5 Top Tips for Networking
A lot of people find networking a mystery. Whether I walk into the office pumped-up after a morning of networking, or I’m seen popping on my heels and topping up my make-up ready to go to a networking event as people are leaving for their commute home, I am always met with intrigue and usually the comment: “networking, oh I don’t know how you can do that!”
I totally get it – walking into a room of strangers and thinking you need to sell yourself and your business can be both terrifying and intimidating. However, I can promise you right now that I haven’t yet come away from a networking event with a feeling of doom because I haven’t got a pile of business cards and three signed contracts. The fact is, I am not there to sell – I am there to listen and meet new people.
Everyone who knows me knows I am a chatterbox – I will literally talk to anyone! Not because I love the sound of my Yorkshire tone, but because I love learning about other people. Nothing beats that look on someone’s face when they talk about something they have a true passion for. That’s how I feel about Horizon. If someone else is that passionate, I know that from a client’s point of view they will want the absolute best for their business and as a supplier they will provide the best for their clients. Which means I want a relationship with this person, I want to be in their gang and soaking up all their positive energy! The chances are that they will probably have similar values to me and are looking for someone to talk to who reciprocates their passion for a product or service. This is what I want to gain from networking events.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am under no illusion that just because I have an affinity with someone that they are going to need my product or service. However, this is the start of a relationship which could lead to something in the future and has started on a better footing than just shoving a business card in someone’s face.
So, with this is mind, here are my top 5 tips for getting the most out of the next networking event you attend:
1. Set yourself realistic goals
Before you walk into a room, think about what you want to achieve from the event. Salesforce.com predicts that it can take 6 to 8 touches of contact to generate a viable sales lead. If you go to an event thinking that this will directly lead to confirmed bookings, then you will be disappointed. That or extremely lucky as you would need to speak to the exact person in an organisation who procures your product or service and for them to be at the decision-making stage of the buying process at that exact time – near impossible!
Instead, you could set yourself a goal to talk to a certain number of people, or to learn more about a certain number of businesses you didn’t know about before. Or, simply find out if the businesses procures your service or product, so you have better company insight for future communications. These goals may not directly generate sales. However, they will provide you with significant intel which will help those 8 touches of contact become 4.
2. Do your research prior to the event
If your product or service is quite specific, look at the attendees list prior to the event and decide who you would like to introduce yourself to. Do a little research on the individual, so you have a topic to discuss or questions to ask. For example: you see that Tim, the procurement manager of a company you are keen to work with, is attending the event. Then, when you have checked out his LinkedIn you see he has mentioned rugby in some posts – also a passion of yours. This nugget of information will enable a more genuine conversation then bulldozing in with how great your product is and why Tim needs it in his business. Next time Tim is looking for a service or product you offer, he will remember that great person he met who has the same passion for rugby as him. It also provides a conversation starter if you want to pick up the relationship again in the future, i.e. “saw your team play on Sunday and thought of you”.
3. Treat people as you would a friend
When you first walk over to a group of people, listen to what they are talking about and then join in once you have a valid point or question. You wouldn’t just walk over to a group of your friends in a pub and start talking about yourself, you would join in on the conversation they were having. The listening time won’t look strange as you need to remember that these people are all in the same position and at the networking event for the same reason as you. Take this time to learn more about them and come up with some meaningful questions which will catch their attention when there’s a gap in the conversation.
Remember, the conversation doesn’t all have to be about work – I promise you will get much more from these answers than if you solely concentrate on business. The conversations with my key clients are now less about work and more about where they have been on holiday or how their kids are doing. Build that trust up and the business chat will follow.
4. Think about collaboration
Collaboration is my favourite thing to talk about because so much can come from it. When you first meet someone, it’s unlikely that you know about their network, so you should see this as a huge opportunity. We are stronger as a collective, so explore whether there are opportunities to do any joint selling/networking. This way you are both gaining from the sales transaction, exposing each other to a larger network and, best of all, gaining a new business buddy. Some of my best clients have come from my network’s contacts. Remember, recommendations are the golden ticket in sales!
5. Make notes
Once you have had that great conversation, learnt about the company, and maybe even discussed your next meeting, make sure you have this recorded. This could be with a simple note on the business card, or a quick email to yourself. If you are networking for a couple of hours it’s easy to get mixed up with faces, roles and personal chat, which are key to future communication and building on that relationship.
Ensure you connect with people on LinkedIn as you will be surprised how many people you meet who you already have mutual connections with. However, the most important thing is to follow up, and the sooner the better. Don’t be scared to ask them when or where they are free to meet you for a coffee.
So, there are my personal 5 top tips. Obviously, what works for me may not be the same as you however if you take one nugget of information from this blog please let it be that people buy into a person not a product! So be yourself and have fun. I promise the sales will follow.