Your sales staff probably groans when you ask them to head on over to another networking event. The executives are happy to pay for these (typically costly) lunches and happy hour events. But what are their expectations? “Come back with some business,” they call out the door as you walk away. And the moment you come back: “Any good leads?” The concept is great. A room full of people that may or may not need your services. You just need to find out, right? A numbers game, perhaps. It’s true. There is a secret to unlocking better, more effective networking. But that secret has nothing to do with you. Networking is all about leveraging the power of connections in order to grow business – but what your executives and sales professionals are forgetting is that the instant gratification sale almost never comes directly from a networking event. Because the secret to networking is that its about them. So, here they are: four tips for better networking.
1. Act Like a Person, Not an Infomercial.
There’s a graphic I love from our friends at GapingVoid that they recently sent in one of their e-mail blasts. It says, “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.” It’s the truth. WHO CARES what your elevator pitch is? Would you walk up to your friends at happy hour and just start talking about yourself and your company? There’s a time and a place, and the moment you meet someone definitely isn’t it. Be cool, grab a cocktail, and casually strike up conversation. It’s not a pitching race. These are people you’re talking to. Take some time to listen and get to know them as people, what their business is, and some of their interests. The more engaged you are, the easier conversation will come and the less stressed you’ll be about finding business in the room.
2. Help Others First
Set a goal when you arrive. The goal should be related to how many people you could help or connect with others that could help them. A great goal is something like: “I’m going to connect with 5 people who I think I can provide value.” Sounds weird, right? Why would you do sales for other organizations? You’re looking for sales for your company… right? That’s where you have to remember the power of relationships. Once you stop considering networking as an immediate source for leads and listen to other people, you can help them to grow their business. When you help others, they typically want to help you in return. This establishes a great referral relationship without just handing your card over and asking for sales.
3. Follow Up
Networking events are more than just free food and empty promises. Offering up connections, sales leads or other information and then dropping business cards into your pocket and forgetting about them is not the most tactful way to develop your network. Take some time to individually respond to each individual you met, recount a portion of your conversation, and help them if you can. Suggest leads or connections that you have that may benefit from their services. Making good on a promise at a networking event means that you’ll be remembered, because unfortunately it doesn’t happen all the time. Take some time to follow up and you’ll be sure to expand your network with valuable contacts.
4. Enter your Contacts into a CRM
More often than not you’ll continue to run into some of the some professionals at different events. This allows you, when the time is right, to eventually discuss how they can help you. But it’s important to establish your relationship first, just like you would online. If you have marketing automation software (like Hubspot), take some time to establish workflows and e-mails around these contacts based on common interests or follow up manually. No matter how you do it – keep the line of communication open.
Networking doesn’t have to suck, no matter how introverted you are. While networking events aren’t quite as inbound as nerds like us typically like – its important to get out into your community and get to know people in order to establish a local presence in addition to your (hopefully awesome) web presence. Just like when you market online, focus on being a resource to the people that you meet at networking events and eventually leads will follow.