The Networking Approach

What can you do for your network? That's the question in the right networking approach.
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” –President John F. Kennedy, 1961

When thinking of what your networking approach should be, recall the immortal words from President Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961, with a small paraphrasing.

“Ask not what your network can do for you. Ask what you can do for your network.”

In every networking interaction, you should be seeking ways to help your counterpart. This does not mean that your own needs should be a well guarded secret. You can certainly mention what you are looking for, in much the way I might casually mention that I’m looking for speaking opportunities. Your focus, however, should be on finding ways to help the person you are speaking to.

Do not be a Despero

In The Guy Who Knows a Guy, I introduced the concept of Despero. Despero is exactly what you do not want to be. He is the desperate, pushy salesman who makes you feel claustrophobic. All he cares about is what he needs to do to make a sale. He’s looking for his next meal, and you’re on the menu.

Ned Ryerson is a Despero. The opposite of a good networking approach.
Ned Ryerson from the 1993 movie Groundhog Day is an example of a Despero. Don’t be like him.

You may remember Ned Ryerson from the movie Groundhog Day. He is the epitome of what I’m talking about. He sees a friend from high school for this first time in decades and goes straight in for a close. Not only will this not close a deal. It will close off the relationship for all time.

I am chairing the Rotary Builds Business effort here in Southeastern Connecticut. Networking and community service used to be hand in hand in Rotary until the 70s and 80s brought a generation of Desperos and Ned Ryersons in to clubs across America. In response to a wave of desperate salesmen, Rotary became a “no networking” organization.

It solved the immediate problem of people trying to push their wares in Rotary meetings, but ended up weakening the organization over time. It diminished the ability to tie together the greatest needs of the community with the most important members of the business community. This is why, after many years, we’re carefully trying to reintroduce the power of networking to Rotary.

Desperos harmed one of the greatest forces for good by a terrible networking approach. So don’t be Despero. Don’t be that guy.

A better networking approach

If you’re not hustling a sale, what should you be doing?

In a recent article on how to start a networking conversation, I discussed the importance of seeking first to help, then to be helped.

Everyone is eternally interested in solving their own problems. They are only secondarily interested in solving yours. So, get them to talk about their problems. Get them to tell you everything in their life they would like to solve.

Then put your thinking cap on and find a resource you have that solves that problem. The resource could be someone in your network. It could be a piece of advice. Or, perhaps, the solution may, in fact, lie in something that you do sell, at which point it is entirely appropriate to mention it.

The difference between the Ned Ryerson approach and suggesting your product to solve a known problem is profound. You are not being pushy. In fact, were you to refuse to mention that your product solves their problem, wouldn’t that be a bit rude? After all, you have a solution. Why would you not share it.

They would not feel they are being sold. They would feel that you are trying to help, especially if your approach is gentle and consultative.

Even if they do not have a need to which you sell a solution, it is still quite beneficial to solve their problem. Naturally, it is beneficial to them, but it is also beneficial to you. If you have started a relationship by solving a problem, it is a much stronger relationship.

You could later call upon this individual to solve a problem of yours, or to offer you referrals.

Not quid pro quo

While most people will return the favor when you assist them, not everyone will. Perhaps they do not feel obligated. It is also possible that they simply forgot. It happens.

Don’t keep score.

If you do enough good things for others, good things will come back to you. Certainly, if you have solved a problem for someone and they are able to help you, you may gently remind them of your assistance. Don’t do it like you’re calling in a marker. Nobody likes to feel beholden. You’re not the Godfather (I assume). A gentle reminder is sufficient.

What do you do if they don’t reciprocate? Don’t worry about it. Keep solving problems and doing good in the world. It all works out very well in the end.


Some of the content in this article is drawn from chapter 4 of The Guy Who Knows a Guy by Michael Whitehouse.

Michael is available to speak to your team or organization. For more information, click here.

Support us on Patreon. Just $1/month gives us access to special features!

3 thoughts on “The Networking Approach

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.