Do you ever feel the obligation to pack your schedule with meetups in the bid to make as many professional connections as possible?

Maybe you have even set yourself a quota for the number of business cards you should bring home after every event. You are under the misconception that the more business cards you collect, the more connections you have made.

Everyone knows the importance of networking. Actually, according to the US Labor Departments statistics, 77% of jobs are found through networking.

Source: Slideshare

However, the problem with the approach to networking discussed above is that people are more complicated than that. A connection with a human being is something you nurture.

It’s not enough to shake hands, share a few pleasantries, and exchange business cards. You have to put in some serious work into building a foundation for a relationship. After that, you have to nurture that relationship, just as you would water a plant and then watch it grow.

In other words, successful networking is more about the quality of the interactions than the quantity.

Quality networking requires many soft skills, one of which is empathy and the ability to be an engaging conversation partner.

Below, let’s take a look at five good reasons why should focus on quality over quantity when you are networking:

1. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE TO THINK THEY ARE BEING USED

We live in the age of social media. Everybody knows everybody or is connected to them in some way through somebody else. Concentrating on quantity of connections in this era won’t get you anywhere.

Everyone is saturated with connections, so if you don’t make a really strong impression on them, they won’t care about you.

Don’t boast about having a thousand phone numbers or the fact that you went to a conference and came back with a hundred business cards. The real question is: how many of those people will pick your call?

How many will remember who you are? How many do you have enough of a rapport with that they would say yes if you pitched something to them?

You have to change your mentality from chasing quantity to chasing quality. Stop thinking of them as merely contacts and start thinking in terms of relationships.

The word “relationship” is more serious. It suggests a quid pro quo, a sharing, an exchange. Relationships need work and time. You have to put in effort, and you have to provide value to the other person as well.

This means that you can’t be a mercenary when dealing with people. You have to let the relationship develop in a natural and organic way, because pushing too hard can repulse the other person.

It’s a tough balancing act, but the best networkers do it with ease, and so can you in due time. Just stop thinking of people as stepping stones and think of them as potential friends. It really is as simple as that!

People don’t fancy the feeling that they are being used. If you are focused on quantity, you won’t dedicate any time or effort in cultivating your relationships with the people you meet. You will always be on the go – five minutes with this person, then off you go to capture another business card.

What kind of relationship can be built in just five minutes? When you later call the person, they might not even remember you. If they do, there is likely to be a feeling of resentment on their part when you bring up your pitch. This feeling of resentment is natural.

On the other hand, if you invest time in the conversation and truly connect with the person, then they will be very glad to listen to what you have to say when you call them afterwards.

That’s one of the realities of business – a lot of it comes down to relationships. People don’t like doing business with strangers. They also don’t like doing business with people they don’t like.

The trick to good networking is cultivating a good rapport with the people you target.

2. SOME CONNECTIONS ARE OF HIGHER VALUE THAN OTHERS

Quality networking needs strategy. You can’t just approach anyone and everyone. You have to figure out who is important to you, and then spend more time and attention developing those particular relationships.

That means that before going to the networking event, you need to figure out your end-goal. Problem is that most of us tend to approach networking like a game of dice, instead of like target practice.

Before you head for the networking event, narrow down your intentions to one specific goal. For instance, you might decide that you want to find someone who will invest in your business. Once you figure out that’s who you want, that narrows down the people you will target during the event.

Instead of circling the room, passing your business card to everyone in the room, you are going to invest a great portion of your time to approaching the individuals who can help you achieve your specific goal.

Passing business cards to everyone is easy. Targeting specific people is difficult. It brings in the element of rejection.

As long as people are taking your business cards, you get the soothing illusion that you are making progress. However, when you have to target specific people, you need courage to approach them and actually speak to them. It brings in a sense of risk-taking.

The good thing is that if these people give you their time and you actually build a rapport with them, the chances of them agreeing to your proposal are much higher than if you had only spent a few minutes with them and then handed them your business card.

One of the reasons for this is that you come to the conversation knowing exactly what you want from them. You can steer it where you want it to go. You will know the things to say to impress them and the minefields to avoid.

This strategic approach is also useful in helping you decide which events to attend and which to let slide. Without this kind of long-term thinking, you will go to every single networking event that comes your way, and that is a big waste of time. In truth, not all events are worth attending.

