At a recent presentation, the sales rep touted the virtues of "network marketing." Like what often happens with buzzwords, everyone nodded and then clumped afterwards to ask questions of each other so as not to look dumb during the actual meeting.
You can google many examples of network marketing - also known as "multi-level" marketing or "pyramid" marketing. I've even heard it called "flower" marketing :-) The Wikipedia entry defines it as "a marketing strategy in which the sales force is compensated not only for sales they personally generate, but also for the sales of the other salespeople that they recruit."
Network marketing assumes:
a) you've got a network in place
b) you're willing to move existing relationships towards a transaction (not necessarily a bad thing)
However, if you don't have a network in place, then you're simply "cold calling" or offering a sales pitch to all new folks. You need an existing network to do network marketing. Jumping to a transaction with someone you've just met is not networking - that's straight up selling.
In January 2009, I did a short 4 part blog on networking (part 1 here part 2 part 3 part 4 - or just search the work on this blog for more). At the Mentoring Conference this past October, networking was a hot topic as many folks were unsure what it was or how to use it as a tool.
If we agree building communities around each other is important, then separate the building from the selling. Once you have a network that trusts you, it's much easier to introduce ideas /products /pitches /requests. In a network, #1- folks need to feel valued for who they are not what they can buy.