When two magnets meet, one way to attracts, but the other way repels.  Networking and introductions are the same way.

So, what do you do?  Tell me about your firm.

Heard at every networking event, this question strikes fear into the hearts of many as they cobble together a quasi-viable, and likely boring, reply that has nothing to do with the listener.  Adding to the misery, the number of response variations to this question is exactly the number of employees at your firm.

This is a TREMENDOUS lost opportunity.  Your firm’s representative has a captive and interested audience and he’s not representing you very well.  Before you go pointing fingers and getting angry, keep in mind, it’s not his fault.  It’s yours if for not teaching him.

Do you doubt whether that’s your responsibility?  After all, he’s a professional.  He can learn what the firm does from the website or through osmosis from working for you every day. That ought to be enough for him to learn to talk about the firm in a coherent manner.  OK.  Fair enough.  How about a mini-experiment?  Ask three people in your office to tell you about the firm.  How satisfied are you with their answers?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for a single message and verbatim memorization across the board.  There certainly needs to be some personalization and belief in the message.  And the message needs to convey a few key points and be presented in a thoughtful way.

 

Problem:  Too Self-Focused

Please avoid leading with the size, founding year, a laundry list of services you offer, or proof of how great you are at your job.  You may be an expert in contract disputes, construction audits, or CAD for bank floor plans.  But if you’re talking to the Executive Director of a non-profit, your message is likely to be outside the scope of her daily activities – and perhaps her interests.  If she’s polite, she’ll ask you a clarifying question, but you haven’t helped move the conversation forward in any kind of productive way.

 

Solution:  Find Common Ground

Instead, mention that your firm has a variety of clients.  While you focus on one particular area or two (it’s OK to list these specifically), you have colleagues who help non-profits very much like the listener’s.  Then find a way to connect to the other person.  “In fact, next week I got invited to play golf in our firm’s foursome for a non-profit client’s golf tournament at Sandy Pond Golf Course and I’m very much looking forward to it.”  She may jump in here with something related like also being a golfer or that her organization is also running a golf tournament.  If not, turn it back over to her with a question about trends has she seen in non-profit fundraising (or administration).

By finding common ground, you’ll learn more about the other person and her organization.  She’ll remember you and your firm because there will have been some relevance to her life.  Maybe you’ll find yourself on her golf tournament invite list and can begin to form a relationship that leads to a relationship down the road.  And after all, that’s the goal, right?

 

Problem:  Too Salesy

I cringe when I hear people say “I help companies…” and then finish the sentence with something that is a generic buzzword rich sales pitch or meaningless puffery.  Ugh.  Please don’t do this.  If you need to test your pitch, tell children what you do and if they are confused, start from scratch.

 

Solution:  Mini Case Study

Instead, consider offering a very brief case study.  This will mean that your message will focus on just one of the many things you are good at.  But, your message will fall on interested, not deaf, ears.  And that’s the better alternative.  So, if possible, make your story about something that is relevant to the listener’s industry or is quirky enough to be interesting all on its own.  Tell the person about the client’s problem, your solution, what the outcome meant for the client in terms of moving forward.  For instance, I might say:

“Recently a law firm noticed that its associates were not accepting invitations to networking events.  Since relationships and referrals are so important to their firm’s growth, they hired me to identify the underlying issue; which was a discomfort with making introductions and appropriate networking etiquette.  I created a custom training program and as a result, after six months, the associates have joined organizations and have bid on three new clients they wouldn’t have otherwise have known about and has shifted the culture of the firm.”

Did you notice the subtly here?   My message relates to the conversation (or here, the blog post).  Your message needs to relate to the listener.

Broken down for you, the pieces are:  I worked with this type of company…  Who had this problem…  And did this activity… Which had the lasting benefit of…

It’s almost guaranteed that the listener will have a relevant follow-up question or express admiration for your work.

 

Problem:  Too Technical

Whatever letters you have after your name, CPA, JD, AIA, are impressive and tell me that you know your stuff.  I don’t need you to prove it to me and I would appreciate if you don’t lead us in that direction.  Likewise, I promise not to ask you any technical questions that will require “code numbers” in the reply.

 

Solution:  Be human

What do you do outside the office?  Do you have kids?  Are you a cardholding member of the Museum of Fine Arts or the Aquarium?  Are you looking to buy a house or remodel your kitchen?  There is something about you that the person you are speaking with is interested in knowing more about or has done and has advice to share.  This is a great way to infuse some energy into a conversation or to steer it into common ground if you’ve found you don’t overlap professionally.

 

These are three mistakes with making introductions that I’ve seen.  What other networking problems have you seen?  Do you have a solution or should we work on one together?

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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.