I started my business in 2007. I’d worked in a corporate environment for over 15 years prior to that. In my ‘previous life’, I’d learned a lot about creating connections, delivering value, and selling through my network. Unfortunately, those lessons never came with tidy little titles – or cute LinkedIn endorsement tags – so I could appreciate my grass roots skill set.

In fact, I remember in my last job – while opting for an operational management position – being asked by the Director of Sales ‘why don’t you join us in sales, you seem like a natural’. Those words scared me. Sales to me was making a pitch, cold calling, hype, quotas. All things that seemed very uncomfortable.

After failing miserably as an operational manager, I started my own company and realized that in fact my skill set was much better suited to sales. I enjoy creating and growing relationships. I’m relatively adept at the concepts I sell and can communicate them effectively. I still hate cold calling but have found other ways to engage prospects that work pretty well.

So what does all this have to do about networking in a Digital Age. Well, many small business owners I talk to seem to have the same fear of ‘networking’ – especially via social media – as I did of ‘sales’ all those years ago. My hope is that by taking a bit deeper look, you’ll see that selling in the digital age is really not that much different than it ever was.

5 Key Rules to Effective Networking in the Digital Age

(regardless of the platform)

Rule 1 – Selling is MUCH easier when you build a relationship first. While there are sales systems that still exist to pummel the prospect into submission, those systems do not work very well. Instead of trying to make a sale on the first connection, instead focus building a relationship. If a sales opportunity exists, your relationship efforts will uncover them quickly. If not, you still stand the chance to adding a referral partner or friend to your network.

Rule 2 – You MUST have permission to build a relationship. I tell folks in my workshops to imagine their best customer, then think back to the minute before they first met them. What were all the steps that happened in between the first meeting and their current status as your ‘Best’ customer. Most of the time each step gained you ‘permission’ to learn more and grow the relationship. If you can’t do this with a customer, consider your spouse or life partner. That relationship most likely grew in the same manner, each step deepening the relationship. Make sure you always strive to gain permission so you can grow your relationships.

Rule 3 – Digital technology only amplifies your strategy, it does not improve it. If you don’t have a strategy, or your strategy is haphazard, digital tools will only magnify the shortcomings. On the other hand, if you know your ideal targets, social tools are a fantastic way to meet them. The same is true with engagement. We all have access to a huge audience at very little (and in most cases zero) cost. Effectively leveraging this access is the key. What is your strategy?

Rule 4 – Social media is not very good at closing prospects. While tools like LinkedIn are terrific at generating connections, they suck at closing deals. In fact, if your ‘go to’ strategy is to make a connection and follow it with a strong pitch (you know the one that guarantees they’ve cracked the lead generation problem perplexing mankind for centuries) you are missing opportunities. Social selling is best done off-line. that means, instead of selling your widget to a new connection, sell a ‘get to know you’ phone call to them. Follow that up with a strategic connection to someone they need to meet. If you are a business networker, those tips will sound very familiar, they are the same one used for years in the off line, analog, old school world. And they are still relevant today.

Rule 5 – Be yourself. Digital and social media has put tremendous pressure on us to assume a personality or brand in order to get noticed. While I agree that standing out is important, look to your own self for that unique brand. What is it you do better than anyone else? For us here at Leadstra, it was understanding that we work best with small business owners. Perhaps not very sexy, but it fits our personalities. We strive hard to help small business owners demystify marketing rather than trying to compete on a bigger, flashier stage. That’s our niche, what is yours?

Hopefully, these rules can help you start to better use the technology that surrounds us. When you demystify social media and digital communications, the core is still the human being on the other end of your message. They have feelings, they have needs, and they will make the decision to pay attention or move on. Keep it real and those connections will flourish.

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