Effective Networking Should Be for the Benefit of Paying Members

Per Investopedia.com, a simple definition of networking is, the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting.

As such, does it not make sense for networking groups to be led by individuals acting in the best interests of the businesspeople joining the group, as opposed to focusing on the guest attending these events?

So why does the networking industry giant of 38 years repeatedly regurgitate that the correct way to network is to assemble with a “volunteer leader” – albeit one who only leads for 12 months, only to pass the baton to the next person up? And weekly, the 90-minute meetings are focused on recruiting the member’s friends who have been dragged there kicking and screaming.

Please do not get me wrong. From an entrepreneurial perspective, a brand like BNI being acquired by a private equity firm is every entrepreneur’s dream. I think it is safe to assume many private equity firms look out for the almighty dollar first and customer experience a distant second. Should your networking organization look out for what is best for you or what is best for the firm? Seems as if the real question is, can these two co-exist? And that, friends, remains to be seen!    

In some instances, losing sight of what will benefit customers is the result of a) continuing to operate as the organization did years ago or b) being blinded by the financial windfall of a private equity investment or acquisition.

For a networking organization, the number one stakeholder is the group member - essentially, the customer (or as we say the client). A group member should follow the definition stated above. They pay for exchanging information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest. If the group is organized correctly, meaning for the benefit of all group members, the special interest is common – growing businesses together!

Certainly, the objective of networking is not to impress guests, or the voluntary leader, or even a guest speaker. If that were the case, they would be the only ones that would benefit from the networking event. Before long, a turnstile for members would need to be constructed as the turnover would be imminent.  

The same would also be true if the group’s primary objective is to attract new guests simply to increase monthly revenue to the private equity firm that owns the group. This would be to the detriment of group members that would not only waste money but countless hours as well.  

Going through the motions of repeated elevator pitches and introducing new guests has little to no benefit for the paying members. Yet this is what we have all been told is required if we are going to network! Do I really need to hear the local pest control representative repeat week after week, "Hi I'm Joe with Joe's Pest Control, and" (all together), "I kill bugs dead!"

Introducing guests to the group is fine, but should recruiting members be your obligation as a paying customer? Think about this, how many people do you know that volunteer their precious time to help a private equity firm? Does that sound like an organization focused on your business' growth?

There are many search results for the term "contrived networking." Results include an article, 7 Ways to Make Networking Less Slimy, and a video, Networking is for Losers, with a description that states, "Networking was initially contrived as a way for less well-off socio-economic individuals to raise their social capital."

Let us look at how the word "contrived" is defined… deliberately created rather than arising naturally or spontaneously; created or arranged in a way that seems artificial and unrealistic. That had me thinking more about those other guys, the big industry networking guys—those who have told us for years what networking is. Contrived elevator pitches, rotating volunteers, meetings that focus on guests, and standing to pass weekly leads to look good in the eye of the guests. Member obligations to recruit and volunteer. None has a single thing to do with my worldview of networking.

Instead of drafting an article, I could have just as easily stated that at Network in Action, all the time and attention is paid to the paying members. With a monthly meeting, state of the art technology and a well-trained paid professional as the leader and membership committee.  Real networking with the focus on the client. What a novel concept!

Network In Action administrator.