How to Master the Art of Networking: Advice from the CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada

Human connection is a complex thing. To some, bonding with complete strangers can come as second nature, while to others, paralyzing and foreign. It’s probably why networking is still a skill that eludes so many. But networking is much more than being able to talk to people you don’t know; it’s about forging relationships and creating opportunity. And if anyone is the authority on the matter, it’s Brad Henderson. As CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, he’s had plenty of experience honing his skills in an industry notoriously known for its demanding social requirements. Here, a little insight from an expert on the matter.

In your experience, what are the biggest challenges to networking?

I would say the biggest challenge is that people don’t do it reliably and systemically. Networking is about getting referrals and hoping to get opportunities. For us, what we think is that it’s the lifeblood, particularly of a residential salesperson. Top performers in residential real estate would see more than 70 percent of their business come from referrals, which is another way of saying networking and its processes. Certainly, most people’s networks include past clients, friends, family and colleagues. But that is a limited pool. The real challenge is how you expand that on a systematic basis. At some level, competencies are the same. It’s not why someone wants to work with you. They tend to like to work with people they know, like and trust.

What have been some strategies that have helped you get to that level of trust?

There’s no single silver bullet or series of bullets, if you like. It’s more that if you do things on a regular and systematic basis, you’ll get the results you’re looking for. You can’t network once and for all, just like you can’t eat once and for all. It’s a ritual that you have to be dedicated towards. If you use the garden metaphor, one of the first things you have to do is plan your garden. What is it that you have as raw materials? What do you have as your capabilities around networking? Do you have a lot of friends and colleagues? If not, you have to figure out how you’re going to do that. The next step is to plant your garden. We encourage people to start with where they are comfortable. Certain past clients and family are a great way to do it. But everyone you meet, certainly in our business, is a potential client or referral. So being religious about collecting their information and inputting it into a database is a powerful way of expanding your network. The other thing is to look not just locally, but nationally and even globally for how to build your network. A lot of the times, if you have a close relationship with one person or a group of people, they will tend to have the same people in their network as you do. So it’s harder for you to differentiate in that situation if you’re all mining the same people. Look at how you can expand it globally, or at least nationally. In today’s connected world, using everything from social media to the power of your personal global network is a way to dramatically expand on the people you have to farm. In that case, Sotheby’s International Realty with over 19,000 professionals worldwide, our people are able to broaden their networks quite quickly.

Much of networking can involve placing yourself outside of your comfort zone. How can people harness this discomfort to seize opportunities?

We encourage people when they’re starting off to network within their comfort zones. Some people are gregarious and like meeting. Others tend not to be as comfortable in being in an environment and going up to people and talking to them. But, they feel very comfortable in participating in community or industry organizations or not-for-profits. And that’s a fantastic way to get people to know you, like you and trust you. They see you participating in a cause that, by extension, they are sympathetic to and have in common with you. If they see you on a committee or community event, and you’re contributing your capabilities to it, that makes for a very natural transition because people will tend to know, like and trust somebody who is doing something for the common good. We find that the people who do it the best are those that do so because they truly believe in the cause and in paying it forward.

Many times, people see networking as something that focuses on the individual. But working as a team can also be an effective way to reach the same, or even better, results.

A bit situational but imagine, for example, that you decide to go to an industry event with a number of people from the same organization. You can be each other’s mutual support system so that you don’t feel like you’re there by yourself. But you have to have the rigor and discipline, and not associate with each other because that defeats the purpose. There certainly are situations where one person may be good at meeting people and another, more technically adept. That’s a situation where a team works well because one person more easily meets people and strikes up the conversation and rapport, but needs and respects the technical capabilities of the other person. It’s utilizing each individual’s strengths to enhance the experience.

Networking can very much be like an elevator pitch with a limited amount of time to communicate your offerings. What is the best way of navigating these scenarios?

[Don’t] try to expect too much from a short conversation. What is your outcome from that interaction? If it’s to find a lead or opportunity, it may be too short a path to be able to get that person to feel like they can trust you. So there are a couple thoughts with respect to that. Sometimes your ask can be, “could I call your office and set up an appointment?”, or, “Could I make arrangements to meet you?” And that becomes a less arduous task because the person is committing to taking the next step. And part of that is having some idea of the value that you can contribute to that person. If you can help demonstrate what’s in it for that other person to want to spend that time for a coffee or whatever else, that’s what will make the difference. It’s establishing the initial rapport and following up on it afterwards. It’s seeing networking as an opportunity to build relationships with people. If you try to fast-forward the movie too quickly, people will shut down.

Does body language make a big difference when it comes to engaging with others?

At the end of the day, any interaction is about verbal and non-verbal communication. Your body language is an extension or amplification of the message that you’re trying to communicate with your words and tonality. So your body language and dress code will say a lot about who you are, your beliefs and what kind of person you are without even opening your mouth. If you’re overly confident, people may be intimidated and not want to deal with you. If you’re shy, people may think you’re too naïve to be of use to them. Depending on your business and the other person’s personality, you have to judge your body language and tonality to suit and adjust to theirs.

Networking doesn’t always have to be a face-to-face interaction. In fact, given today’s technological landscape, effective networking can also be done digitally. What is your advice on creating new opportunities in this realm?

