Networking. You've heard it before - the best leads
come from someone you know, or from someone who
knows someone you know. So why aren't you out
there doing it? Not enough time? Don't think it works?
Too expensive? Think again!
What is a networking event? A networking
event is a meeting of business people - typically from
a variety of industries - who come together for the
purpose of establishing relationships that will lead to
business referrals. A typical networking event lasts
about an hour and a half to two hours. If you've
never been to one, they pretty much follow the same
pattern: You show up, sign in, pay your ten or
twenty bucks, get a name badge, and then enter a
huge room filled with people milling about in business
attire. Some will be engaged in conversation. Some
will be standing around not engaging in conversation.
You will soon become one of the former. But first a
trip to the bar to lighten up (ever notice how people
just don't seem to be able to have a conversation
without something in their hand!), and grab a few
carrot sticks. Then you dive right in and start
conversing with people. Which, if you are in sales,
should not be too difficult to do.
What are the benefits of networking? You
get exposed to lots of people you otherwise wouldn't
have. A couple of these people will need your
services someday. Some will know someone else
who does. And many will introduce you to people
they know who will know someone who will need your
services someday - maybe even today.
What are the drawbacks of networking?
You'll meet plenty of people who will either never be
able to help you find business or who will never
bother to try. As in prospecting, you forget about
these people and concentrate on the ones mentioned
How to Network Successfully
If you were calling on a sales prospect, how would
you kick off the meeting? By talking about you and
your product? Not if you've been paying attention
at all to anything you've read in these Sales Tips!
You start out, of course, by asking questions
about your prospect's business, and your prospect's
personal interests and objectives. This differentiates
you from the dozens of self-interested pitchmen out
there, and in doing so begins to create a bond
between you and your prospect. It shows that you
care about him or her. This in turn makes him or her
want to share with you, learn about you, and work
with you. It's the same in networking. If you want
the other person to help you, to bird-dog on your
behalf, you need to make it clear to that person that
you'll do the same for him or her, that you want to
help that person succeed, and that you're not just in
it for yourself. You need to show an interest in the
other person. You have to genuinely want to help
that person succeed, even as you know that you're
doing so with the unspoken expectation that your
help will be rewarded.
What should I expect from a networking event?
Will all the people you meet at a networking
event be of equal value to you as a networking
resource? Of course not. Just as not every prospect
you call on will become a customer. Do not go to a
networking event expecting it to be a sprint to the
finish line. While you will be fortunate enough at
some events to hook up with someone who is himself
a prospect for what you sell, it's more likely that
you'll find yourself in a 5K, where you have to pace
yourself in order to reap the rewards, which come
later. Stay the course.
So how do I "work" a networking event?
First, come prepared. Bring a stack of business cards
(no less than 50) and two pens (in case one runs
out). And bring a polished elevator pitch. If you
don't have one, contact Lauren Allen of the The Pitch Girl (formerly the "15-Second Pitch") and she'll help you get one. Then go
talk to people. Who? Anyone. Just go up to someone
to break the ice, and get yourself in a groove. Don't
waste time looking for the ideal match at first. In
fact, maybe you initially want to warm up with
someone who does not look like a great prospect,
(like making your first cold calls of the day - you
don't want to blow it with a good prospect!). The
key is to start conversing, to get yourself engaged.
What do I do when it's over?
Let's say by the end of the evening you've met and
exchanged business cards with 20 people at a
networking event. Of those 20, you had real,
substantive conversations with 6 of them. This was
most likely because your businesses were
complementary - a banker and a financial planner, for
example , or a real-estate broker and a builder. So
you schedule follow-up meetings with these six
people, get to know each other's sweet spots even
better, and commit to providing something of value
to each other within, say, ten business days.
you need to take the initiative and go do something
for that person - hook him up with an
resource of yours, send her an article of interest,
introduce him to a customer - something, anything
that shows him you're not just going through the
motions. This will create an obligation in his part to
reciprocate. And before you know it, you're meeting
new people you never would have known about
before. And while these people may or may not have
a need for what you provide, guess what - they may
know someone who does. And so on and so on. You
get the idea.
The more people who know about you and what you
do, and why you're the best choice, the more likely
business will find you. Conversely, people who don't
know you exist can't send you leads, nor can they
use you themselves.