Are you trying to use ‘networking’ to generate new business or as an alternative to spending time with your family or doing the things you know you should be doing in the office?
Most ‘new business’ networking is a complete waste of time because we hang with people we know (often from our own organisation) at the same kind of events. It does provide an opportunity to do something different, but rarely the new business opportunities we are after.
Here are a few common sense tips that might help you or your staff break out of that rut.
1. Set a goal
Most of us turn up to networking events without a specific outcome in mind. Three hours later we go home disappointed that we did not get the outcome we were after. The chances are you don’t even know what that outcome was.
If you are using networking as a top of sales funnel prospecting activity – set yourself a target number of new business cards. If you are using it further down the funnel to mature relationships or expand opportunities within a large account then identify the people you want to speak to before hand and make sure you get in front of them.
What is your goal?
2. Select the right events
What does your ideal customer look like, sound like, eat, drink and say? More importantly, what kind of events are they attending? Too often we turn up to the wrong events and think we have done our networking. ‘Industry’ events are often of no value from a new business perspective as it is simply you and your competitors hanging out.
Where do your ideal customers spend their time?
3. Be Bold
The easiest thing when you arrive at an event is to gravitate to the group you know and to stay within the safe confines of the little circle of love you have created. You are not going to meet anyone new that way.
That person standing on their own would welcome your presence as would that empty chair on that table of people you have not met.
Lacking confidence? Take on the attitude of ‘host’. Pretend it is your event and people have come at your invitation. Of course they will be willing to say hello to you.
When you actually get the conversation going, don’t leave it without accomplishing your goal. Offer up your business card, and if appropriate suggest a catch up in the near future.
4. Be prepared to listen
It’s not all about you.
When we meet new people most of us are thinking so much about what we are about to say next we do not even hear them say their name. Just this fact can lead to us walking away awkwardly from someone who could in fact be an ideal new customer.
Listen carefully to their name and responses and get them talking about themselves. People love to talk about themselves. In fact – the less you say the more impressed they will probably be with you.
5. Be prepared to answer
At some stage (assuming you moved out of your circle of love) you will be asked ‘So….. what do you do?’ What are you going to say? Answer with the problems you solve NOT the work you do.
Contrast response A with response B:
A: I work in a digital print and communication business.
B: We take dirty and incomplete customer data from organisations, clean it and enhance it. We then construct highly personalised print, SMS and email communications to help companies better engage with their customers and drive sales.
Which response is most likely to lead to a follow up question or match a challenge that person might be facing?
6. Follow up
If you said you would call someone – call them. If you mentioned a relevant case study or article then take the time to send it through.
In a perfect world you will hand over your contacts to marketing and they will then have a drip program to nurture the new leads you have introduced into the top of the funnel. The reality is that many of the people you meet in this environment will not be ready to buy from you today. However, they may be in six months.
If you don’t have this kind of program in place, think about what you can email them a week later that would add some value to them and keep your conversation top of mind. Also make sure you capture their data in one central place.
There were only meant to be six tips here, but here are a few bonus ones for advanced networkers.
7. Meet the guest speaker – if those you are trying to reach thought they were worth listening to then they are probably worth getting to know.
8. Post a key fact / location on your social networks
9. Turn up on time (early can be the best time to find people who are happy to chat)
10. Exit gracefully – have a strategy for leaving that conversation that is going nowhere.
11. Remember your business cards.
What are your tips?