Networking Is Bullshit. And How To Network

“Networking” is one of the most useless terms in modern business vernacular. It’s about as meaningless as “innovation.”

There are so many networking events. Particularly in sales circles. But even outside of sales circles, I regularly hear people say “I’m going to [event] to network.” The ratio of networking events attended to value created is abysmally low. Why?

Lack of focus. Lack of clarity.

Going to events hoping to meet someone who will be useful to you is irrational and counter-productive due to time loss. Relationships are two-way streets. You have to be prepared to offer value before you can expect someone to reciprocate.

It’s particularly difficult to offer value to people who attend events if you don’t know who is attending. Or worse yet, when everyone attending is looking for more-or-less the same few things. Sales-focused networking events are the worst. Sales people are looking for one of two things: customers, or a new job. Customers don’t go to sales-focused meet ups because they don’t want to be sold. And sales people aren’t going to meet ups to find new sales colleagues to hire. Sales people don’t generally care that their employer needs two more sales reps to cover some territory. Structurally, sales-focused networking events do not work.

This stands in stark contrast to developer meet ups. Developers generally attend these because they are interested in learning about a novel piece of technology. These meet ups work because the agenda is clear — learn about [x]. Developers can easily assess their own desire to learn about [x], and can bond with other attendees about [x].

Everyone knows that startups are about focus. But strangely enough, the startup community revels in itself and hosts lots of superfluous, unfocused events. Pitch competitions in particular are the awful, other than those sponsored by the elite accelerators like Y Combinator, Tech Stars, and Capital Factory.

As a startup CEO, it’s natural to gravitate towards pitch days to meet investors who are presumably there looking to invest in startups! The problem with pitch days is that they explicitly commoditize the CEO-investor relationship. Investors are by definition wealthy, if not rich. Wealthy people have egos. Even the modest ones. Herding investors as if they were sheep so they can see a bunch of startups in quick succession does not feed investor ego. Moreover, pitch days never offer enough time for investors and startups to connect after pitching. Too many investors and too many startups means only a small fraction of each side of the market connects with the other. Investors attend pitch events to catch up with other investors, and to boost their own ego. This isn’t their fault.

So how do you network for your job role? You don’t. Networking is by definition a shotgun approach: “I’ll show up, meet some people who perhaps are here for some agenda, and hopefully we’ll connect, I’ll be able to offer some value, and they’ll be willing to reciprocate later.” That approach is nonsense and garbage. Use a sniper rifle instead.

If you’re a sales rep, work with your marketing team to identify target customers, and systematically reach out to them. A/B test messaging. There are plenty of tools to help you do this. Attending open-ended events is the worse way to find customers you match your ideal customer profile ICP.

If you’re a sales rep looking for a new job, identify 5–10 companies you would like to work for. Use LinkedIn to find mutual connections. If you have no mutual connections to a given target employer, find 3rd degree connections. Build relationships and work your way in. Demonstrate your expertise publicly. Target hiring managers relentlessly. You will not build the relationships necessary to land a job at a company happy hour. No one is there to help you get a job. They are there to drink and have fun. Don’t ruin their time and your chances of getting a job there by being… a sales guy.

If you’re a developer looking to meet other developers…. go to meet ups! In the examples above, that was the counter example by design. You will naturally bond with other developers who are interested in the same tools. That is the common ground that will serve as the foundation for a relationship. Developers actually provide value to offer other developers.

If you’re a CEO looking to raise money… just identify target investors using Mattermark, Crunchbase, CB Insights, LinkedIn, AngelList, etc. just as you would if you were building a target customer list. Look for mutual connections. Research each one. Make sure you can say something intelligent that’s relevant to each investor when you either ask for a mutual introduction or do cold outreach. The more personalized the content is, the exponentially more likely the investor is to respond. Why spend 20+ hours prepping for a demo day with 50 random investors when you could spend 10 hours doing personalized outreach via mutual connections to 50 targeted investors? The latter will always yield a higher hit rate. Always. And it won’t commoditize the CEO-investor relationship. And it will guarantee you get the 1-on-1 time you need with that investor.