So, I happily arranged a coffee meeting with Wendy, a friend who has a business helping companies find optimal solutions to their print marketing needs. Since they were both professionals from the Printing Industry I thought this meeting would be a natural. Wendy is an excellent net-worker with very strong connections in Jerry’s target market. I could not have arranged a better connection for Jerry. This meeting looked to have great potential benefit for them both. Well, at least that was my thinking.
We all know that good networking includes the productive use of time. Get to the point. Let me know what you are trying to accomplish. How I can be helpful? The 30-second elevator speech is at the heart of the process. Unfortunately, as the meeting progressed, I saw that Jerry’s goal was to tell Wendy his life story. Jerry’s single-minded intent was to follow through on that objective. Had Wendy been an Executive Recruiter, like me, learning about Jerry’s full history might have been useful. Being a potential networking contact, Wendy’s knowledge of Jerry’s life story was not only irrelevant, but it was also an unproductive use of her time. In the process, Jerry learned absolutely nothing about Wendy. Doubtless, Jerry would not be a very useful networking contact for Wendy.
Frankly, I was astonished. More than once Wendy stopped Jerry to ask him what he was looking to do and how she might be helpful. This irritated Jerry. He did not answer her question but continued on with his story. It was excruciating. Wendy politely cut the meeting short, indicating that she had another meeting to attend. Jerry and I went off to have lunch and debrief.
During our lunch, Jerry expressed his frustration with Wendy. He was completely baffled as to why she continued to interrupt him during his soliloquy. I tried to address his fundamental misunderstanding as to how networking is conducted; i.e. time is of the essence, and the process is meant to be a two-way exchange of information. I explained that Wendy had tried to get Jerry to come to the point, but he refused to budge from his script. I went on to explain that over time, in order to build relationships, it may be useful to reveal more of one’s life story. It is totally inappropriate, however, in an initial networking meeting. My final point was that the message to Wendy was; “it was all about Jerry.” I think Jerry got the message, but I cannot be sure.
I am still unclear as to why Jerry conducted the meeting as he did. It was not only strange, but it was also a little creepy. At his age and with his experience I expected a focused and productive presentation. I had been with him in a number of social settings and always found his behavior to be appropriate. His meeting with Wendy was totally unexpected. Could it be that Jerry was just a very poor salesman? I was beginning to wonder.
Key Learning: To help facilitate a productive networking meeting I use email to introduce my contacts and exchange their information. Exchanging resumes and LinkedIn profiles is a very useful part of the process to prepare for an effective meeting. This gives the participants the opportunity to learn background information prior to the meeting so the focus of the meeting can be on the present. It puts the meeting in context. A “good networking meeting” is a productive exchange where all parties leave with clear knowledge as to how to help the other.
In this case, I should not be too hard on myself. I had enough experience with Jerry to expect a good outcome. I did exchange biographical information in advance. Jerry, Wendy, and I are all about the same age so there are a lot of similar life experiences which made the connection easier. I was surprised that Jerry did not grasp the fundamental concepts of mutual benefit and the productive use of our time. He learned nothing about Wendy and how he might be able to help her. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions and solid preparation, things don’t go well. That’s life. Suck it up and move on. As with last week’s horror story our efforts to help Jerry ended with that meeting.
My balance sheet with Wendy is very much in the positive so there was minimal damage to my credibility. Life goes on. Fortunately, my failed networking meetings continue to be a very small percentage of the total.
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Jim Weber, Managing PartnerITB PARTNERS