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Whether you are settling into your first sales role or have years of experience, you don’t need me to tell you building a strong network is essential. Chances are you’ve already been positively impacted by a professional relationship in some way.

When most of us think of networking we likely think of having face-to-face conversations at live events or gatherings — and for years that has largely been what networking looked like.

However, it’s time to broaden our view of what networking can be.

With many live events and opportunities to connect in real life on hold, and the realities of isolation present for many, virtual networking is more important than ever. It is important to note that while there is no right or wrong way to network, there are some easy pitfalls to succumb to when connecting online.

We’ve all seen it — the well-intentioned email or request to connect that makes us cringe a little. I certainly have been on both the sending and receiving end of such a message in my career. And with so many of us relying on online connections, we have to ensure we are communicating with potential contacts effectively.

Thankfully we can bounce back from unsavoury online interactions, and now is the perfect time to polish up those skills. Read on to learn what virtual networking behaviours you should steer clear from, and what you should do instead.

1. Sending LinkedIn connection requests without a message.

Let’s start off with the basics. If you are sending a request to connect with someone on LinkedIn who you have not had a direct working relationship with, always include a custom message with your request.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment. Which request would you rather receive from someone you don’t know directly, or perhaps have only interacted with briefly: “Join my network on LinkedIn,” or “Hi Alex, My name is Les and I attended your session at the XYZ virtual summit. Your presentation was fantastic. If you have time in the coming weeks, I would love to ask you a few follow-up questions.” Read more about our recommendations for using LinkedIn here.

The second message provides context for the recipient letting them know who you are, what the two of you have in common, and opens the door for a future conversation.

2. Not establishing ground rules and boundaries.

Most people are juggling multiple plates. Whether they are having to completely pivot how they do business in response to the current climate or are adjusting to working remotely in a home full of loved ones, approaching online networking conversations from a place of empathy is essential for everyone involved.

Beginning virtual networking conversations by setting expectations and being transparent about bandwidth from both parties is a tried-and-true best practice.

3. Focusing all your efforts on new contacts.

Networking isn’t all about making new relationships. Taking time to maintain relationships you have is just as, if not more important than establishing new connections. Knowing how busy life gets, I’d be willing to bet there are some great people already in your network that you haven’t talked to in a while.

As you embark on your virtual networking efforts, make a point of reaching out to contacts regularly, whether that’s reaching out to old clients to offer support, or scheduling a virtual coffee chat with a former colleague to hear how their new role is going, regularly prioritising meaningful interactions know can go a long way.

4. Sending cold emails without prior engagement or context.

We touched on this in point number one but it bears repeating — avoid reaching out to cold contacts without providing some sort of context or doing your research. To create a meaningful relationship with a new contact, you must have a solid foundation to start from. It’s difficult to have a solid foundation from cold emails without context or a prior interaction.

Before sending an email to a contact you have not previously interacted with, first check your network to see if you have any mutual connections who could make an introduction for you (another reason why maintaining relationships with your existing network is essential).

If you don’t have a mutual connection, aim to have a low-touch engagement with the new contact to establish common ground. Check out what content they’ve shared on social media and leave a meaningful comment to get a conversation started. After some low-touch engagement on social, move to email to keep the conversation going.

5. Not factoring in accessibility for virtual events.

Many individuals and organisations have been presented with the challenge of moving networking to digital platforms. Technology presents its own set of challenges, especially when it comes to accessibility.

When approaching opportunities to bring people together virtually, consider if the virtual space you’re building is accessible to people of different backgrounds and abilities.

6. Failing to demonstrate reciprocity.

Like any healthy relationship, there should be an element of reciprocity among your professional connections. A valuable connection should have both give and take for everyone involved. As you look to make new connections online, don’t only think of what you can get from the other person. Approach every conversation considering what you have to give the other party in return.

7. Only networking with higher-level contacts.

Last but certainly not least, a networking mistake you want to avoid is only seeking higher-level connections.

Meeting with managers and executives in your line of work can be a huge asset, but don’t overlook the value your peers add as well. Networking laterally is a great way to keep a pulse on what’s happening in your industry and can be helpful connections for referrals or recommendations as you plan to make your next career move.
With the right approach, you can build and sustain meaningful professional connections virtually.

Remote networking brings its own set of challenges. Maybe we can help you overcome them.

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