Personally, I’m a bit bored of blog posts that promise 5 (or 7) top tips to perfect a business skill. You know the sort of thing, “7 tips that every networker must know”.
I’m not an expert on the ins and outs of networking, and it strikes me that it’s all a personal thing anyway. The Bizenko way is to understand the commercial context behind any business conversation so that you can make your mind up about people, and not need to bluff or be hoodwinked into doing business with the shysters. This can’t really be summarised in 7 top tips.
(So what is there left to blog about? – ed)
What might be more entertaining would be to review some of the cringe-worthy occasions when certain approaches to networking have “failed”.
By chance, one such incident took place at a networking event last night (true story!)
During the evening, I fell into conversation with a guy called Shaun who runs a sales consultancy. Shaun and I had been chatting for a good while, at least 10 minutes, when I asked him if he gave any guarantees to reassure customers that he was as good as he sounded. (OK, it was a bit of a cheeky question)
Before Shaun had time to tell me off for being cheeky, a guy, who neither of us knew, charged into the conversation to offer an opinion
“I beg your pardon?”
“That’s the risk you must take as the customer!”
Shaun and I looked at each other, not quite sure what to make of this rather unusual invasion. There’s nothing a loudmouth likes more than the sound of his own voice, and in our stunned silence “Mr Risk” saw an opportunity.
“What does your business do?” He asked of me
“It’s a website business to explain the commercial world to individual job-seekers” I began……..
“OK, so what you need to do is to decide what you want out of your target audience, and the exact make up of that audience, and then identify how you’re going to entice them”.
Trust me, this guy had all the answers. I asked him what he did as a job.
“I’m a strategist at Google” Mr Risk announced, proudly.
It was a bit noisy in the bar, and despite Mr Risk’s self-confidence, Shaun mis-heard him, and sought to clarify the information……
“You work in Bootle?” (a town in the north of England, about as far removed from Mountain View, California as it is possible to be)
“No, Google, I work for Google. As a strategist”.
This sounds great, but doesn’t actually tell me anything. I was curious to know why a company as prominent as Google had employees offering unsolicited business advice in West Yorkshire?
“OK, but what does a strategist do?”
In reply, curiously, he told me that he was an MBA graduate. I don’t know why, maybe he couldn’t hear me too well either.
I think the guy was expecting me to bow down, or something. So I said:
“So am I”
To which he replied:
“Yeah, but I’m also street-wise” giving a clear inference that I wasn’t.
In the space of roughly one minute, this guy had burst into my conversation (still considered a rude thing to do in my part of the world) and he’d had a good attempt at insulting me. I liked his comic bravura, even if it was unintended.
But he wasn’t finished.
When Shaun asked him a question about sales (the topic of our original conversation) Mr Risk replied “Hold on, my time doesn’t come for free!” As if to suggest that him interrupting our conversation was a service we could enjoy without charge, but anything that we might otherwise request would need to be paid for.
Mr Risk was playing with a cigarillo, and was nervously waiting for the lift (elevator) to arrive in order to go off and have a smoke. As he backed into the lift to disappear for the smoke, I asked him which business school he had attended.
“Bradford” he replied (A city in Yorkshire, that has a business school attached to it’s university)
As mentioned previously, it was a bit noisy in the bar in question, and based on his supreme confidence in his own business wisdom, I thought I heard this as Harvard (which needs no introduction).
A momentary pause.
“Er, no, Bradford”
More moments of pause. Our faces must have looked a little underwhelmed, as Mr Risk felt the need to qualify our mistake before the doors closed
“It’s a top twenty school in Europe”.
Sadly the doors had closed, and we were denied the chance to learn more from the guru.
As Shaun commented to me, it’s not often you get to meet a leader in their field.
So there you have it. Everything that can be done badly at a networking event, in one case study.
Predictably enough, I have serious doubts that Mr Risk attended Bradford business school or works for Google. I looked on the list of attendees and neither was booked to attend. So hopefully it will help them to know that someone is impersonating one of their own.
My only consolation is that, if this guy does in fact work for Google, then he’ll know how to find me and tell me that I’ve misunderstood him. In which case I’ll be happy to meet for a drink and learn some more about his views on business.
For those who prefer these things to be arranged in a list……….. the networking “faults” might include:
Barging in to a conversation unannounced / uninvited
Proclaiming / inferring expertise
Assuming absolute ignorance amongst your fellow networkers
Insulting fellow networkers
Assuming that your fellow networkers value your expertise as highly as you do
Impersonating an alumnus of / Trashing the reputation of a business school ……… other people want to be proud of that school, they can do without Mr Risk associating it with world class idiocy.
Gatecrash a business networking event if you’re out on a social evening.