I’ve met lots of people who think networking events are a waste of time. They always say the same thing: “I never get any business from a networking event.” I attend networking events frequently and have an extensive list of prospective clients gained from networking. Why the difference? I think most people are doing it wrong. Change your behavior, and you’ll change your networking results.
Here are my top 4 tips:
1. Keep it simple
First things first – the introduction. Many people struggle with introducing themselves. The most common networking error I see is overcomplicating your introduction. When you meet someone for the first time in a business setting, your goal should be to allow the other person to understand what you do. Use simple explanations, not a fancy title.
Here’s an example:
“I’m a Technical Enterprise Account Manager for XYZ Consulting. I work with enterprise customers on deployment and integration.”
Great. I have no idea what that means. If I don’t understand what you do, I won’t refer people to you.
Instead, try this:
“I work for XYZ Consulting, which is an IT company that builds custom cyber security solutions to help small online retail businesses prevent hackers from purchasing goods fraudulently.”
Oh, ok. I understand that. Let me introduce you to my friend who has a growing online retail shop.
2. Reverse the gut reaction
We’ve all had bad experiences in a variety of industries, and admittedly it’s difficult to trust someone you’ve just met. Naturally, we develop negative gut reactions to certain industries. If you’re in one of these industries, this harms your potential at networking events because you aren’t starting in neutral territory – you’re already digging yourself out of a hole before the conversation starts.
It’s not impossible to break this reaction. First, figure out what turns people off about your industry. Then add something to your introduction that reverses this gut reaction. This will vary for each business, but here is an example.
Negative generalization: Shady business practices, cutting corners, unlicensed, poor quality work
Reverse the Reaction with: “We also do construction inspections. We can visit a site that is already under construction and make sure the job is being completed correctly.”
Why this works: The person you are speaking with now sees you on neutral ground – you clearly ALSO can’t stand those shady general contractors. You’re not one of the bad ones. You’re one of the good ones. It’s an added bonus for you if the person starts to tell you a horror story about a botched construction job. Now you get to respond and show your expertise, strengthening this new relationship.
3. Use your existing network
Ok, world. Here is my secret to networking success. The easiest way to find new clients is to simply ask your existing clients and connections for referrals.
There’s no easier place to do this than a networking event. You’re standing in a room full of people who are interested in networking. For most people, it’s uncomfortable to walk up to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. Make it easier on yourself – grow your connections so you can walk into a networking event and already know a few people.
At the event, ask these connections one simple question: “Can you think of anyone here who I should meet?” In many instances, the person will know someone worth introducing. Chat for a few minutes with this new person, then repeat (either asking this new person or someone else you already know if there is anyone they think you should meet).
This is how you grow your networking web. My secret is your secret. Business is about relationships. Finding better connections strengthens all businesses.
4. Follow up
Ok, now take all those business cards you just gathered and toss them in the trash as you exit the event. No. Don’t do that. But that’s basically what you’re doing if you don’t bother following up.
Same day follow up is a little creepy (unless you had a specific reason to follow up, such as answering a pending question). 1-2 days after an event is perfect. Email works great. Many people keep emails from connections in the event they will need them in the future. For example, I have an entire email subfolder titled “Contacts.” These are messages from people I’ve never done business with, but I expect to need the connection (either for myself or others) in the future.
For the first follow up message, be personal and concise. Avoid the temptation to explain your entire business. Never attach anything that wasn’t requested. No rate sheets, client lists, list of services, price lists, blah, blah….. My opinion here, but I think it makes you look desperate. The goal of the follow up should be to grow the relationship. When you discuss or attach “salesy” stuff to the first email, you’ve switched from building the relationship to closing the sale. It’s too soon for that.
Let the conversation happen naturally. If it doesn’t happen, don’t force it. The time isn’t right. Wait 60-90 days. Then reach out again with a question or a helpful tip. Repeat this process. Keep the conversation alive for as long as the relationship is mutually beneficial.
I hope these networking tips have been helpful! Remember, 80% of sales are made on the 5th to 12th contact with a prospective customer. Before making a sale, you must build the relationship. Happy Networking!