Ah, networking. You hear about it and read about it and people talk about it all the time, but should you? It seems like it could be just one more thing to add to a long list of ‘to dos’.
It’s pretty easy to make the argument for sales. You need to meet potential clients, get the word out about your company and uncover business opportunities. But what about marketers? My answer is “yes, without a doubt – network.”
Here’s why. It’s a great opportunity for you to engage with your audience – potential clients and clients. Try out different messages with them when they ask you what you do – and the question will come up eventually. You have a real-time, real person right in front of you that will react positively or negatively or not at all to what you have to say. What better way to get feedback on your marketing messages?
As you develop relationships with prospects and clients you’ll be able to uncover what really matters to them. How do they get their information, what type of information is important. What makes them choose one company over another?
By networking and building your circle with colleagues you have the opportunity to discuss ideas, strategies, tactics and learn what works for their company and why.
So, yes, network. And while it can be daunting to start, here are some tips from a talk I did for a sales team. It’s part of who I am now. Do I do all of these things all the time? No, but as with anything you become more accomplished with more experience and networking becomes second nature. So choose a couple and try them out, then come back for more.
Join a group that your colleagues aren’t participating in. It’s just easier. You are not competing with each other or worried about who meets whom. At the beginning I went to a lot of different groups events at all times of the day and evening. I was looking for a good fit for me.
Join a committee to support the organization, volunteer to do something and then follow through. It’s much easier for people to give you honest feedback or introduce you if they feel as if they know you and how you work.
You are there to help others, not yourself. You really need to foster the relationship first and, if you must worry about what you are getting out of it do it later. And know that it may not be a direct return.
It’s not whom you know, but who wants to know you. Think about it. There are people you’d love to get to know for a variety of reasons. They don’t have a clue who you are. You want to be that person.
Be prepared with some opening conversational questions – not about work or controversial topics. Some great conversation starters with people you’ve recently or just met revolve around, sports, education, books, events, vacations, where they live, what brings them here, a cool accessory they have on – cuff links, shoes. Scan the headlines before you go to the event or listen to news radio as you are driving over. Ask for their advice – on anything. People like to be asked.
Have your “elevator pitch” ready when they ask you about what you do. It should be short, concise and make sense to someone not in your field. The first sentence is usually the same for everyone The second sentence or two is flexible. It’s a supporting statement that should resonate with the person with whom you are talking. If they want more, be prepared to share a short success story – that’s more memorable than a list of services.
Narrow your focus. I know it may seem counter-intuitive, but it helps people place you in a space and they will try to fit in to it. So rather than say you provide IT services. Say we work with medium-sized corporate firms that outsource their communications technology needs. This allows them to focus on your core business. Narrowing your focus will also help you select your networking groups.
Have a plan. If the group publishes a list of attendees take the time to see who’s coming and check them out on LinkedIn. You can try to “run into them” there.
Your plan should be to only obtain or give out 1 – 3 business cards. Don’t automatically hand your card to someone when you meet them or ask for theirs. You want to be able to follow up with people after a conversation not paper the room with your cards.
Follow up with an email or LinkedIn request with a blurb about something that will remind them of your conversation. It can be as simple as how nice it was to meet them or you can share something of value that relates to your conversation. Don’t ask them for a favor yet.
Further follow-ups should relate to something you found out that is of interest to them. Is there an article you read or an event coming up that is pertinent?
Get in the habit of introducing people to each other that you think may be a good fit for their personal or work interests.
Please don’t be a badge gazer that runs off. People notice and remember. And just because you think their company is not a good fit for your service based on their name; it’s not a good idea to dismiss them. They have colleagues and friends or previous experience.
Here are some final tips – get there early or on time. It’s much easier to meet someone you don’t know if they are not yet in groups. Try, “May I join you – what brings you here, what’s your connection to _________”.
Try not to eat in front of people, if you get there early you can eat and check your teeth for stray green things (and bring dental floss just in case).
Dress the part. Especially if you are new to the group.
Put your badge on your right side near your shoulder. People are 85% more likely to remember your name than if they have to look cross body when shaking your hand.
Have cards handy – you can put in the back of those plastic badge holders or in your pocket, if you have one. It’s harder for women. I have a purse that has an outside pouch I put the cards in.
Be sure to have good eye contact and a good handshake.
One good option is to bring a wingman – they will say how wonderful you are at helping people do X and they will also let you know if something is in your teeth or your hem fell down. They need to know your objectives almost as well as you do.
Resist the temptation to talk to them all night. You are there to meet new people or follow up with those you’ve previously met. You can go out with your wingman anytime.
I find one of the hardest things is to leave a person. Some ways to get away include introducing them to someone else you think would be a good fit. Also, just saying it was a pleasure to meet them and you hope to see them at the next meeting usually works. Say you see someone you need to talk to.
Let me know how it goes? What works for you and what doesn’t?