It’s not even about the prestige of the event. Some prestigious events may not be worth attending either. What matters most in strategic networking is your intention. You should pick an event that will the type of people you are targeting in attendance.

For instance, if you are targeting clients, then the best type of event is one that features potential clients. Thinking like this actually broadens your perspective about the kinds of events to attend.

Instead of only attending your particular industry’s events, you will start branching out to events from other industries that prospective clients are likely to attend.

3. BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP TAKES TIME

When you move from one person to the next in rapid succession when networking, you fail to consider a fundamental truth. You forget that people, no matter how professional the setting, are simply people.

People are social animals. They want to interact. They don’t form relationships mechanically. Sharing a few pleasantries and exchanging business cards does not make a relationship. You actually have to put in the work.

Relationships are like plants. If you don’t water them, they wilt. If you have thousands of contacts, how do you decide who you should zero in on? Is it possible to cultivate relationships with all thousands of them?

Have you ever heard of the paradox of choice? This refers to a situation where one has so many options at their disposal that it freezes their ability to make a decision.

For instance, imagine you find twenty different cakes at the bakery, each of a different color and shape and texture. You can only pick one, because that’s how much money you have.

The problem is that each of these cakes, in that moment, looks irresistible. Making a decision becomes hard. The indecision drives you crazy, because picking one means losing out on all the others (which you would have also wanted to taste). In the end, you will either walk away without buying, ask the shopkeeper to pick for you, or pick one at random or for reasons such as “red is my favorite color”.

That is exactly what you will experience when you pick quantity over quality when networking. It’s very hard to figure out which relationships to nurture and which ones to give less time and investment.

You spread yourself thin across all these relationships, and in the process, you do a disservice to all the relationships.

Trying to get them all, you lose them all – or rather, you only get a few by luck.

This, as we said, is treating networking as a game of dice when you should be treating it as target practice. You should harness your networking prowess to the point where a big number of the connections you make are sure bets. That’s the strategic approach to networking.

When you focus on quality connections, it enables you to invest a considerable amount of time and resources to developing each relationship. The more time you invest in a relationship, the more it moves towards friendship. People naturally want to do business with people they like.

At the networking event, this will involve having a proper conversation with each person, not just a quick word before you whip out your business card.

After the event, that will involve following up with a call or email. If you had already developed a good rapport at the event, then the person is highly likely to remember you.

If you made a good impression on them, then they will be pleased to hear from you. This will make it easier for you to bring up your pitch and for them to accept it.

However, it would be impossible to do this to everyone you met if you collected a 100 business cards.

Building a relationship with the person may even go on for months and years. Sometimes you just become friends. These are the best kinds of relationships, because it makes it easier for you to trade favors with them.

It also means that if they come across relevant opportunities, you are one of the first people they will think of. These are the kinds of relationships that give you dividends for years!

4. HIGH-VALUE CONNECTIONS BREED MORE CONNECTIONS

Networking is about building your reputation in the industry. When people are saying good things about you, it is inevitable that good things will come your way.

It also matters who is saying good things about you. If it is high-level individuals, like CEOs, then you can bet more people will want to be part of your network.

If the only people talking about you are in the lower cadres, then you are going to have to work really hard to build a reputation. It is going to be an uphill climb.

And if you are going for quality over quantity, these are probably the kind of people you will be networking with more often. On the other hand, if you go for high-level connections, they might provide value 10x what someone in a lower level would provide.

You must therefore learn how to work smart, not hard. Going for quantity is working hard for little and uncertain returns. Going for quality is working smart for plentiful and certain returns – a sure bet!

It’s all about influence. If your aim in networking is to boost your brand/reputation in the industry, you should start targeting people who have influence in the industry. When a person with no influence says you are great at what you do, no one will pay attention to what they say. Therefore, that connection is worth just one person.

When a person with influence over ten people says you are great at what you do, you will gain ten new people who know about you. These people will then go on to say good things about you to other people.

That leads to an expanding network of people saying good things about you, many of them whom you haven’t even met.

In the process, you start to become well-known in your industry as someone who knows what they are doing and doing it well. That is when you transition from the person seeking connections with other people to the person other people want to meet and give their business cards to!

You now become the target of other people’s networking ambitions! This is the true epitome of working smart. When your reputation in the industry is secure, people will come to you, so you don’t have to go to them.

That means you will be doing networking without even trying to do networking!

