Your approach matters

This morning I received an email from “Mark” (his real name will remain anonymous) requesting approval to join the Design and Construction Network (the 10,000+ person networking group I founded early last year). While I receive these emails all the time the content of this email had me taking a second look, it simply said “What benefit or contribution can I get out of joining?” 

In 10 words Mark proved that he does not understand real networking, and I don’t think that Mark is the only one. For the past 20 years we have been taught that networking is a means to generate sales, while in reality it is about building relationships. Imagine if Mark walked up to you and asked “What benefit or contribution can I get out of meeting you?” Instead of building a mutually beneficial relationship his approach would undermine any reasonable chance at building a true relationship.

How are you approaching networking? Do you proactively build relationships through your actions and interactions? The real secret to building great relationships is to help others first, the result is friends that enjoy being around you and know that you have their best interest in mind.

17 thoughts on “Your approach matters

  1. Mark’s story is truly an interesting one. I couldn’t help but look up his LinkedIn profile and found that he is a construction estimator that has been a “consultant” for the past year and a half. I did approve Mark into the network and will do what I can to help him be successful in business and life. A very wise man once said that we reap what we sow. Great to hear from you Tim!

  2. You are absolutely right in stating that networking is about relationship building and not selling. And I don’t know the tone or purpose behind Mark’s question.

    However, I advise my clients to have a clear focus on the results they want to achieve from their networking. I also advise them to explain those aims to the organiser of any network they are considering membership of and feel free to ask how membership of that network will help them achieve those goals.

    I equally stress the question that sits alongside “how will you help me achieve my goals?” That question is “what do I need to commit to in order to get the return I’m looking for from this network?”

    Networking without clear goals, and without communication those clear goals at relevant times, is pointless. Similarly, a purely transactional, goal-focused approach to networking is equally likely to yield a poor return. You need to achieve the balance of knowing your goals and knowing when to set them to one side and simply engage with others.

  3. Winona Leaman

    Tim, When I last saw you at AIA DC, I told you how much I have always related to your posts. Well, you really hit the mark this time. Once I realized that business development is not about developing business as much as it is about developing relationships, everything began to fall into place for me. I get incredible satisfaction from facilitating an introduction between contacts or sharing a lead with a friend. It’s definitely not all about me.

  4. It really is an interesting question for him to start with though. When I have applied to a discretionary group for membership, I generally have started on what I thought I could add to the group rather than what I hoped to take away.

    I think Andy’s point is a fair one for sure, but that question probably needs to be asked and answered prior to applying or perhaps revisited soon after if it feels like the expected benefits are unlikely.

  5. Tim,

    Your post really hits home today. In two separate instances I was corresponding via email with two individuals (at different organizations and whom I will call Jack and Jill). In both instances I suggested setting up a coffee meeting to get to know each other better.

    In both instances, the email response was along the lines of “I don’t have budget to spend now, so let’s not talk until next year”. I was really surprised and taken back……some folks in prof. services dont think of getting to know providers until there is a need. Boy, wouldn’t it be easier to build trust when there is not a need? So, when the time comes, you at least have a short-list of whom to consider?

    Mark, Jack and Jill might benefit from considering open networking (without expectations). — Sylvia

  6. Kent Scott


    Good to hear you took him in. His response regarding assessing benefits is a practical one from his perspective, mainly because he is directly measured by his output (successful estimating) ie :”What have you done for me today”

    Networking as defined, will be a cultural shift… thanks for recognizing it.


  7. I love when other people get networking is for relationship building and not contact gathering. I hate those people at networking events that gather a card from everyone in the room, enter it into their database, and then try to follow-up with me later. I don’t even know who they are and I have no use for them.

    It is much better to talk to 2-3 people that you can make a connection with and build the relationship than to get 50 contacts into your database. I see networking much like dating. Quality of quantity. Look for the relationship, not the hook up.

  8. Oh Tim, where were you (and your advice) in the mid-90s when I was a scared introvert at industry networking events? I could have used your perspective back then and spent fewer years as a wallflower.

    I think you’re right on the money that relationships are where it’s at. But I think it is a long time coming before the Engineering and Construction side of the industry adjust. Our industry is made up of many ESTJs (extroverts who are detail-oriented organized thinkers – Myers Briggs). The typical estimator is about results (new clients/business). Today, the process (building rapport) is where it’s at.

    Someone like me (INFP – a shy, big-picture, emotional, unorganized mess) all of a sudden has a comfortable setting to work within – I like this relationship building stuff. My natural tendency to quietly connect is rewarded. My desire to actually get to know people is all of a sudden not only acceptable, but is considered a best practice.

    But I still struggle. There are roadblocks: introductions, small talk, STRANGERS … people I don’t know absolutely suck the energy from me and make me nervous. My one defense is to remind myself that the stranger before me may be a future friend. That mindset adjustment is hopefully what your estimator learns from being part of the DCN group … each “nice to meet you” has potential to morph into a life-long friendship.

  9. Tara Connell

    You definitely hit the mark regarding relationships = success.
    I get that question often and just actually was asked it again this morning.
    No judgement from me. It’s a fair question. He/she wants to know the return on their “time investment”. It’s my responsibility to answer it for him/her best way I can.

    Don’t be too hard on the guy. He is most likely a practical, by the numbers guy (he is an estimator after all). Give him your stats: how many members, how many years DCN has been active, etc.

    I bet that would help him better understand what the DCN is all about. Once he attends a DCN event, he will be a convert for sure!


  10. I liked this sentence in Andy’s comment:
    “Networking without clear goals, and without communication those clear goals at relevant times, is pointless”.
    May be networking should be defined more clear by examples.

  11. Howard Kronland

    I have been an architect for many years and during those years I have always made a point of making friends with the people I have met in our industry.
    When I have had a problem or needed advice I could call or meet with them to discuss various technical or business issues. I also found it works both ways. You can learn alot. We could meet for lunch or coffee and help each other.
    Many of them have now become social friends.

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