As our world becomes increasingly digitised, personal skills will become more valuable. Many salespeople call these the soft-skills and realise that the old-school hard-sell-skills are no longer as effective. People are less likely to be blown away by some widget and far more likely to remember the way that you’ve made them feel.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re in sales or not, or even in your own business. Networking is a skill that helps us build communities of value, and as we all know, communities are essential for our survival. Becoming a better networker will help in every area of life because, in today’s tiny world of digital space, communication plays a bigger-than-ever role in identifying, attracting, connecting and engaging with other people.
We see it all the time on social media, but we don’t necessarily realise what’s going on. It’s easy to try and self-promote through these channels, whether it’s a business you run, or you’re displaying personal growth and courses you’ve completed; this is often where our understanding of the power of networking grinds to a halt.
But if we realise that we can help other people talk about us, we can intentionally seek out spaces where online conversations are happening that may create the right context for us to engage. These could be community pages, forums or simply in our news feeds – if we know what tags to look for.
Some of this can get quite technical, but at the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of humans trying to engage – and this is why becoming a better networker is helpful. Learning to ask better questions and engage with people one-on-one is one of the most valuable things to do.
In the same way that we might prepare some pitches and introductions before going to a conference, roadshow or in-person networking event, we can prepare and upskill before engaging with people on social media, video calls and direct messaging. We can see this as a virtual alternative to attending a live networking event.
Bob Burg, speaker and author, proposes a powerful list of 10 questions to ask a new prospect that he calls the ‘feel-good questions’. This list works well because it’s underpinned by the premise that people like to talk about themselves more than they want to listen to you talk about yourself. But for most of us, we’re programmed to think that the moment I get to talk, I need to say as much about myself as possible and convince the other person that they want to choose me. If the person you’re talking to is not ready for your product, service or skill set – it will probably go in one ear, and out the other.
If we follow the new narratives, where people are less likely to be blown away by some widget and far more likely to remember the way that you’ve made them feel, then Burg’s questions begin to make a lot of sense. The more you can get people to talk about themselves, the better they will feel and the more likely they will be to remember their engagement with you in a positive light.
This is one of the secrets to becoming a better networker: make people feel good about themselves.
Here are some of the questions that Burg suggests, and he recommends choosing only two or three at a time.
“How did you get your start in the business you’re in?”
“What do you enjoy most about your profession?”
“What separates you and your company from the competition?”
“What advice would you give someone just starting in your business?”
“What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?”
“What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?”
“What do you see as the coming trends in your industry?”
“What’s the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your business?”
“What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?”
“What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business?”
These are open-ended questions, and they’re all focused on the other person. If you can make people feel good about what they do, and who they are, they will most likely want to speak to you again, opening up the way for a conversational (more than simply a transactional) relationship.