Why attending networking events is largely a pointless waste of time.


“Is there anybody here who actually wants to be?”

The other day I attended a lunchtime networking event in Birmingham. I had gone to meet somebody who I believed would be there but at the eleventh hour had to duck out (I learned later) leaving me at the mercy of a heaving mass of smartly dressed, enthusiastic and fragrant professionals. My worst nightmare!

I have nothing against enthusiastic professionals (especially if they smell nice) in fact I earn my living from them but to see a huge posse of them all swigging away on free orange juice and engaged in the art of “networking” was almost too much for me to bare.

[ <—- Thanks to Nick Lincoln at V2VFP for the caption]

I deal with medium to large law firms. The decision makers within those firms rarely go to those kinds of event and if they do they aren’t going to make a purchase worth tens of thousands of pounds from somebody they’ve just met over a sausage on a stick! So this is my key message: if you sell to medium to large organisations you are wasting your time attending networking events.

I’m not saying business doesn’t get done at these gatherings because I’m sure it does but the conversion rate is so low as to be laughable. Think about it. You have to meet a decision maker who right now has a need you can help with and a budget that matches your expectations but does not have incumbent suppliers who can already deliver what’s required. Not really very likely when you consider it that way is it?

Of course the argument goes that networking events are also about building relationships which is true but if that’s the best way you can engage with your stakeholders you may find your depth of relationships a bit on the shallow side. If you want to build strong relationships you’re much better off arranging to meet people on a 121 basis; at least they know you cared enough to make the effort.

For my own part I have built all of my businesses (the biggest tipping the scales at a hefty £40m turnover) on the firm foundation of relationship selling; it’s easy, efficient and really quite fun. I cannot recall a single client I have won from a networking event and nor can I honestly say that going to them strengthened any of my relationships. Remember: people attend these events to sell not to buy!

So in closing if you must attend these frightful shindigs learn how to work a room (personally I can think of nothing worse) and get stuck in but don’t expect to win loads of business as a result.

Alternatively you can avoid them like the plague and reinvest the time you have saved into one of four alternative approaches to finding and connecting with new clients that I will be talking about in my next post!

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Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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Posted in Business Development, Making contact, New Business, Real Networking, Sales
14 comments on “Why attending networking events is largely a pointless waste of time.
  1. Dear Mike,

    Very good. I think you have expressed what many of us have thought for some time but have not wanted to be the first to say so. The key is to establish relationships with decision makers who, for perhaps obvious reason, also avoidthese events like the plague.

    • Mike Ames says:

      Thanks Nicholas – the key is right there: “establishing relationships with the decision makers” and if you can do that at a networking event then good on you.

  2. Dear Mike,
    A very interesting read on your views of networking for new clients. Can I ask what your opinion is on networking for employment/gaining contacts purposes. Or do you consider all networking useless?

    • Mike Ames says:

      Hi Katherine. The idea of the post was to make people think. Too many people think that blindly turning up at an event and “working a room” will somehow result in new clients; it usually doesn’t I’m afraid. If you know what you want to achieve; are clear on who can help you do this; can identify a place where these people go and get yourself along there then you may well get a result. Schmoozing can work but it has to be targeted and carried out well. Hope this helps. Mike

  3. […] Mike’s previous post he put forward the idea that attending networking events to find and connect with new prospective […]

  4. A really interesting post. I agree that people attend these events to sell and not to buy. I will not say that decision makers do not attend such events, they do but they represent the vendors community. To find a vendor/seller is not a tough task if one is clear on what service/product one is looking for it can be done in numerous ways. So i do not think that a genuine buyer would ever PAY conference fee to find vendors. Decision makers from buyers community also attend conferences but they do that in the capacity of mentors, speakers etc which add value to their own profiles.

  5. Mohammad Danish :
    A really interesting post. I agree that people attend these events to sell and not to buy. I will not say that decision makers do not attend such events, they do but they represent the vendors community. To find a vendor/seller is not a tough task if one is clear on what service/product one is looking for it can be done in numerous ways. So i do not think that a genuine buyer would ever PAY conference fee to find vendors. Decision makers from buyers community also attend conferences but they do that in the capacity of mentors, speakers etc which add value to their own profiles.

