The majority of the participants in my networking training sessions have one thing in common — they hate networking. I intentionally used the strong word, “hate,” because that’s the word my trainees use. The source of their vehement reaction is the number one myth about networking that people buy into; if you don’t meet everyone at a networking event you have wasted an opportunity.

“Baloney,” I tell them. You only need to meet three people who would fall into these categories: your ideal client, customer, or career lead, a referral partner, and a learning partner. With incredulity, my trainees gasp, “What? That’s it? I can meet three people and be successful?” “Yes,” I tell them, and their learning begins.

How can meeting only three people make such a difference? The answer comes in the form of foresight. Instead of going to a networking event to meet “people” in general, you are on the lookout for at least three kinds of people with whom you’d like to share value. Relationships, the ultimate end-game of networking, are built on shared value. By describing concrete details about what makes a good business contact, referral partner, or role model for you, you become more aware of the qualities you seek in a professional network.

Quote from Fearless Follow-Up book

Who are these people?

I’ll use snippets and examples from my book, Fearless Follow-Up: How to Turn Conversations into Clients, to answer this question.

To define your ideal or best-fit client/customer – start with a persona.

A customer persona, or profile, is a narrative description of your ideal-fit buyer. Not everyone, as you know, is in need of your goods or services. Therefore, the purpose of the persona is to use words that illustrate a representative person who needs your offering to solve their problems.

I have two resources for you to develop your ideal fit profile. The first is a blog post about defining your customer and the second is a free worksheet that I designed for the book. Select the “DREAM FORWARD” tools. Using either resource, you should come out with a description like this one.

Terry has deep knowledge about his business and industry with a 20-year career behind him. Over the last several years, he’s helped his organization grow, and in doing so, created many documents that help his partners, vendors, and customers. Currently, he has to be in front of his contacts to teach them to be a strategic partner, but he knows he could have a greater impact. Terry believes that his partners’ success is tied closely to his success, but he’s only able to influence those who live in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The organization’s customers, vendors, and partners, however, are nation-wide. Terry enjoys the interaction that comes from networking events, but he feels spread thin. When he’s talking to potential contacts, he’s concerned about taking time away from his current network.

Please note: My clients are as likely to be women as men, but I used “he” to illustrate my persona. I could easily change all the pronouns to “she” and it would still help me define my target customer. Since the gender of my client doesn’t impact my business, I used a unisex name.

Keep in mind that you have the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people at your networking events and not all of them will be your client.

Referral partners have access to your potential customer that you don’t.

A big part of serving your current clients, customers, and workplace means adding value as a resource. Ask yourself the following questions to identify who would make a valuable referral partner for you.

  • What kinds of people or businesses have complementary services to yours?
  • To whom could you add value as a referral partner?
  • What kind of people/businesses are in your network that would drive someone else’s success? How?
  • What kinds of goods and services would add value to your business as you serve your clients?
  • What do your clients need that you don’t provide? Who provides them?
  • Who meets with people and businesses in your customer group on a regular basis? Why? What do they provide?

Use this free worksheet to create a referral partner persona that might look like this. Select the “DREAM FORWARD” tools.

Anna’s company sells promotional products. As part of her second customer profile, she discovered that making connections with event planners and speakers would add value to her networking efforts. The event planners are talking to businesses that could make use of her products (a referral for her) and event planners often need professional speakers (a referral she could provide.) By becoming a resource for speakers, Anna can add value to event planners she talks to, and together, they can both meet more people they need to be successful.

Are you an executive assistant? You might network to find wine consultants or personal shoppers. Are you looking for a new job? Look for people at the networking event that sound engaged and happy where they work. Referrals can come from anywhere, but you have to know what you want.

The third persona is my favorite and networkers too often ignore it.

Describe a person who may serve as a mentor or role model for you.

Think about the type of connections you’d like to make that will help you learn and grow, both professionally and personally with the following questions as a guide:

  • What are three of my professional goals for the coming year?
  • Which three personal goals will I prioritize in the coming year?
  • What has peaked my interest? About what would I like to learn more?
  • What are my top three strengths, personally and professionally?
  • What is one area where I’d like to concentrate on improvement? (In addition to getting better at follow-up, of course!)
  • What kind of time commitment am I willing to make toward my development?
  • Are there particular channels of communication I’m comfortable using over others? (Consider in-person, email, Skype, telephone, instant messaging, etc.)
  • What are some common qualities or characteristics of the people I most admire?
  • How far am I willing to travel to meet with someone for professional development?
  • In what ways could this contact be similar to me? Different from me?

The list of questions above is far from exhaustive, but it’s a start. Once again, use the free worksheet I’ve provided and select the “DREAM FORWARD” tools to define a learning partner that fits your needs.  You might already have particular people in mind as you answer the questions. Regardless, I encourage you to create a more general profile. By writing down the type of person you’d like to help you learn and grow, you’ll become more sensitive to the opportunities to meet new mentors or role-models you may never have considered.

When you’re networking – stay open and flexible.

You may meet one person in each of your categories; you might meet three people that fit into one or two personas. You might meet more; you might meet less. No matter how the exact numbers work out, you’ve succeeded, and most importantly, you’ve begun to develop a network of relationships that will allow you to share valuable resources.

Let’s review the benefits of creating personas for the three types of people you want to be on the lookout for when networking.

  1. You are purposeful because you know the types of people with whom you’ll share value to grow your network, instead of hoping you’ll make quality contacts.
  2. Having considered how your personas are valuable to you, the free worksheets I’ve provided help you define how you add value as well. Remember the people at your event want to share their value with you, too. If you can articulate what you need, you are helping them network as well!
  3. There’s another enormous benefit to networking strategically; your post-networking follow-up becomes less overwhelming and more do-able! Would you be more willing to follow-up substantively with 3-5 people than 20-25? Yes, me too.

Give these strategies a try and share in the comments how they work for you. Let’s learn together.

How would your team benefit from consistent networking follow-up? If you’re open to learning more about our training topics take a look at our services – Fearless Follow-Up is on the list!