Networking is key to business, but the genders do it differently. Men act too soon, grasping at deals. The fairer sex spend too long being friendly, says Claire Droney
PREMATURE solicitation is a problem for men, and women are guilty of taking too long to seal the deal.
In his new book, Business Networking and Sex (Not What You Think), the godfather of networking and founder of Business Networking International (BNI), Ivan Misner, and his co-authors surveyed 12,000 business people about networking with the opposite sex. Women can be more successful at business networking than men because they take the time to get to know someone rather than launching into a sales pitch five minutes after being introduced to the person.
The real problems arise because men speak ‘lion’ and women speak ‘giraffe’, and when they try to do business together, they can’t understand each other, says Misner.
“When you put men and women together, men are more focused on what they can get, and women are focused on relationships. So there is a networking disconnect,” says Irish-based BNI director of European affairs&, Sandra Hart.
“In men-only networking, their discourse is very transactional. They’re interested in ‘what sort of business can I get out of this person.’ In women-only networking, they’re very focussed on building relationships and finding out more about the person’s children and family,” she says.
If the genders don’t learn to communicate more effectively with each other, they will lose out on valuable business referrals, says Hart
“The advice of the book is that you really need to look at this disconnect. Men need to be more relational and women need to be more transactional,” she says.
Hart says women should learn how to ask for a sale when it is appropriate to do so, instead of remaining for too long in the social phase of business networking.
She warns men against ‘premature solicitation’, where they ask for business far too early in the working relationship.
“Men can be so excited about the product that they prematurely solicit people — they’re handing over their card before people actually want to ask them for their card.
“Men should slow down and think ‘relationship first, business second.’ Their mindset should be about building relationships rather than selling at that particular event,” says Hart.
“Men and women want similar things from networking, but knowing how to relate to the opposite sex will build you a better network and a better business in the end,” she says.
Even though the survey revealed that 92% of business people consider networking to be an integral role in their success, networking is not taught in colleges, says Hart. So, it’s important to develop networking skills via books, courses, blogs or mentoring programmes.
“There’s an awful lot more networking out there, now, than there ever was.
“A lot of people are putting more time into building relationships now and referrals are much more important.
“People want to know who they can trust and who’ll do a good job. Networking is all about building relationships with people who, in turn, have an awful lot of contacts,” says Hart.
High-flyers like Germany’s leader Angela Merkel and IMF head Christine Lagarde must have successfully learned the lion-giraffe code all on their own.
Ivan Misner’s guidelines
* Dress for business at business events.
* Remember that networking is ultimately about getting business, so ask for both business and referrals.
* When spoken to inappropriately, speak up immediately.
* Stay in contact with and follow up on leads, referrals and contacts made.
* Slow down and build the relationship.
* Speak to relate not just to impress.
* Don’t hit on women at networking events.
* Remember that women are at networking events for business gain, just as you are.
* Edit what you are about to say, using filters to sift out what is not business appropriate.
TIPS FROM THE TOP
Gillian Bowler, entrepreneur and founder of Budget Travel:
“Networking is a good thing and I would advise it. But at these big events, you walk away with 100 business cards and that’s all. Unless you have a great personality and the looks of Angelina Jolie, it really isn’t going to work. Men play golf every weekend and go to rugby internationals. When I network with people, I’d phone the person I want to talk to, cringe somewhat inside because I don’t know them, and meet them for lunch or coffee.
“Or get one or two men together and say ‘I’d like to buy you lunch because I need some advice.’ It’s amazing how many times people say ‘yes’ because men actually like to be asked for advice.
“The best advice ever given to me was always to be accessible and always take the call.”
Norah Casey, CEO Harmonia publishing company and TV3 Dragon’s Den judge:
“I think the concept of networking where it is forced is completely out-dated and well past its sell-by-date. Nowadays, people connect online as and when they need. Useful networks like LinkedIn have become important business tools. I also think that informal networking and face-to-face meetings are far more valuable and create lasting connections. In the past I have certainly been at networking events where inevitably the guys end up together in closed circles and the women are fearful of breaking into the conversation. Men have learned that the golf course is often the best place to build relationships and women sometimes have to find ways of breaking into that.
Without a doubt, all things being equal, women are far better at building relationships. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case that all things are equal.
“If you ask successful women what they believed led to their success they will tell you that first and foremost you need to be an over-achiever — someone who people know will deliver and do a job well. I have always been that way. But what always surprises the women I speak to is that number two on their list will inevitably be that they had to learn a style that men were comfortable with. I wish that were not the case but that is the reality in corporate life and women who can work with their male and female colleagues and remain “likeable” will succeed.
“Don’t do forced or, even worse, “power” networking. Find ways to connect that are non-confrontational and engaging. Talk about things that matter and especially try to ensure that you listen. If you do find yourself enduring a packed room of networkers promise yourself that you will make one in-depth connection.
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