“Hi, my name’s Alex. I was told by Steve that you could help me.”
A phrase loved by business owners the world over. But how do you get this to happen more often?
Every business owner and director knows that networking is a great way to generate new business. The problem is that most don’t know how to network effectively and expect results too soon. Let’s look at the key stages of networking to generate the sales opportunities you’re looking for.
1. Where to go
You could do breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks every day at networking events if you wanted to. If you want to be emailed a list of networking events each week, click here. The problem is you’d never actually do any work and you’d probably put on a few pounds. You need to target your networking so it is effective. Think about your ideal client and then consider: Where would they be?
You should also think about where other suppliers into your target market will network. Go to events where you are likely to meet with your target audience or their suppliers. If you’re unsure, experiment. Choose a event and try it out.
You do need to give any networking event a good try. Going once and rejecting it, simply because you didn’t get any business, is probably the biggest mistake business people make when trying to generate business through networking.
The other factor is when the event is. If you’re a morning person, consider the breakfast events, but not if you’re a night owl.
2. Review the delegate list
If a delegate list is available beforehand, or provided when you arrive, run your eye over the list. Who should you talk to? Who could be a client? Who could be a useful connection into your target audience? Make your networking effective by talking to the people most likely to generate business, either directly or indirectly. Don’t, however, rebuke people who want to talk to you as you never know who they might know.
3. Mostly people you don’t know
Networking is a skill that needs to be learnt and many people don’t like talking to strangers. What this often leads to is you spending the whole event talking to people you already know. This maintains the relationship you have, but doesn’t expand your network. For membership networking such as BNI, the room will mostly be people you know, but for more informal events, you won’t know most delegates.
Make it a rule to talk to at least X new people at every event. You grow your network that way, finding people who can be useful to you, your clients and others in the network you already have.
4. Listen and ask questions
You only have a few minutes to find out about each person if you are going to make the event worthwhile, so make sure you get to know what they do, how they help their clients and the people they are looking for. Show interest and get to know them; it makes them much more likely to want to listen to you before you both move on. If you want their card, ask. If you don’t, simply move on but don’t refuse to take their card if it is offered.
5. Follow up
Hopefully you met a good number of people who could be useful for your business, as clients, as suppliers or as introducers. Your conversation at the event will give you a good idea but you won’t know for sure until you properly get to know them and that takes dedicated time. If you can meet to talk, thats great but it may be that a telephone call or video conference may have to suffice initially. Try to do this within a week or so to maintain the impetus.
Connect with them using social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn. They both make maintaining the relationship much easier.
6. Help them trust you
Earning their trust takes time, but start from the first moment you meet. When its your turn to talk about what you do, use stories to educate them on how you help your clients. Continue this by avoiding bombarding them with sales messages after the event. Nothing annoys more than a series of “Hi, I met you yesterday – buy me” messages.
7. Maintain communication
Part of earning their trust is maintaining communication. Keep up to date with what they’re doing by subscribing to their mailing lists and add them to yours, after checking they are happy for you to do so. Connect using social media and then simply call sometimes to talk. They will see you are in it for the long term and not just after a quick sale and this is a big step in helping them to trust you.
8. Give when you can
You go networking to generate new clients for your business, but if get an opportunity to introduce them to a potential business opportunity, do so. I was always told to forget the referral I give, but remember those I receive. As I get 100% of my business through my network, so I like to think I’m doing something right around this. Although I’ve recently walked away from BNI, their mantra is absolutely right: Givers Gain.
9. Look after their reputation
Attached to any referral is a little bit of the referrer’s reputation. The referrer is saying you can be trusted to deliver a great job and if you don’t next time Steve refers someone to Alex, he won’t trust him quite so much, if at all. So look after Steve’s reputation by delivering on your promises and doing a great job. You’ve then expanded your network and will have both Alex and Steve referring work to you.
To finish off, remember that networking is a long term approach. You may be lucky and get a new client at your first event. Printers, florists and other low risk purchase providers often do, but for service providers and other higher-risk suppliers it will usually take longer. Simply follow this nine step process and you will get more referrals.
I hope this helps.