As you can see, the formula is very simple (in theory). Just make a good impression on individuals who have influence. You can start small, but as you build your courage and influence, aim higher and higher, until you are interacting with the top people in the industry.

However, that also means you actually have to be excellent at what you are delivering, so work on your product or skill or whatever it is you are bringing to the table. Be excellent, so that others can, with good conscience, say that you are excellent.

In practice, this is difficult. It’s challenging. It needs guts. Approaching people who have influence is daunting. It is so much easier to pass around business cards to people on the same level as you. However, remember – no guts, no glory.

If you want to maximize your networking impact at minimal cost, that’s the best hack. Target people who have influence – it’s as simple as that!

5. YOU CAN’T BE A GOOD LISTENER IF YOU ARE RUSHING OFF

We said earlier that people don’t like the feeling that they are being used. They don’t like a card-thruster. If you are in a rush to work the room, always looking over your shoulder when holding a conversation with someone, they don’t get that warm feeling.

True networking is about being a good listener. When you talk to somebody, you should give them your entire attention. That does not mean pretending to be attentive while your mind is already thinking about the next person you want to hand your business card to.

No, it means truly listening. Listening skills are a very important factor in communication. If you want people to listen to you, you should first listen to them.

When people see that you are paying attention to what they are saying,  it gives them a feeling of satisfaction. It makes them feel comfortable with you. It makes them want to be your friend. It makes them want to listen to what you have to say. It makes them want to do things for you.

A good marketer understands this. Before you bring out your pitch, start by listening to the other person.

Give them as much time to talk as possible. The more they talk, the more connected they will feel you. They will then be highly likely to remember you. People always remember the people that made them feel special.

That’s what good listeners do. They make others feel special. That makes them powerful, because everyone wants to feel special, so good listeners will always be in demand.

If you are in a hurry to rush off and hand off your business cards to other people, you probably aren’t going to be eager to listen to people. If you don’t listen to them, how can you connect with them?

If you don’t connect with them, how can you expect them to want to listen to your pitch when you call them up later on? Listening leads to our next point – problem-solving.

6. YOU CAN’T PROVIDE VALUE IF YOU DON’T STICK AROUND LONG ENOUGH TO FIND OUT THEIR PROBLEMS

As we have said, great networking is about listening. One of the benefits of being a good listing is that people feel comfortable telling you about their problems – and if people tell you about their problems, you can provide solutions.

That’s how you prove your value. If you start with helping them, they will be more attached to you and ready to listen to what you want to say, or to help you when you call in a favor

That is a secret many good closers know. If you provide direct value to the person you want to close a deal with, they are more willing to work with you. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the problem is.

So long as you can solve it, or suggest a worthy solution, that makes the person you are closing see you in a different light.

They start to see you as an asset, someone they would want close to them. They start to see you as someone they would be willing to work with, because where one solution came from there are probably many others.

You see, human relations are about quid pro quo. You give me something, then I give you something. In every situation, we are bartering, usually in favors. Sometimes you don’t notice the barter trade aspect, but there is almost always a mutually beneficial aspect of every relationship.

If it is not mutually beneficial, then the other party won’t be interested. That’s an important thing that you should never forget. When you approach someone to pitch to them, stop thinking about what they will do for you. Start asking yourself, “What can I do for them?”

Every single person in the world, no matter how important they are, has only one question in their mind in every transaction they get into: “what is in it for me?” If you are the only one benefiting from the relationship, then the other party will quite understandably refuse the deal.

That is why listening is such a valuable skill. When you listen, people tell you their problem. You don’t need to struggle to figure out what you can help them with. They tell you themselves.

If you want to accelerate through the process of relationship-building and forge a strong connection with your networking targets, be a problem solver.

If you can’t solve the problem yourself, this is where the network you have already built can come in handy.

For instance, if the person you are approaching has a problem that can be solved by someone else already in your network. You can connect the two and in this way get the gratitude of good will of both parties.

WRAPPING UP

While having a big network is certainly a good thing, it means little if you cannot call on that big network whenever you need some help or favors.

Remember, this is the main goal of networking – having a group of people that can connect you to opportunities.

However, it is impossible to build strong enough relationships for these people to connect you to opportunities if you are trying to get everyone into your network.

It leads to shallow relationships that are not worth much. If you want your networking efforts to be effective, you need to focus on the quality of the relationships you build with your network.

Here’s Why Quality In Networking Wins Out Over Quantity

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