Common networking failures and how to avoid them
Building relationships with complete strangers can be intimidating. As an entrepreneur who cold-launched dozens of investors and an executive of the Wharton Alumnae Founders & Funders Association (WAFFA) —I have both committed and seen my fair share of networking failures.
The central challenge of networking is to navigate the thin line between building relationships and seeking professional gain. How do you strike the right balance between these two seemingly opposed approaches? Start by avoiding these pitfalls that even experienced networkers do over and over again.
1. Hide your motivations
Even a hint of dishonesty can kill a new relationship. That’s why it’s better to be upfront about your motivations for contacting a new contact, rather than positioning yourself as “just trying to get to know them”.
Professionals know you haven’t texted them because you need a new friend. More likely, you want to learn more about an initiative they’re working on, get an introduction, cultivate a target customer, or get in touch with a potential employer. You don’t need to hide why you want to talk to someone. It’s disguising your agenda that seems fishy.
“I’m approached dozens of times a week for intros. The key to getting a yes is to explain exactly how I can be of help, ”Shannon Grant, an investor and WAFFA co-chair, told me following an event with a popular speaker last month. “If I can help a founder get funding for a company that’s shaping the landscape, that’s important to me. I don’t need to be at his wedding.
2. Asking too much
Being upfront with your request is essential, but asking too much can be fatal. Asking for a specific introduction from someone you don’t know well can become awkward if they don’t actually have a relationship with that contact or don’t think it’s a good use of their contact’s time.
To avoid embarrassing someone, ask open-ended questions that leave space for the other party to decline gracefully. “Do you know anyone I should talk to while I try to find out more about jobs at Google?” beats “Can you put me in touch with your ex-coworker Mrs. Smith at Google? I want to ask her for a job.
“I received this note from a contact requesting an introduction to a specific investor, but I did not know that investor personally,” said Alice Zhang.. The founder of the micro-entrepreneurship community IncubateMe and a WAFFA board member said: “I could have been a lot more helpful if the sender had provided the context and asked if I knew someone who could match what she was doing.”
3. Putting too little effort at the table
The perception that someone comes too strong is usually not created by being frank about their motives. Instead, the problem is usually what they bring to the interaction.
Diane Oved, CEO of Empower digital, a digital marketing and public relations firm, explained a common pitfall. “A new founder will ask me for a celebrity intro for a collaboration,” Oved said, “but they haven’t built a website, prepared any material, or thought about what they’ll do if the intro is done yet. “
What people lack is that with each introduction, the connector negotiates on their own reputation. To fight for you, someone will need to see that you’ve done your homework and are ready to offer meaningful interaction.
4. Missing the point of specificity of Goldilocks
Successful networkers have reached Goldilocks specificity point. “Hey, I’m trying to unload my inventory. Thoughts? “Is too vague a question. It is up to your new contact to think through your issues for you. Instead, try,” Do you know any retail buyers looking to buy inventory wholesale? “
But always leave the “how” of your request to your contact. “Yeah, that introduction you’re doing?” I will need it to be available for a Zoom next Friday ”is not a good look. Be specific about your request, but broad about the execution – don’t try to control it.
Marina Tarasova, co-founder and COO of the healthcare startup Paloma Health, gave an example from his recruiting experience: “One candidate said he was looking for a position in operations, product management, marketing or sales,” Tarasova explained. “I was left without knowing where exactly his skills lie. He would have been more successful in naming specific functions that he could tackle in each area, such as financial forecasting or negotiating with brand partners.
5. Failed sympathy test
You don’t need Steve Jobs-level charisma to be a good networker, but you do need to clear the basic sympathy bar. Approaches that seem boring, authoritative, or lacking in substance will instantly disable new connections.
People want to be inspired, intrigued, or excited by what you do, or at least by what you have to say about what you do. they or they done. It’s hard to make a connection if you haven’t formed a perspective on something that matters to the other person.
Law is another deal-killer. People who think they are owed favors are annoying and tend to be the biggest problem for me when I am approached for intros.
Finally, making statements that don’t hold water or exaggerating your own importance backfires. “I sold 109 handmade bracelets in one day” beats “I am implementing an initiative that will change the face of the transport economy by bringing together key stakeholders. The latter is called a salad of words and no dressing can save it.
Being direct, clear, humble and prepared is the gold standard of networking. But if you can avoid obscuring your motives, over-designing your request, or being half-done, you’ve already got a head start.
Marina Glazman is a strategist, two-time entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Suitely.