The holidays are already on the horizon, and they offer many business and social opportunities for productive networking. Our recommended mantra—”Give Before You Get”—is in tune with the season. The question is “Just how can I do that?”

To get started, let’s ask a question:  Is networking the lifeblood of selling? Many business-to-business salespeople would probably say “Yes!” We know that it makes up a large part of what we do here at Productive Strategies to maintain a flow of prospects—and it’s what just about everyone we work with in the business-to-business world does, too. Much networking revolves around business-oriented activities—trade shows, educational or promotional presentations, breakfasts, “official” networking events, on-line channels (LinkedIn, for example). But social activities are also in play. In fact, a common question we get is “How can I turn a social activity into a business opportunity?”

In just about any form of networking, at least in our experience, the fundamental operating principle is “Give Before You Get.” How does that work?

Well, it’s similar to what the best shoppers do—you know, the people who have just the right birthday or holiday gifts bought, wrapped, and otherwise ready to go well before of the big day? Their secret is that they are always shopping. Not buying, mind you, but shopping: They are actively paying attention to what’s being offered, what the prices are, where the best values are hiding—and, most important, what gifts might be right for whom. On-line or brick and mortar, it doesn’t matter. When they see something that’s right for someone on their list, they know whether they can buy it with confidence.


Get Better Referrals Now: A Workshop

“Do I even need to ask for a referral?
If so, who do I ask, when, and how?”

“How can I be seen as an expert?”
“Should I tell stories? Which ones?”
“How can I network more efficiently?”

“Get Better Referrals Now” will answer these questions and more. It’s on Monday, November 4, from 8 a.m. to noon. Referrals can lead to 80% of all new business. But building solid referrals takes time—and a proven process. Join us at our offices in Northfield, Illinois, to learn the process and how to make it work for you. One-half day, $495. Don’t be left out! Just call 847-446-0008 Ext. 1 or e-mail

The same “always be shopping” principle applies to superior networking. It can’t be done well at the last minute. It takes time and commitment. But, like being able to completely enjoy the holidays because all gifts have been gotten, it does pay off.

Consider these networking best practices to be our early holiday gift to you.

#1 Listen—and ask questions. Amid social chit-chat, what might someone be telling you, either out loud or implied? When people say “Business isn’t great but OK,” for example, are they really saying they are having problems—marketing, sales, operations slowdowns, supplier issues? You can’t know without asking, “What do you mean?”

#2 Think purposefully about your contacts. This group includes the obvious—customers, prospects, suppliers, and colleagues. But it also includes others that might not come so quickly to mind: friends, social acquaintances, relatives—people you’ve met recently, even people you’ve just met. The same thinking applies: What do they need and want? Who do you know that they might help? Either end of these pairings can also be people you’ve just met. (Think “degrees of separation.”)

#3 Make the match! Introduce your complementary contacts. These introductions don’t have to be formal or detailed. A quick e-mail works or offer to set up a breakfast or lunch. You don’t have to foot the bill, but you can participate if you think it would help them or you. At an event, you can even get people together you’ve only just met—”Bob, I think you and Joanne have some things in common.” No need for you to say anything else or hang around. Just walk away.

Key Point: Sincerely attempt to deliver value without expecting anything in return. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you also know it as “paying it forward” or, stretching the concept a bit, as a “random act of kindness.”

Finally, thanks to neuroscience, a relatively new but especially valuable tool is on the networking scene: the associative cognitive mindset.

What does that mean? An associative mind is one that sparks ideas when there is a stimulus, such as a stated need or objective. Ever notice that some salespeople have a knack for “keeping the ball rolling” in sales calls or conversations by bringing up related topics? Some can even tell appropriate jokes. Know why? It’s because these salespeople have an associative cognitive mindset. They hear something, not just in sales calls, and they naturally think of related things—sometimes jokes or stories. It’s just the way their minds work.

Warning: Be careful not to let interesting side trips lead you away from discovering what you need to know to make a sale. If you feel that happening, just ask a sales-related question. If you’re asking, you’re not talking.

At the next level, the same associative thinking enables some salespeople to create value for prospects and customers. That’s because when they hear about problems, they associate that problem with a solution—and often with a solution provider they know if they don’t have a solution themselves. That provider is usually someone they’ve met before, but it could be someone that a colleague, friend, or customer has complimented or endorsed.

Key Point: Some networking gurus are born with an associative cognitive mindset. It’s a talent. But you can also develop it as a tool—a skill—by practicing it. Every time you meet someone, for example, actively think about other people with similar interests you could introduce them to. Or simply do it for anyone you talk to, even people you already know. (It’s one of the things we teach in our popular consultative selling course, FOCIS®.)

In addition, before scheduled events, be sure to prepare by:

Checking the attendee list, if possible. See whether you can help two or three specific individuals who are going to be there. You don’t have to know the exact issue an attendee might have. Just prioritize meeting those people whose businesses might benefit from your products or services. Keep in mind that you might know someone else who could help them or other attendees.
Coming up with topics and questions to start conversations with your targeted individuals. There are also general questions that will work just about anywhere. At professional events: What brings you here today? What are you looking to get out of this event? Have you been to other, similar events? At social activities or less business-oriented events: How do you know [the host, honoree, or speaker]? Do you know very many people here? Are you new to the neighborhood?


To learn more about how to customize your personal approach to networking, just contact us at 847-446-0008 or And please consider attending our “Get Better Referrals” workshop on November 4, which is described in the box in this column.

Bonus: Ask us for “The Top 5 Ways to Create Value during the Sales Call.” It’s free and informative and something you can use immediately.


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