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Networking is …

Networking is ...

Joe (fictitious name, real story) recently clicked ‘connect’ to a sales executive he had never met at a company he had interest in on LinkedIn.  He read an article about what they do, and wanted to hear more.

Had Joe followed LinkedIn’s best practices for using their platform  (#3 Networking doesn’t mean reaching out cold to strangers), he would have found a connection he and the sales executive had in common, asked for an introduction, and waited.

LinkedIn is, of course, the expert on their platform.  Their more than 450 million members establish them pretty firmly as an expert in connections, too.  In the above-referenced Tip Sheet for Networking on LinkedIn, I am hugely behind #6 -“Lend a (virtual) hand. …think about how you can support others” and #10 – “Step away from the computer! – Set up calls, attend live events, and send snail mail notes…”.   If you have attended any of the events I’ve spoken at, or if we are connected in any way, you’ve heard similar messages from me.

I do not, however, entirely agree with #3. “Use your inbox” would have been fine on its own (and is certainly beneficial to growing the LinkedIn membership. We see what you’re doing here, LinkedIn).

It’s the next sentence that doesn’t serve us. “Networking doesn’t mean reaching out cold to strangers.”  Isn’t that exactly what networking sometimes means?  It certainly does in the live networking that LinkedIn suggests as a way to stay connected.  I mean, aren’t there some people you have never met before at any given live gathering?  An interview?  A job fair? Surely you wouldn’t shy away from meeting them simply because they are strangers.  So, what is the term for introductions between strangers if not networking?  And, more to the point, even if you use another term for that activity, why would it be perfectly acceptable to introduce yourself to a stranger in person, but not virtually.  Isn’t connecting the point of LinkedIn? In their words, LinkedIn “connects the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

“All things being equal people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.” ~ The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann

This quote is used as the basis for many networking, marketing, and sales best practices.  And rightly so!  But, there are two important parts of that quote that are too often disregarded.  “All things being equal.”  All things are not always equal, which is clarified beautifully here by Dixie Gillaspie.  And, “people will do business with, and refer business to…’, which I touched on here.

Maybe that is what inspired LinkedIn’s #3 tip, and their practice of encouraging connections only to people you know.  Notice, though, that the quote does not say “people will connect with those people they know, like and trust.”

Connecting is not the same as relationship building. Relationship building is the final step to sales and referrals, or more broadly, achieving mutual benefit of any kind (all things being equal).  And there is one before both of those – prospecting – that LinkedIn also helps us with.

Achieving mutual benefit relies on each of these three activities, often incorrectly used interchangeably in place of networking: prospecting, connecting, and relationship building.  They are three unique activities. Sometimes you already have the connections and can go directly to relationship building.  But it is likely you need the other two.

Networking is…

Websters defines the word as the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.  Cultivate in different contexts is to seek, prepare, improve, befriend.  All of the below.

Prospecting: Seeking to identify potential mutual interests (advertising, marketing, research)

Connecting: Preparing and exchanging information with those who may have mutual interests (digital platforms, events, meetings, phone calls, mail, email)

Relationship Building: Befriending connections and improving bonds by sharing mutual interests (trust, value, ideas, goals, referrals, social media support, feedback, advice, buying, selling)

Getting back to Joe, he connected – in minutes actually – with the sales executive he wanted to talk with.  I don’t know about you, but my time is extremely limited and valuable.  As much as I very willingly help introduce connections if they need my help, I’d rather they try connecting directly first, and ask for an introduction only if that doesn’t work.  Saves us all valuable time!

Joe was able to connect.  The sales executive viewed Joe’s profile and also identified potential mutual interests.  They have talked on the phone and are building trust and referring each other – or, sharing their mutual interests!

Joe 1) prospected 2) networked 3) began relationship building!

I think we share a mutual interest in networking and relationship building through LinkedIn.  To that end, I’m always open to new connections.  You?


Stay tuned for more expanded tools to practice LinkedIn’s remaining tips on using their platform.  And, if you are local to our growing Hour of Power Speed Networking® training, practice and connection events, join us at one!  Find local events at and share yours with the LinkedIn group Northeast Ohio Live Networking

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