The 3 Levels of Business Networking

Shaking hands at a Business Networking meetingIn terms of how effective business networking can be, there are 3 distinct levels that you can choose to play at.

The first level is the least effective, but it’s also where the majority of networkers spend their time and effort.
Level 3, on the other hand, is the ‘nirvana of networking’ and it’s where the results you get from your efforts will pay the largest return.

So, the question I’m sure you’re asking probably goes along these lines.  What are the different levels of networking, how can I identify them and how do they differ from one another?

Level 1

Level 1 is the default level at which people network.  It’s where most people start, and many remain – unless they start to learn, and to understand, the whole process of business networking and how to get the best from it.

At this level everything is done without any depth of thought.  The mindset is very poor and the understanding of how networking works and what it’s all about is almost negligible.  The networking process is approached from a perspective of  WIIFM; ‘What’s in it For Me?’

Business Networking Level 1 - Who Can I Sell ToOn this level participants are simply trying to sell to one another.  They look at everyone in the room as a ‘prospect’, a potential sale of their product or service, and they tend to fall right into ‘sales mode’.  It’s reflective of the attitiude of a ‘hunter’.  Someone out to make a killing and then move on.

The irony is that most of us really do dislike this kind of approach when we’re on the receiving end of it.  And, of course, those that use this approach are often the most critical of it when confronted by the very approach they use themselves.

If only we could learn to treat others the way we would wish to be treated we could all achieve so much more.

It’s important to understand what level the people you are networking with are playing at, so that you know the best way to handle them.  Watch out for the following signs that they display when on Level 1 and be aware of your own approach to make sure that you’re not doing any of these things;

  • It’s clear that these people operate from a ‘What’s in it for me’ perspective.
  • They don’t give any thought, whatsoever, about how they may be able to help you.
  • They don’t show any depth of interest in what you do and don’t ask very many questions.
  • The questions they do ask are fairly superficial.
  • They make many assumptions about your trade/profession rather than actually asking you about it.
  • As soon as you ask what they do they, literally, launch straight into their sales ‘pitch’ without stopping to catch their breath.
  • It’s obvious that they are trying to sell to you, as well as to anyone else who will listen to them.
  • You find yourself desperately trying remove yourself from the conversation/pitch.

And there are, of course, many other signs of a similar nature but I’m sure you get the general idea.  Despite all the effort that goes into trying to sell, surprisingly little business is done at Level 1.  You need to move up the scale for that to happen.

Level 3

Business Networking at Level 3Level 2 is actually more difficult to explain without a little more understanding, so we’ll look at Level 3 first.  I call it Networking Nirvana. This is where everything comes together and you get the greatest rewards for your networking efforts.

At this level, you’ve come to realise that networking is actually about ‘farming’ and not ‘hunting’.  That it’s about building relationships with other people and not about selling to them.

When you build a strong relationship with someone, you gain their confidence and trust, and vice versa.  At that point you can gain access to each others personal network of contacts, both business and personal.  This is what you might call  Referral networking’. You’ll be able to  confidently refer business to one another in the knowledge that doing so will reflect well on you.  In the knowledge that, when you give, you can’t help but receive.

The most important distinction at this level is that both parties in the relationship understand, and follow, the rules of the networking ‘game’.  It’s this mutual understanding and approach that leads to the greatest return from your networking efforts.

You know that you’re playing at Level 3 when you observe, and display, the following signs;

  • People playing the game on this level are focused on how they can help you.  Not the other way round.
  • They display a genuine interest in you and your business and they ask lots of questions.
  • They listen, closely, to what you have to say.
  • They don’t try to sell to you, or to anyone else.
  • When you ask them questions they simply answer them.  They don’t treat it as an opportunity to launch into their sales pitch.
  • They are interested in building a relationship, and they behave that way.
  • They’re thinking about the long term and about creating a Referral Networking relationship.

In short, they’re interested in building a relationship with you, in helping you however they can, they’re far more pleasant to spend time with and you don’t feel that they’re simply trying to sell you something.  Now you have some understanding of Level 3, it’s much easier to explain;

Level 2

Business Networking Level 2 - Build a RelationshipThis level falls in between the other two levels that we’ve already discussed, which is why it’s better to leave this level until last.  It’s far easier to explain when you have an understanding of the other two.

The really important point to realise about Level 2 is that one of the people involved in the networking needs to understand exactly what it’s all about – they need to be a Level 3 player and they need to lead the way.

I often hear very good networkers talk about the frustrations they have when they walk in to a room of people playing the game at Level 1, where everyone simply tries to sell to them.  Without doubt, it can be frustrating if you are used to playing on Level 3 but, instead of giving in to the frustration, what you really need to do is take control.

When you find someone that you would like to build a relationship with you just, gently, lead them along the path of a Level 3.  They don’t have to know what you’re doing, you just have to steer them along the right track and take control of the relationship building part.

When you undertake this kind of approach with a Level 1 player, you have to understand that it may well take a little more time to get to your destination and to build a great Referral Networking relationship.  You have to, effectively, lead the other person along a path and educate them , by example, as to what networking is all about.  But the results can easily be worth it.  Just persevere and bear in mind that they’re playing a different game to you – at least for now.

Now you understand the three levels of networking you’re better equipped to get more from your efforts in all situations.

You need to have a plan but, the most important thing to remember is that, essentially, the more you give and the more you help, the more you’ll benefit at the end of the day.

Steve Bimpson


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