Successful Networkers Respect Boundaries: Etiquette and Tact Pay Off!

NetworkingPersonal Branding

There is a delicate balance between self-promoting and promoting with tact and appropriateness. If you pay close attention to the signals you’re receiving from peers and colleagues you can learn when someone truly wants advice or information about your product/service and when they’re not really interested.  Ask yourself the question; Is it worth investing energy in talking up your business to a person who is not a perspective customer?  I would guess that most people would answer, with a definitive NO! Then why do we so often fall into the trap of trying to sell our product/service to deaf and even worse, disinterested parties?  The only answer I can surmise is that we falsely assume everyone is a prospective customer or connected to one and that simply isn’t true!

Here are some strategies you can implement to assess who is what I refer to as a “warm” contact; someone who falls in your target audience and therefore is worth investing your energy in promoting your business.

Be selective to whom you promote to: Separate people into categories to discern how much information you share about your product/service. Become more conscious of modifying your style of promoting among these various groups. And avoid selling too hard to those whom are not within your target population. Selective promoting will be more effective and help you protect your personal brand.  Selling to the wrong people comes across as desperate and could create resentment among your friends.  Your integrity and exclusivity can pay off and others will perceive you as more professional.

When To Embrace a Very soft sell

Promoting to club/gym members:

Working out with friends can often lead to stimulating discussion and to questions about what you do for a living. I suggest you tread carefully in these social settings.  While there are times a person might truly be interested in your product or service, you shouldn’t push too hard in these settings.

Be conscious whether someone is merely being polite in asking you about yourself and if they are really interested in what you have to offer.  Once you explain what you do briefly, drop the subject unless they ask more questions.  Offer to give them your card only if they express an interest in pursuing you.

Remember, you’ll have to see them often if you’re on the same workout schedule as you and you don’t want them to feel they need to avoid you.  Word of mouth advertising can go a long way!  The last thing you want to do is illicit negative attention where they are telling others to avoid you.  This could hurt your business.

Promoting to friends:

Many assume that the growth of your business is dependent upon how well you can network with your friends.  After all, your friends know and trust you and so much of business is based on trust. Although friends can be a huge assistance if they are amenable to your service, it isn’t always possible to rely on friends to do your promoting.  If your friends use your services and help promote you that’s obviously great.  But if not, there are plenty of other avenues to pursue in spreading your brand. Similar to your workout buddies, be sensitive to your friends’ boundaries.  Don’t assume your friends will become your customers or promoters and don’t take it personally if they’re not interested in using your service or purchasing your product.  There are plenty of other venues for promoting your business without pushing friends.  Although friends can be your biggest boosters and spread the word about your business, don’t expect that to happen. Unfortunately, there are plenty of insecure people in the world who may view your success as a threat and therefore might not be as gracious as you would expect in using or promoting your product/service.

Case in Point:  I’ve seen businesses that have grown rapidly based on people using their personal network (friends and family members) and  when things go awry, friendships and families sadly can break-up. I’ve also seen the trouble this can create in having your friends/family as your primary customers.  Friends may assume that since you’re starting out they can expect free service; While you might think you’re doing them a favor, it often results in less commitment on the recipient’s end to value your service.  You can offer free service/product or discount your service/product but  there is an inherent risk in doing this:  people typically don’t value that which is free.  So don’t go overboard giving away too much product or too many sessions. It may diminish the value of your offering.

Where and To Whom You CAN Promote More Aggressively

Promoting to colleagues: 

Here’s where you can pump up the volume on your sales pitch.  Using LinkedIn is a great way to push content to interested parties through the groups you join.  Joining discussion through LinkedIn groups is a great way to showcase your value without being tacky.  People are actually looking for answers to questions and therefore it’s fully appropriate to provide answers/solutions to problems that arise in these online discussions.  You can follow-up with connecting with people who like your comments and voila, you’ve promoted your brand and attracted a new prospect!

Promoting to other professionals: 

Here is another group that makes sense to promote what you do.  If they are connections of yours through LinkedIn, you already have a natural forum to talk about what you do.  Try to network with people in person to share what you do and find ways you can have synergy with your connections.  I have met with Lawyers, recruiters, CEO’s and small business owners to find out more about what they do and see how I can add value to their firm.  It’s important to give more than you get in these instances.  For example, I try to refer business to people I meet with.  In turn, they are typically grateful and have reciprocated the favor of referring their clients to me. Good business doesn’t always mean tit for tat or an expectation for an immediate reciprocation.  Quid pro quo comes into place more naturally when the expectations are low and you really give something to them that they find useful.

Promoting to associations/groups: 

It’s fully appropriate to promote what you do to associations you belong to both on and offline.  I have found that volunteering my services to philanthropic causes has paid off greatly as people see what you can do first hand and can evaluate how beneficial your service is. You can build your network in a non-threatening way, as you aren’t asking for anything in these situations.  Word of mouth is a powerful mode of advertising and you can get your message to spread if you follow-up with these contacts after your “gig” is over.  I make sure to give a copy of my book or something tangible that people can use so they remember me when I call them to follow-up.

Promoting to other experts where there’s synergy: 

When is it OK to Self-Promote? Ask yourself this question:  Will my product or service truly benefit this person?  Have they expressed a need that leads me to encourage them to sample my service?  Is my ego involved in this sale?

When giving away free information as a sample or “teaser” to your audience you can benefit in two ways; you have the opportunity to turn a lead into a prospect and you can learn from their feedback.  When a prospective customer declines your offer see what you can learn from their comments.  Often the comment can teach you something that you could learn from and improve in your service/product offering.

Who To Watch Out For When Giving Away Free Content or Product?

Beware of Habitual Takers: 

Give information sparingly to those you perceive are habitually looking for free advice.  No expert should be expected to provide free consulting.  There is a fine line between someone who is interested in your service and someone who is probing to obtain free consulting with no intention of ever retaining you.  Use your social intelligence to gauge who these people are.  They are often the same folks who never reciprocate to dinner parties and give sparingly to charity despite their huge success.

Remember to Reciprocate to Those who Endorse You!

Guiding Voice In Your Overall Promotion Strategy:  Patience and Endurance!

Expectations from your promoting should be minimal:  Don’t expect a quick return on your investment.  Give more than you sell.  Share ideas.  See where you can assist without giving away the whole store. Listen more than you talk before giving any advice. Wear your social intelligence hat and try to tune into your listeners body language.  If your promoting via e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn or twitter, be conscious of people’s time, make your message brief, allow time for people to respond and follow-up immediately with inquiries.

Over the years I’ve found that the practice of giving more than you receive to the right audience is a strategy that actually pays off.  Not only will you build a reputation as a professional and establish good will with your customers but you’ll attract people who will become loyal customers and authentic promoters.  Your sincerity and the genuine value you provide customers will speak for itself and business will follow. Don’t underestimate the value of using etiquette and tact in your marketing strategy.  You’ll attract the right people and all the while maintain your self-respect!