After two decades of running the world’s largest networking organization, I have certainly seen a lot of networking faux pas.  A networking faux pas is a slip or blunder in networking etiquette or conduct.   I’ve have put together a few of the most glaring ones that I’ve seen over the years so that you might avoid them in your networking efforts.

Faux Pas #1:  Not responding quickly to referral partners.  This one really troubles me.  I cannot imagine getting a call from a networking partner and not responding immediately, but unfortunately, it seems to happen with some regularity.  Not long ago, someone I know had a referral for a gentleman in his networking group.  He called the associate and left a message at his office as soon as he knew the referral was viable.  A day went by without a return call, so he called again saying it was important to connect.

He was finally able to speak to his networking associate at their next meeting.  He asked him why he did not return his call and the associate said: If I knew you had a referral for me, I would've called you back immediately.”  He did give the referral at the meeting and to no one's surprise the referral ended up working with another vendor because no one got back to him in a timely manner. 

Treating each of your networking partners as one of your best clients is critical.  You should always return phone calls from these people immediately, as it speaks to your credibility and reliability as a professional. 

There have been countless examples of people receiving referrals at networking groups who go back to their places of business and finally get around to contacting the referral in a few days.  The old phrase, “if you snooze, you lose” is apropos here.  Time is of the essence and if the referral knows that you had her name and number on Monday and you took your sweet time calling, that sends a message you don’t want to be sending!

Faux Pas #2:   Confusing networking with direct selling.  One of our BNI Directors struck up a conversation with a woman business owner at a networking function; when the business owner asked our Director what she did, she told her that she helps business owners build their business through networking and referrals.  The business owner smiled and said, “I’m really good at networking!  I’ve been doing it for a long, long time.” 

Curious, our Director asked her, “So what’s your secret?”  She stood up straight and said, “Well, a friend and I enter a room together.  We imagine drawing a line down the middle.  She takes the left side, I take the right side.  We agree to meet back together at a certain time to see who collected the most cards!  The loser buys the other one lunch.” 

The Director curiously inquired, “so what do you do with all those cards?”  Again, proudly, the business owner expressed, “I enter them into my distribution list and begin to send them information about my services!  Since I have all their information, they’re all good prospects, right?”

This is a classic example of an entrepreneur not understanding that networking is not about simply gathering contact information and following up on it at a later date.  That is nothing more than glorified cold calling!  Brrrrr, it gives me the chills!  I used to teach cold calling techniques to business people.  I did it enough to know that I didn’t want to ever do it again.  I have devoted my entire professional life to teaching the business community that there is a better way to build long-term business. 

Faux Pas #3:  Abusing the relationship.

There are many ways that I’ve seen networking partners abuse the relationship, but the following story is absolutely one of the most glaring examples of this situation. 

A woman I know was invited to attend a 50th birthday party of an associate who used to belong to a networking group in which she also participated.  They once had a long-term working relationship, and so out of respect, she decided to attend.  When she got to the door, she looked through the window and noticed that people were arranged in a semi-circle listening to a presenter in front of an easel board.   When she stepped in, it was very obvious that the “party goers” were being recruited for a business opportunity.  As resentful as the woman felt, she and other mutual friends found it difficult to remove themselves from the “birthday party” despite the fact that the only refreshments being served was the company’s diet shake!  

Never, ever mislead your networking partners (for that matter – never mislead anyone).  Trust is everything when you are talking about relationship networking.  Inviting these people to a “birthday party” which turns out to be a business opportunity is not being honest with the very people with whom you want to build a trusting relationship.

All of these faux pas directly relate to good people skills.  The prevailing theme of all three is to treat your referral partners (or potential referral partners) with professionalism and care.  Make sure to respond to them quickly, don’t treat a networking opportunity like a cold-call, and don’t abuse a networking relationship.  Instead, treat your referral partner like you would a #1 client.  Use networking opportunities to meet people and begin the process of developing a genuine relationship.  Lastly, always network in a way that builds credibility and trust – be candid in telling your referral partners what you need and what you’re asking of them.  Do these things and you’ll help to avoid some serious mistakes in relationship networking.