Networking is Not for Dummies

18 Dec

Successful networking is more than just walking up to strangers at an event, introducing yourself and your business, exchanging business cards, and closing with a handshake and a promise to call. Successful networking requires planning. It’s essentially like going on a group sales call. You have to prepare a plan, lay some groundwork ahead of the event, and define measurable goals for yourself. Fortunately, the Internet has made all of these steps so much easier and less time-consuming.

Who will be attending the event? Whether it’s a holiday party, the Chamber of Commerce breakfast, or an association meeting, knowing your audience is important. Make some phone calls; ask to see the RSVP list; and review your list of business prospects to seek out those target-rich attendees that you want to meet.

What is your networking goal? Do you want to meet a potential client that has been unwilling to set an appointment? Or, do you want to meet someone you’ve only heard about in your business community? Knowing what your goal is will also help you determine if the networking event was successful. (I always love asking sales people if the event was successful and they say “yes.” Then, when I ask what made it a success, they appear stunned as though it’s a trick question.)

How are you going to prepare for success?

  • Make a realistic list of people who you would like to meet and why. What can they contribute to your business and what can you contribute to their business? Successful networking is a win-win proposition.
  • Use LinkedIn to see if those individuals are “connected” to others in your LinkedIn network. Then, reach out to those you know and ask them to introduce you either by email prior to the event or at the event.
  • Determine the objective you would like to achieve. Do you want to ask for business, to set an appointment, or to establish just the first step pending a phone follow-up?
  • Learn what interests your prospects enjoy. With the Internet and social media, it’s not hard to learn something about a person’s hobbies, reading interests, favorite sports teams, or travel experiences. See if you have anything in common outside of the business. Something you might be able to use to lead into a conversation. Caution: There’s a difference between doing some research and stalking. You don’t want to come across creepy, just interesting.
  • Be knowledgeable. Read the news the day before and day of a networking event. Try to hit the following sections: Sports, Money, and Weather. You’ll notice that I stay away from politics or local government. (Politics, religion, and local government are still taboo topics and far too unstable to use in your first meeting with a prospect.) This information will help you in any conversation.
  • Be a good listener. This sounds so old-fashion and redundant, but you’ll find your best conversations are the ones where you listen more than you talk. Effective listening skills give a lot of insight into the other person’s business needs, problems, and how you might be able to solve them with your product or service.
  • Ask educated questions. Do your homework. Learn about your client’s business, their competitors, and the environment in which they operate. As the saying goes, “people have to know that you care before they care what you know.” Demonstrating knowledge of their company and that you’re willing to put in the effort to learn about them will go a long way.
  • Be authentic. Be honest. Be responsive. There’s nothing that can ruin a reputation or relationship faster than inauthenticity and dishonesty. If you don’t know, say so. If you don’t care, don’t pretend. And, if you say you’re going to do something, do it.

Networking can be a very positive and productive experience. Take the time and effort to make the most of each contact along the way.

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One Response to “Networking is Not for Dummies”

  1. vrcensus December 19, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    Agreed on the subject of being a good listener. This skill must be learned and exercised on a continuous basis. Please keep these good posts comin’, Cindy!

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