Monday, November 28, 2005

Networking 101: Everything you need to know to be an effective networker.

Networking: It's something we as doctors don't learn much about, and some of us [sorry to say] are inept at. The problem is that it is not part of the culture. As doctors, we are encouraged to be self-directed and self-motivated and competitive -- as individualistic as possible. However, go to any business school, and the number one thing you are taught is how to network. You see, business people, unlike doctors, know the importance of networking. Sure, we work together in the hospital, in our residency teams and what-not, but we are not truely taught how to sell ourselves, nor how to do it in a classy fashion.

I am shocked by the way that some people network. It is an interesting study in human psychology, for one's networking behavior is a reflection of one's maturity and self-confidence. Just think about your own reactions to different selling approaches. Someone who is too in-your-face or overly talks their product is perceived as maybe not able to offer what they portend to. The true experienced networker understands human psychology, and I will go further to say, cultural psychology, for humans behave socially according to the trends of their own culture. Therefore, what I speak about is what I know best -- American culture. This may not work with, for example, Japanese culture. But one thing I do know works well is mastering your trade to the best of your abilities and having confidence in yourself, because that is projected in non-verbal cues that are picked up by the other person's subconscious mind.

Recently, I attended a networking event -- one of many since I began my own private practice. In private practice you need to become comfortable selling yourself. You want to be able to do this in a way that doesn't come off sounding like a used-car salesman or any other type of salesperson that you detest. Seeing that not everyone knows how to network in a professional manner, I decided to publish this post for all you up-and-coming docs out there. Learn and follow these simple rules, and you'll be off to the right start:

Rule #1 - Be classy!

At this networking event, I had just arrived, but unfortunately late for the pre-event social hour by the bar. As I was approaching the pre-event room, two ladies noticed that my name tag said "MD." "Oh, Doctor!" they exclaimed, almost like witches, salivating over who knows what and missing their third counterpart. "Give us your business card!" I was taken aback by this forceful approach. My response was, "Hello. What are your names? What do you do?" Their response, "Give us your business card!" O.k. at this point I am getting annoyed; however, my gentlemanly manners prevent from being rude back, and I courteously but hesitantly hand over my business card. My wife was just about 10 yards away, and I look at her from across the room with an expression of disgust and a 'Please come save me....'-look in my eyes. After some tooth-pulling I found out what these ladies do, and honestly did not care anymore. The entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth. This is not the way to network!

Rule #2 - Value what the other person does!

I remember a year earlier when I was a naive networker at one of these events and I had been the one asking for the business card with little information about what the other person does or without finding out if we had anything to offer each other. It was in the early days of growing my business, where insecurity and I'd hate to admit, desperateness, ruled. I met a lady who stopped me in my tracks, and asked to chat for a few minutes, saying, "I don't give my business card out without getting to know the other person a bit." Since that day, I have matured to understand that not every chance to hand out your business card is necessary nor productive, especially when you are in a business of providing quality service, not quantity. Thus, getting to know briefly the person who's business card you are acquiring as they should you, is a matter of courtesy and respect for yourself and the other person. It shows that you value what you do by valuing what they do. So forget about yourself, and get to know what the other person does. Your interest in them will generate interest in what you do. By asking them about themselves and showing interest in no matter what it is, they will be disarmed. After all, people love to talk about themselves. This leads me to the next point.

Rule #3 - Get to know the person outside of their business...

The smartest way to network is to engage in conversation that comes naturally and may have nothing to do with your business or the other person's. This creates a common bond which is a stronger means of making a connection than merely a business deal of any sort. You've all experienced keen sellers. They get you talking. They get to know you, but don't sound "cheesy" doing so. They stand back, stay relaxed. They're not sharks showing their teeth. They are subtle in their approach, because they understand that all it takes is a matter of time. The more you warm up to a person, the more likely they are to warm up to you. After all, when it comes to a medical doctor, people are mainly choosing personality and style, then quality, then ease of access. People come to you because of you, and the knowledge you have. When you are selling yourself, even if it's to other doctors, get to know them on a personal level. If they feel endeared to you, they will want to help your business.

Rule #4 - Become comfortable selling yourself.

Doctors are either the most pompous people on this planet, or the most humble. It depends on whom you talk to. My experience, however, is that doctors are humble creatures and have difficulty selling themselves. The problem with this serve-humanity-at-the-expense-of-self mentality is that it can block you from seeing your true value and worth. Yes, it's great to have grand ideals, but if you're in private practice, you need to get over the humility factor and be able to sell yourself in a way that feels congruent with who you are. Congruency is very important. You cannot sell something that you feel is not a direct reflection of the spoken word. That creates internal discord. So first, you have to come to value yourself, as you must value what others do and bring to the table [discussed in Rule #2]. If you value yourself and what you do, then you won't have any problem selling what you believe in, and it won't feel like selling used cars. After all, let's recognize that doctors, like lawyers, cpa's, laundries, construction workers, cleaning services, etc.... provide a valuable service to society. You decided to become a doctor for (most likely) idealistic reasons, as the road is too difficult to justify a path solely based on financial gain. Therefore, in order to network effectively, learn about yourself and the unique flavor of service that you bring to this world. Don't oversell it or over-volunteer unsolicited information, but be ready to confidently and passionately speak about what you do when asked about it. Passion and confidence generate trust and belief in what you have to offer. This generates referrals and new business, in a classy, congruent way.

