today, rely on the Spray and Pray approach offered through LinkedIn, sending out canned pleas for connections to people with job titles, positions or just company names that look appealing. Whilst LinkedIn mining has its place, it can primarily fall into the trap of building up meaningless connections; or at least connections with tenuous (if any) discernible mutual value.

The value in the more traditional face-to-face networking is not just in a new connection made, it is in the opportunity to immediately start a professional relationship and conversation. That type of immediate kick-start to a new business connection is only possible through traditional human, as opposed to solely digital, contact.

We can gain a vast amount of information from face-to-face meetings, afterall, only 7% of the message taken from a conversation is from the words that have been used. We get pretty much all the message from facial expressions, inflexions, vocal tone and body language. We also gain immediate feedback from face-to-face interactions, allowing us to interpret if our ideas are well received or not.

Face-to-face networking remains one of the most powerful business development tactics.

The Art of Schmoozing

But, it does feel as if, recently, networking has been getting a bit of a bad rap. It’s often times seen, by some, as being a free time out of the office drinking and schmoozing it up rather than honest-to-goodness work.

It’s worth remembering that the average age for entry-level professionals is between 21-30. As this age bracket played a key role in the evolution of the digital age, it would be natural to assume that they would more likely prefer virtual interactions… but that is not the case.

It turns out 68% of junior/entry-level professionals value face-to-face networking more than online - which is the highest percentage out of any level surveyed. 

What does this mean to the business world? Well, this percentage certainly adds validity to the importance of networking and to the need to grow your network through personal interactions and yes, that means schmoozing.

It’s not Net-DRINK its Net-Work

In recent times past, networking may have briefly deteriorated into boozed-up afternoons without much quality output but recently, there has been a strong push back to quality, credible, industry targeted networking events that bring people together. And yes, a social drink is still part of the formula, but more often than not nowadays, genuine business connections and conversations are the result of the gathering.

Networking is more valuable now than ever. It’s not so much about beating the pavement and it’s not purely about getting your drink on of an afternoon. It is about leveraging the power of the Face-to-face conversation.

If you make a good connection with someone, after the event, follow up immediately. If appropriate, send an article or some kind of information that they might find helpful.

Networking is a process, not a one-off event; it’s hopefully the start of a mutually beneficial conversation. Take the time to invest in and develop relationships with the people who interest you. Be proactive and invite someone to a one-to-one meeting so you can get to know them, their business needs and challenges.

Remember that most business owners are looking for new connections. Be bold and step forward into their world or invite them into yours.

… I’m off to a breakfast network meeting for a bacon bap and hopefully meet my next big client ;-) 

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