But first let's define Business Networking and then discuss what it is and what it is not.
Wikipedia defines Business Networking as a "socioeconomic activity by which groups of like-minded business people recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities".
Business Networking organizations have created models of referral networking activities, and teach their members, that when followed, these models will allow the business person to discover and build new business relationships which will result in more business referral opportunities.
However, these activities will not give rise to generating business opportunities without the participant successfully building relationships with other participants deep enough where trust is established. The process required before trust can be established is often referred to as the Know Me, Like Me, Trust Me Learning Curve.
Know Me, Like Me, Trust Me.
Like any process, it's a series of steps where business professionals take the time to get to Know, Like and Trust others before feeling comfortable referring their best clients to.
The Know Me, Like Me, Trust Me Learning Curve takes time to complete. Therefore, Business Networking activities are designed to shorten that learning curve time thus maximizing the participant's rate of return on invested time.
So how does this referral marketing methodology work?
First, they need to Know you.
It may seem obvious, but people have to Know you exist before they'll do business with you. They need to be keenly aware of the product and services that you offer. More importantly, they need to understand what makes you and the way you render your services different from your competitors.
Not only must other business professionals be aware of you and your business, but they need to Know what makes you different. They need to answer the question for themselves, "Why should I use you over your competition?"
Secondly, they need to Like you.
Your prospective referral sources need to answer the question, "Would I feel comfortable working with this person?" Unfortunately, many people judge a book by its cover. Therefore, a professional appearance is paramount. Even the roofer, plumber, etc needs to be aware of this when they are out in public doing their business networking activities. Enhancing your appearance will only increase the number of folks who are willing to get to know you better.
But your appearance is only one small piece of getting people to Like you. What you say and how you say it will play a large role in your likability. People are always watching you even when you are not speaking directly to them. Your attitude will determine your altitude in business. People naturally gravitate to likeable people. Always be warm and genuine and folks will see someone they want to get to Know better because they are starting to Like you.
The third step in the learning curve is Trust.
Once someone Knows you exist, recognizing what you offer is different and finds you Likable to the point where they are comfortable speaking with you, it's time to establish Trust. Many times in the Business Networking environment, the Trust factor is not established without at least a small leap of faith.
A cautious potential referral source may engage your services for them personally before referring you to others. This is called a First Degree Referral. The First Degree Referral is a lower risk proposition than referring you to their clients (i.e. a Second Degree Referral).
This first referral will either establish Trust or it won't. Most of that will be up to you.
So, is Business Networking an art or a science?
So it can be argued, that Business Networking is both an art and a science. The art is successfully making and developing relationships which is hinged upon successfully navigating the Know Me, Like Me, Trust Me Learning Curve.
The science is creating the best or optimized environment for the Know Me, Like Me, Trust Me process to successfully take place and maximizing the desired outcomes as efficiently and quickly as possible.
From both respects, one thing is clear. People are apt to only do business with people and organizations that they Know, Like and Trust. Business Professionals who learn how to effectively and efficiently use Business Networking as the center piece of their marketing plan will be rewarded the most.