Rule #5 - Stand out with follow-up letters.

Nothing in this country sticks on the first try. If that were the case, you wouldn't see the same commercial played several times on television during a 30 minute block. People have a short attention span, and people are continuously swarmed by endless streams of information coming from different directions. After meeting other doctors or people that could be potential sources of referrals, remember to send a personalized follow-up letter or email [letter is preferred by the author] with your business card and office hours. This extra step will set you apart from the others. It is a great way to market your business and services, and it is more effective than a random mailing, because you are addressing an audience that has already met you personally. You've crossed the welcome mat already, now you need to get into the rolodex. You can have a form letter, then write an additional personal greeting. This will really make you stand out, and if anything, the person will probably feel obligated to send you at least one referral, if not more. This is how a business [your private practice] grows.

Rule #6 - Don't be results-oriented!

Ok, this doesn't make sense, but this rule is one of the most important. You're networking to augment your referral base and build your business, yet now I'm telling you to not get stuck on results. Exactly! Tying yourself to results will constrain the way you behave, and likely lead to disapppointment. You may miss meeting the one person who would be a potentially strong referral base, but you failed to recognize their importance. Or you may live in resentment of others that have not sent you patients, but promised to do so. The smart networker knows that results come with time, and occasionally don't appear until 6 months to a year later. No matter how long it takes, your efforts were not spent in vain. Let go of expectations. Go back to Rule #3. Enjoy meeting other people, and put no attachment to their actions. That opens the door for people to act freely and without a sensation of constraints, which tends to paralyze. Networking and referrals are about flow. For there to be flow, you need to let it run its course. Trust in your efforts, and realize that building a business takes time. If you focus on results or the lack thereof, you will make decisions out of desperation that may not be congruent with where you want to go or be in the future. So remember, let go. Let it happen.

Rule #7 - Have a clear vision of how you want your business to grow.

Write it! Draw it! Sketch it! Whichever way you want to express it, but put it on paper. Having a clear vision of your direction, will in turn give others a clear vision of your business. A clear understanding of what you do, and where you want to go is a very important tool for networking. You may not need to express your future plans, but they will guide your behavior and how you choose to network. By understanding your future direction, you can direct yourself into the right networking groups to achieve the clientelle [patient base] you desire. Every doctor business has its patient base, so you need to figure this out on your own. This is the path of discovery and the joy of creating your own business and hopefully your own niche in your medical community. So write it out! Know who you are, and where you want to go. Life is about growth, change, and destinations.

Final Rule - Enjoy the process as much as you can!

One day, your business will be self-sustaining by word-of-mouth [we all hope], and you will look back on these days of building and networking with endearment. The sweat and labor you put in has paid off, and you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. What seemed difficult at the time, will be subject for reminiscing. So don't forget to enjoy the process. Enjoy the path of creating something that is your own. Enjoy the people that you meet along the way that help you build your dream. You will get there, no matter how impossible it may seem right now. Relax....... B-R-E-A-T-H-E ..... and realize that every stage eventually passes. A young practice needs a lot of nurturing and patience to grow.

Addendum: Who's your most important client [or patient]?

Answer: The ones you already have. Treat them well! They are your best networking and business-building tool.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi this is my first time reading your blog and I thought this post was very valuable. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

I was interested in seeing your letter to the editor but the link is broken. Just thought I'd let you know.

7:27 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in the stage you describe, very uncomfortable with the networking process and trying hard to overcome this barrier. Knowing that other physicians went through the same maze and made it alive, helps. Thank you for the post.

5:24 PM EST  
Blogger Medicine Man said...

Dear anonymous readers,

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience on these matters, as I had no guides and had to learn it on my own.

Be confident, and know that you already know everything you need to know. Now, it's a matter of feeling secure in your own skin. The more comfortable you become with your unique voice in medicine, and innately yourself, the more comfortable you will be with the networking process. In the end, it's about nothing else than being yourself. Pros at networking understand that the sale does not happen overnight. Actions speak louder than words, and a patient raving about you speaks louder than anything else.

Best of luck!

The Solo Practitioner

7:44 PM EST  
Blogger Medicine Man said...

ps regarding the letter to the editor, you may need a subscription to the Annals online. Or you can look it up in your library. It's in the March 2005 issue.

7:46 PM EST  
Blogger Dr. Deborah Serani said...

A great book to read about networking that I often refer to people is "Never Eat Alone Again".
Networking is an art.

8:04 PM EST  

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