Content is king. When we’re talking to people about their networking, we’re asking them to think through what you can give that is of value. It’s information about your business, your industry and how many different ways you can distribute that content. Newsletters, social media, websites, flyers, advertisements — they’re all ways that will get your name out in front of your audience. If you can demonstrate sound subject matter exper
tise, you’ll get people to follow you on social media. And then you have an audience that you can broadcast to. This becomes a way for you to extend your reach because those devices can be national and international and very, very powerful. Spending a little bit of time reflecting on what you have to give and share with your audience will hopefully pay considerable dividends.

We now live in an increasingly smaller global marketplace. As such, it is crucial to build strong international bonds as well. With 845 offices in more than 63 countries, how have you been able to apply your networking skils on the global landscape?

What we encourage our people to do is to look at our extended network as a part of their potential referral network and market to those people as they market to their customers. Our extended network has people all over the world who are dealing with people who are interested in investing in Canada, or expatriates living in those countries that have real estate in Canada, or both. So marketing to them, educating them about the Canadian market, informing them about any policies that are coming to effect and affect their holdings, priming them and sending them information on listings that would be of interest to people in other countries is a way you can continue to exercise the network. Even if the information you send is not of interest at that moment, it’s a way to get in front of them and as importantly, a way for you to try and remain top of mind on a regular basis. Again, if someone commits to sending me a newsletter and has something that occasionally I find of interest, and I see it more and more, I get to feel like I know that person more. At some point in time, because of geography and distance, you click on something that is of interest to you, you’ll feel much more comfortable reaching out to that person.

Because we have offices all over the world, we encourage when our people travel to visit a Sotheby’s office. When they do, they’re welcomed as traveling members of the extended family and special dignitaries that come to the office. I know in Canada, we receive people from all over the world on a regular basis and we take the time, energy and effort to make sure they feel welcomed, introduce them to as many people as we can, exchange business cards and add them to the database. It’s how they extend their network. Just because you don’t belong to an international brand, it doesn’t mean you can’t do a different version of that same thing. You just need to spend a little bit of extra time searching out people in those destination markets where you can find collaboration.

There is something called the Paradox of Profit where you have to give first, freely and without the expectation of reciprocation, in order to receive. Has this worked for you?

I’m a big believer in being a giver. There’s a book called Give and Take by Adam Grant, and in there he describes three different kinds of personalities: Takers, who are people who take and expect something without contributing anything back; Latchers, who are always about the quid pro quo; and Givers, who are the ones that believe in karma, give freely, don’t expect any return and have found through experience that when they do that with congruency and authenticity, really good things happen. I’m a big believer in that and have become involved in multiple boards of directors, not-for-profit groups and community involvement. My desire is to contribute to the cause I’m involved in and as a way to meet people. As you meet people and grow relationships, it’s a lot easier to do business with them down the road than it would be if I was to just knock on doors and try to accelerate that process.

The other thing a lot of our people do is develop presentations or educational programs that they are willing to give to an organization or an audience for free without any expectations to come out of it. But what comes out of it is that people will see you on the stage as a subject matter expert, in a position of authority and someone who is thoughtful around topics that you’re comfortable with. They will tend to want to introduce themselves to you, which is a much more comfortable way of networking with people when you are wanting to introduce yourself to them. So that works very well.

At the end of the day, networking is really about forging strong bonds. Follow up is a critical part of this process. For existing relationships, what is your advice on cultivating meaningful connections?

Networking has to be a systematic approach, not a one-time thing. If you meet someone and take their business card and never talk to them again, that’s not a very effective networking opportunity. But if you look at your network and think how many different ways you can interact given their interests and geography, becoming creative in how you exercise your network (which is how you stay in front of them, remain relevant and authentic) is really the secret sauce. For example, if you know a number of your clients all go to a specific event, make sure you go to that event; sponsor it, be a speaker at that event. Those are ways for you to remain top of mind because they see you more often. In those situations, you have the added benefit of seeing them face-to-face in person, as opposed to via email. If there are people who are further afield that don’t have opportunity for in-person interaction, look at what combination of tools are available for you to provide information about your industry and information of general interest. Even if you put out the top ten restaurants in a specific market area, those are nuggets of information that people will look at and might even take the time to use. Your name is associated with that information, even if it doesn’t really have anything to do with your core business. It’s a way to be in front of that particular prospect that is meaningful, relevant and authentic. We talk about boards of directors, community causes, not-for-profit causes; the great thing about those things is they have regular meetings. By showing up and participating, you’re working towards something in common. That is a way you’re utilizing and making sure your network connections are fresh, and you’re being top of mind.

A lot of the times, people don’t ask for referrals. There’s kind of a right way to ask for it, and a wrong way. A wrong way is to ask for it too early before you’ve built rapport. Once you do have rapport and the relationship that would lead to opportunity, then that’s the right time to introduce the motion to introduce them to your business. If you ask them for a referral, it’s a bit more of a direct ask. What we’ve found is if you talk about your business and how you get it and develop it, it’s more of a softer approach to that process of asking for a referral. It’s a nonthreatening way of getting the same information to you.

The other point is that one of the most popular ways to help in that three-dimensional score (Know, Like, Trust) is that when you build rapport with somebody, particularly when you want to do a deal with somebody, is to ask if they would consider acting as a reference. More often than not, people are happy to do it if they’ve had an experience. But also more often than that, people don’t ask. It’s predicated on the fact that you’re giving great service. If you’ve given your service to the max and not expecting anything more than thrilling your client, you’re paying it forward as you go. When you get to the point when you want a referral or reference, you’ll find that they come quite naturally.