The Art of Authentic Networking: The Four-Suits Methodology

Apr 16, 2024 | Business development

I’ve been to 3 conferences over the last month. Each with a different group of people: Professional Speakers, Accountants and then LinkedIn enthusiasts.

On each occasion I was involved in and observed numerous networking conversations.

While the people were different and many things have changed in recent years, the difference between average and great networking remains the same – regardless of who is involved:

I remain convinced that the people you meet will find YOU more interestING the more interestED YOU are in them.

Being interested, of course, means that you have to be a good listener.

Being a good listener really encourages people to talk, and it’s a great skill which brings a benefit both to you (you make better connections and find out more) and to the people you are with (they make better connections and are more memorable).

But, counter-intuitively perhaps, being a good listener isn’t just about passively receiving sounds into your ears. It also means asking decent questions in order to stimulate a better conversation.

Frankly, even after many, many years of networking I am still working hard to get better at this.

I *think* I’ve cracked the listening bit and of not talking too much about myself even when invited to do so. These days I hope that it’s pretty rare that I go on too long.

And I’m good at asking questions that evidence my genuine interest in the other person.

BUT I accept that I still sometimes ask questions out of genuine interest and curiosity. That’s fine, to a degree, but they don’t always stimulate a better conversation.

My genuine interest in other people and my desire to offer help, insights and advice often means there is then no time for them to find out more about me – beyond my willingness to be helpful.

Years ago I started talking about the 4 step (4 suits) approach to having more powerful business conversations when networking.

I have been told, many times, how effective this approach can be. Sadly I, too often, catch myself, NOT following my own advice and I get stuck in a loop repeating just the first two steps in my model.

I know the 4 suits approach makes sense and, when I catch myself getting it wrong, I make a mental note to move on to the 3rd step. Fortunately I’m pretty good with the 4th step regardless.

The 4 suits approach

You may have heard me outline this during one of my talks.

Back in the day, we all wore suits (at least the blokes did). These days suits may be much less common, but the 4 suits in a deck of cards can be a useful prompt for structuring your conversations when networking:

Spades – Firstly you dig around (with your metaphorical spade) breaking the ice asking general questions to find out more about the other person. This means asking good open questions – without turning it into an inquisition;

Hearts – You’re looking to build rapport. This is easiest if you can find something where you share an emotional (heart-felt) connection. Do you have any similar likes and dislikes? The mistake I still make sometimes is that I reveal my interest in something the other person has mentioned. I then end up focusing the conversation around that topic and limiting the opportunity to move on to the next stage.

Clubs – Now, when the other other person asks about you and your business, be brief when you talk about yourself. Instead try to talk about one or two of your clients. You want to be well prepared and ready to  talk about one or more clients who are, in some way, part of the same ‘club’ as the person you are with, or as the people they know. Your client(s) had similar issues or problems, they shared comparable worries, they complimented you on your skills that relate to something the other person has mentioned.  You can only do this if you’re ready with a range of stories about your clients AND you have dug around well with your spade, asking questions that will enable you to find out enough about the other person 😉

Finally – Diamonds, the really valuable stuff. This is the follow up to your conversation. Before your conversation ends, you need to consider what can you promise to do by way of a follow up after this conversation, This should be something that the other person will appreciate and value. So we are NOT talking about a promise to send your promotional materials.

And then, CRUCIALLY, you need to ensure that you do follow up as promised. Doing so will contribute to showing, early on, that you can be trusted. Trust, of course, is a key personal quality to evidence whenever you are looking to build professional relationships.

If you adopt this ‘Four Suits’ approach to having more powerful business conversations you will standout and enhance your chances of being remembered, referred and recommended; not just generally but specifically for the type of work you enjoy, for the type of clients you like and for the level of fees you deserve.

And this is as good an objective as any when you are networking. It makes more sense than to expect to pick up work whenever you are networking.

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