  6. […] street.[i] Mike Ames – Why Attending Networking Events is Largely a Pointless Waste Of Time (https://mikeames.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/why-attending-networking-events-is-largely-a-pointless-wast…) Accessed July 2012 This article was written by James Roden. James graduated from Birmingham […]

    • Mike Ames says:

      I thought I might try and add to this a little if I can. Firstly I think this is a well written and well thought out piece James and hope a good many young professionals read and inwardly digest. It is part of the world they are going work in for years to come so they should get a pretty tight bead on it.

      Anyhow, here are a few things to consider: –

      1. I am a huge fan of building relationships – my previous business was build on referrals (we spent zip on marketing) and reached a heady £40M turnover through organic growth in 9 years.
      2. Going to events to meet people who either aren’t selling to you or have as much to gain from you as you can gain from them is well worth doing. This is especially true at the outset of your career.
      3. You will find that going to events looking for people to buy what you sell is a frustrating waste of time. You will get the odd sale but you’re sure going to have to kiss a lot of frogs before one turns into a handsome prince. There are much more effective ways of finding new clients than this.
      4. Take this advice from an old and creaky buffer who has managed to steer his way through the business landscape and could have retired at 38: whatever you do learn to speak in public, write compelling stuff and sell and you won’t go too far wrong.

      Good luck with it all and hope this helps.

  7. James Curran says:

    Just stumbled across this article / website when searching “is networking a waste of time”. A great post, just what I needed to read.

    I’ve only been in business a couple of years and the biggest mistake I made was to join a subscription based networking group.

    The market I serve is companies that are either well established and want to take their brand identity further, or small / startup businesses that realise the value in time spent on a high standard of design.

    I fairly quickly realised that it was very unlikely that I would find clients that would be prepared to set a reasonable budget to cover the time it takes to create design to the standard I work to. However, as I had paid my annual fee upfront (crazy I know), I felt compelled to continue attending the weekly meetings – even worse, attempting to meet their quota of bringing a referral each week. With other businesses like plumbers and locksmiths this was unlikely to say the least. At what point in a meeting with the directors of multi million turnover company do I ask “have you got any carpets that need cleaning?”.

    In addition, this and many other networking groups seem to carry a lot of cheap, substandard or inexperienced, so called experts – especially in design, marketing and social media. If a business places such a low value on its corporate image that it would pay £50 for the logo, or a few hundred for the website, then I am hardly likely to convince them of the difference in carefully considered work. Especially when they’re going to have pay ten times as much for it.

    Needless to say I didn’t renew my subscription, as I’d wasted a great deal of time being involved in the group and embarrassingly trying to get referrals from friends and family. Time I could and should have spent doing many other more useful things to build my business. I suppose it is part of the learning process and I’ll never make the same mistake again.

    I do now attend the occasional networking event, but never really expect to meet my next great client, as I don’t think the people I need to meet generally attend them.

    I think networking probably works well for certain types of businesses and certain types of people, and it’s certainly a good practice ground for building confidence in speaking publicly about your profession.

    I know first hand that relationships are undoubtedly important in business, as most of my work comes from referrals from previous clients. It would be great if I could find networking events that specifically cater to more discerning businesses, but I haven’t found any thus far.

    • Mike Ames says:

      Good comment James and obviously one that is very close to your heart. I think relationships are crucial to growing businesses but there are many more ways of doing this rather than attending so called networking events.

  8. Neil says:

    Hi there – I think Mike’s point 2 above sums it up. You should never go to a networking event with the intention of selling – for all of the reasons highlighted in earlier comments. Networks run broad and deep, and the person you are looking for is often 2 or 3 degrees of separation away – but access to them is through someone you initially met at a networking event.

    In regards to James’ comment about finding events catering to more discerning businesses – the best way to ensure this outcome is to start your own group.

    Don’t give up on the networking, just pick your events carefully and make sure it’s just part of a well balanced business development approach that includes 1-2-1 relationship development, the right social media, etc.

    Neil Kafer
    Boost Your BD

    • Mike Ames says:

      Thanks for the comment Neil. In reality I have nothing against going to these “networking” events provided that you are clear what you want from them and measure your success rates whether that is winning business or meeting people how can get you to the decision makers, as you point out.

      Too many people still confuse attending lucky-dip sessions with hard-core BD – they are definitely not the same.

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Mike Ames

Passionate about making business development a profession not just a job. Built and sold a £40m group in less than 9 years. Doing it all again and loving it!

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