Food For Thought: Short-Sighted Networking

Yesterday, CATS Software participated as a sponsor and exhibitor at the 2011 LEHRN HR Tech Expo. We had a great time networking with HR professionals from all over the country and got to meet some of our local customers too. It was a great opportunity to get our name out there more and raise awareness of our product and service, which is how I see what networking is all about.

We had a good, steady flow of traffic to our booth and were able to have quality conversations with interested participants. That is how I would prefer it too. I would rather have a smaller amount of visitors that spend a solid ten minutes talking with us than hundreds of random folks just whizzing by, grabbing brochures and cards that will never be looked at again.

One of our biggest competitors had a different outlook on what the event was supposed to do though. During a break he said to me, “I can’t believe I came out here for this. I’ve gotten one solid lead”. How could someone who has worked in this industry so long, and for such a large organization, have such a short sighted vision of what the event was supposed to do for their business? If you go to in to an event like this thinking you’re going to walk out with ten new customers all ready to sign checks and get started right away, well, I think you’ll be disappointed. Besides, it’s not the check signers that come to these events, it’s the actual users of your product! If you want to turn a cold shoulder to someone because you think they don’t have a say in which product their company implements, you’re dead wrong.

Research has shown us that the individuals that sign up for a product are not always the final decision makers and rarely the so-called “check signers”. They are interns or young up-and-comers that have been tasked with trialling and researching your, and your competitors, offerings. They are the actual users! When you turn them away because you don’t think they are worth your time you have essentially sent a direct message to the check signer you wanted to talk to that you’re not interested in their organization.

What I think this person wasn’t realizing is that although not every person that visited his booth was directly interested in using his product, they probably know 5 people that could be. And those 5 might know 5 more. I am still just stunned at how someone could be so oblivious and narrow minded. Networking is about opening up the funnel of possible sources, partners and affiliations; not just making hard sales. It’s right in the word “networking”. It is the construction and expansion of a net of people that work together to find mutually beneficial associations. It is about linking together, establishing relationships and growing your brand recognition. Eventually all of this should lead to higher net worth and company size, but not in one afternoon.

Like I said initially, we had a great time networking with all kinds of individual users as well as potential partners and resellers. This is due largely in part to the fact that we did not walk in there under the false pretense that we were going to leave with “X” amount of new paying users. We made strong and lasting connections that will prove to be far more valuable than a handful of new sign ups.

What does networking mean to you? Where do you go to make new connections and expand your brand recognition? What are some of the most valuable connections you have made and from what unlikely sources? Please share your experiences in the comments below!