A common assumption is that the best type of networker is a “people person.” This isn’t necessarily true. The only people who aren’t suited for networking or referral marketing are those who don’t like people at all. These people are not likely to be entrepreneurs or involved in sales of any kind in the first place. You’ll find most of them in careers that allow them to work alone, where they don’t have to come in contact with people. Chances are, they will not be out there drumming up business.

Most people who have started their own businesses and who depend directly on others buying their products or services have at least a modest comfort level in dealing with people. They may not necessarily be outgoing or gregarious, but they know how to form meaningful relationships and communicate their ideas. A lot of people own these basic skills, and for them, referral marketing is the best way to build their business, because referral marketing is marketing through relationships.

Introverts Are Listeners

Introverts too often consider themselves as not qualified to succeed in networking and relationship-building because they are not comfortable with or adept at initiating conversations. This is unfortunate, because introverts happen to have innate skills that make them better at what is most important in the relationship process: listening.

Networking is always a two-part process. First, you have to meet someone new and be ready to share information about yourself that will be of interest to the person you have just met, whether for the person herself or for someone in her network. The extrovert may be better at this part of the process, that is, meeting someone new. But the introvert is generally better at the second part, which is listening to that person. This is why the type of networking I recommend can actually be easier for the introvert than for the extrovert.

Think about it this way: extroverts love talking about themselves; introverts are better at asking questions. Which of the two skills is more important in building relationships?

Introvert vs. Extrovert

There is a vital difference in the ways extroverts and introverts approach people. The extrovert wants to talk about himself, while the introvert wants other people to do the talking. As it turns out, the latter is perfect when it comes to developing a relationship.

A good networker has two ears and one mouth, and uses each proportionally. A good networker asks questions and gets to know the other person. Once you know the other person, it is much easier to formulate a solution (which you can help provide) to a problem or a concern he or she might be experiencing.

Introverts are on the whole much better at active listening, which means listening with a genuine intent to learn from the speaker and retaining the information they have just heard for later use. An extrovert will be more likely to use the “down time” when the other person is speaking to think of the next thing he wants to say himself—instead of truly listening to the speaker. The introvert will be more likely to process the information provided by the speaker. Most extroverts must continually remind themselves to do what comes naturally to the introvert.

If you’re introverted, don’t let yourself use that as an excuse not to network. Introverts who understand their strength are more naturally adept than extroverts at the art of networking, because they are comfortable listening to other people. This in turn helps them establish deeper long-term connections with others.

Tips for Easy Networking

Over the years of teaching people the art of networking, I’ve learned that there are many techniques that can be used to make the process easier—especially for those who see themselves as introverts.

For example, if you feel uncomfortable walking up to total strangers at a chamber business mixer, you can volunteer to be an ambassador for that group. In this role, you are in effect a host for the chamber, which makes it easier and more natural for you to go up to people and say, “Welcome to our event. My name is [your name]. I’m an ambassador for the chamber. . . .” Before you know it, the ice is broken and you’re engaged in conversation!

Opportunities to learn the art of networking abound, and often in places you may not have yet considered. Do you volunteer for your church or for a cause about which you feel passionate? These are great occasions for meeting new people—many of whom could be future clients! Your services will always be needed for organizing committees, recruiting other volunteers (on the phone or in person) or soliciting donations for your group’s worthy cause.

Other people have refined their networking skills by joining a parent-teacher association, which offers numerous opportunities to speak on behalf of the children, or perhaps coaching in a children’s sports league, working on a fundraiser, or even coordinating or speaking at a political event for a local or national aspiring candidate. Once you have presented the platform of a political candidate to a group of voters that you have the power to sway to your guy or gal with your words, you can certainly present yourself in an equally engaging style!

Networking is a skill set that can be learned, no matter your level of gregariousness. If you remain ill at ease in environments where you have to mix and mingle or meet new people, take advantage of the many training seminars and workshops available that can teach you how to network effectively. You’ll find that when you learn ways to handle these situations, you’ll become more relaxed and confident in a networking setting.

DR. IVAN MISNER is founder of BNI, the world’s largest
referral organization with thousands of chapters in dozens of countries
around the world. His new book is
Masters of Sales.