The Virtual Handshake in Networking Times

I just received a copy of the latest edition of Networking Times, the premiere magazine for the network marketing industry. The latest issue focuses on virtual networking. I was interviewed a couple of months ago by John David Mann, their Editor-in-Chief, and it was one of the most pleasant and thought-provoking interviews I’ve ever done. Also in the magazine are a review of The Virtual Handshake (free reg. req.), an interview with Ecademy chairman and co-founder Thomas Power, and a review of his Networking for Life (free reg. req.).

Here are a few highlights from my interview (see below for some from Thomas’s):

NT: What do network marketers most need to learn about networking?

Me: The relationship is more valuable than the transaction. People need to understand that the lifetime value of a relationship–even with someone who never buys from you, maybe someone you never even tell about your opportunity–the lifetime of the relationship itself will be worth more to you by orders of magnitude than any one individual sale itself.

NT: Sometimes you have both the relationship and the sale…

Me: Right, but people often try to jump in too fast. A guy in a discussion forum recently described how he was trying to meet people and build a referral business, but it wasn’t working. The email he was sending out was very nice: he would introduce himself and say, “I want to learn more about your business so I can refer business to you.” He thought he was being selfless. But this was his first contact. How can you refer business to me when we don’t even know each other?

NT: And people weren’t born yesterday.

Me: Right: they understand what’s implicit. If you’re saying you want to refer business to me, you’re also expecting me to refer business to you.

NT: He was trying to do too much too fast.

Me: Exactly. The initial conversation, and we’re already talking about referring business. One of the most important tips of networking is know where you are. Understand the context. You have to look around and see, what are the posting rules, what’s general feel of the conversation. You don’t walk into Toastmasters, get up to introduce yourself and give your thirty-second business pitch. It’s not appropriate. The same thing is true online. You’ve got to know your context and be appropriate to that context. The top network marketers know that the three-foot rule is not what you do. If there is a three-foot rule, it’s this: Anybody within three feet of you is worth getting to know a little better.

NT: When do you tell someone about your opportunity?

Me: When you have permission. This doesn’t necessarily have to be explicit permission. Ideally it will be, if you’ve done it right, they’ll say, “You know, tell me a little more about that thing you’re doing.” It doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be a rep, but they want to know about what you’re doing, because they care about you and what you do, and they’re interested in being a part of your life.

NT: Because you’ve honored the context of the relationship and not forced it on them.

Me: Exactly. But they may simply give you implicit permission. They might tell you about something, like not having enough energy or not having enough income, and that in itself gives you permission. But whether it’s implicit or explicit, the right time to talk about something is when you have permission, and never before.

And from Thomas’s:

NT: Have network marketers figured out what to do with the Internet yet?

TP: No. We’ve had to forbid network marketers and multilevel marketers from Ecademy, because they don’t know how to behave online. If we allowed them in, Ecademy would be ten times its present size…[T]hey only know how to sell. They don’t know how to buy, and they don’t know how to network. We say to multilevel marketers, “You can join Ecademy, and meet and connect and so on–but you can’t recruit and you can’t sell.” Because their attitude is that their product is the best product. But networking is not about selling. Networking is about giving connections to other people.

NT: Do you see the network marketing world ever learning the lessons here and figuring out how to apply them to our business?

TP: Yes, I do, but recognize that change in an industry tends to take a generation, and a generation is generally thirty years long.

NT: So take a long view!

TP: I think so. I started what I’m doing at thirty-four, and I think it’ll be mainstream when I’m sixty-four. VCs say to me, “We can’t hang around that long,” and I say to them, “Then go invest somewhere else!” It takes a long time. You look at the video recorder, the mobile phone, the personal computer–these products took twenty or thirty years to enter society.

NT: What can we best do to help create that?

TP: Understand that what people want is connections. If you want prospects, you have to give them away to other people. When people go to conferences and seminars, they go because they want information and contacts. So when you meet them, give them information and contacts! That’s what they’re there for! If you do, they’ll remember you all their lives.

I’m really glad to see so much emphasis being put on the long-term relationship-based approach to network marketing. I have seen some of the best and the worst of network marketing. I continue to believe that it is only a business model, that its success provides lessons for every businessperson, and that the real problem with MLM is not the business model itself, but the lack of experience and training that many who enter the field have.

On a related note, I’ve been approached by John Milton Fogg, author of the best-selling network marketing book of all time, The Greatest Networker in the World, to participate in his latest book project, It’s Time… In Search & Praise of Network Marketing Excellence. Again, I’m very happy and flattered to be included in this project. More details as they’re available.