Networking is not a contest to collect a stack of business cards, get a hot lead, or reel in a live prospect. Networking is creating a pool of contacts from which you can draw clients, referrals, resources, ideas, and information; it is the beginning to building relationships, getting the word out about what you do, and looking for ways to contribute to others.

The ultimate goal of networking is to develop leads into prospects and prospects into customers based on the relationship of trust built during the networking process. The end goal is to generate profitable revenue from your networking efforts.

A networking event therefore aims to establish relationships… and the best way to do this is by speaking with other people. By talking and asking questions, you discover things you have in common with others, and ways you can help them with their need. You cannot do these by simply handing out business cards. It is very easy to lose a business card, or throw one away. But it is difficult to forget a person you have locked ideas or shared stories with.

The main difference between asking questions and simply handing out business cards is the underlying connection. Conversations show warmth, while business card distribution is very cold.

Here are more reasons why you must choose questions over cards during networking events.

Because asking questions will tell you if a contact is worth pursuing

Be curious — ask questions but primarily listen! Most people love a good listener and are happy to talk about the subject they know best — themselves. To encourage conversation, ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no response. Depending on their answers, a determination needs to be made whether or not it makes sense to get to know this person better. If they don’t seem enthusiastic, then you know you must move on with those who will be more open to what you have to offer.

Because questions show others that you care more about them – and not about your own interests

Sure everyone attending networking events aim to eventually make a sale, but the most essential factor to a sale is the underlying relationship – and the way to establish this is by showing a genuine interest in others. Questions allow you to discover things about your prospects – business cards don’t. Speaking with people gives the impression that you care more about connecting – and not mere selling.

Because handing out a business card should be the conclusion to a network connection – not the beginning

Do not introduce yourself with a business card right away. It shows that if you are handing out your business card like a cheap flyer people will discount the value of the card. And people should remember you not because of the business card but because of who you are. Therefore you need to wait until the person has talked about themselves and only then you should hand out your business card. The business card should act as a “agreement”, it should say “reach out to me when you have time”.

Because questions will open you to more possibilities

Don’t feel like you are wasting your time for talking to people who clearly will never become your customers. You need to keep looking for “chickens” — people who know and can put you in touch with other people — not just “golden eggs” — ideal prospects. Considering that the average person knows 250 other people, every interaction holds exciting potential. It would help if, in the course of asking questions, you can insert any of the following statements:

  • “If you hear from somebody that could use our consulting / coaching / training services or has a need for our product, I would appreciate it if you could refer him to me. We actually have a referral rewards system.”
  • “I am sure that a lot of people ask you for help all the time. So if you come across somebody that could benefit from what we do, it would be great to forward me the contact information.”

Finally, remember – It’s always more important to get a business card than give one. If people don’t have cards, ask them to write their contact info on yours.