Professional networking functions provide access to qualified prospects—fast. However, when attending an event, are you the wallflower sitting in the corner, waiting for someone to approach you or do you have a networking strategy in place that gives you the confidence and ability to leave with a stack of business cards from prospects that are more apt to buy from you?
It’s a safe assumption that any salesperson would rather follow up with a qualified prospect they recently met rather than make a cold call.
So, if you would rather build your business off referrals, is your sales funnel bursting with potential new selling opportunities that you’ve generated through networking and by utilizing a referral program? If not, then you will certainly have the opportunity to make this a reality after implementing the following strategies.
What is that you say? You don’t feel comfortable going to a networking event, into a room filled with people you don’t know, and then have to ask a complete stranger for new business, or worse, their business card, which, once you have, you don’t know exactly what the next step would be? How about those special interest groups or lead groups where the objective is to help other people build their business by sharing referrals?
Most people feel the same way. Chances are, networking to uncover new business isn’t your most enjoyable activity because you feel that you’re alone, “out there” all on your own. Hey, it takes a lot of courage to fly solo and into an event where you don’t know anyone. Yet, maybe there’s a way for you to change your mindset around this and in turn, the success you can achieve through networking
Let’s define what networking actually is. Networking is the act of meeting new people, in a social setting, with the intention of having a mutually rewarding conversation that would create a relationship which would ultimately lead to new selling opportunities.
One of my clients, Cindy, was a salesperson looking for ways to generate some additional cash to help out her family with the monthly expenses. To do so, she found an outside sales position selling a line of self-care products. This position gave her the freedom and flexibility to create her own hours, while honoring the priority in her life, which was her family.
Cindy knew that in order to make this worthwhile, she needed to maximize the little time that she had to devote to her business. After speaking with the top reps in her company, Cindy quickly realized that the only way to leverage her prospecting time was if she put herself in front of as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. As such, she began to search for local networking groups, trade shows and business events that she could join or take part in.
Cindy called me one morning and shared her situation with me. Finally, she said, “Keith, I am so uncomfortable attending these functions with people I don’t even know. And even if I did start talking with someone, I wouldn’t know what to say or how to stimulate their interest in what I’m selling without sounding pushy, self-serving or overly aggressive.”
I then shared several strategies to make networking a prospecting activity she could actually enjoy and make worthwhile.
1. Bring a Wingman
Rather than flying solo at your next networking event, bring a friend, co-worker, business associate or even a client along with you. This “security blanket” will boost your confidence as well as your comfort level and immediately removes the bulk of reluctance associated with attending a networking event by yourself.
2. You Are Not Alone
If you ask most people who attend networking events, if they were being honest, they would tell you that there are certainly some feelings of apprehension and fear when it comes to meeting new people, where the specific objective is create new business opportunities. Rather than placing yourself in the class of people who you perceive to be the minority, instead, consider that you are amongst the majority of people who feel the same way you do. And if that’s the case, you’re now at an event where everyone has a shared objective!
3. Keep Your Intentions in Focus
If you expect to go to a networking function and walk out with a handful of business cards from people who want to buy from you, think again. To maximize your networking efforts, detach from the outcome of having to generate new business. Your only focus should be to enjoy yourself, meet new people and just focus on them, not on you if you want to make new connections. Conversely, if you’re going to an event and being honest with yourself that the intention is to learn something new, that’s great! Then let that be your focus and allow any conversations to happen secondary and naturally. If you do, new selling opportunities become the byproduct of how effectively you are managing this mindset.
4. Lighten Up!
Who doesn’t want to have fun? Let’s face it. When you go to a networking event, there’s often food, music, even a keynote speaker. These events often contain some level of entertainment or educational value. Don’t take yourself or these events so seriously. Besides, people rather do business with those people who are fun to be around and extroverted, not the wallflower sitting in the corner. And if for some reason, you’ve forgotten how to have fun, lighten up and enjoy yourself, as well as your career, you may want to speak with an executive coach.
5. Make a Friend First, a Client Second
“Okay Keith,” Cindy said. “So I go to a networking event and I begin talking with someone. What do I talk about? I never know how to stimulate an enriching conversation at these functions.” I asked Cindy, “When you go out with your friends, do you have trouble finding things to discuss?” Cindy replied with an absolute “No.” When I asked her what some of the typical topics of conversation were, she said, “Family, work, kids, school, travel, weather, leisure, current events, hobbies, sports, shopping, weekend events or sometimes recent movies we’ve seen.” I then asked her, “So, why is it any different to discuss these things when meeting new people?” “Because they are strangers!” Cindy reacted.
I then shared, “Strangers are simply friends that are waiting to be met.” At one point, all of your friends were strangers. So, when does a stranger become a friend? Aside from liking the person’s initial disposition, it’s when you discover that you have mutual interests. When you find that their life often parallels yours with the same challenges, hobbies, and experiences you are going through or have gone through. Most of all, it’s when you realize that you enjoy being around them because they make you feel good. They enrich your life and add value to you.
If this is true, then it really doesn’t matter where or how you meet them. Just think about the friends you have now. After all, it’s often easier to develop a friendship first than it is to develop a client; since there’s less pressure you place on yourself to push your agenda, perform or to generate a measurable result.
6. Make It About The Other Person – Not About You
Have you ever been to a networking event and encounter those people who seem to be vultures seeking out their next prey? You can see their self-serving intentions in their eyes and that manifests in how they come across when you talk to them, to the point that the questions they ask you feel more like an interrogation rather than a genuine, authentic interest. And if you don’t pass their test, they move on to the next potential victim.
Don’t take on the guise of these bottom feeders. Instead, rely on the pull approach to networking rather than pushing for the result. As mentioned in number five, Cindy now has a bevy of topics to discuss with the lucky person who she begins a conversation with at her next social event.
However, instead of talking about yourself, talk about them. Focus on what you can give to others and how you can contribute to them, not what you can get. Often, when people are nervous, they try to find a safe haven, a topic they are used to and comfortable discussing. So they wind up talking about themselves. Use this as a leverage point. Craft some questions around the topics I mentioned to stimulate conversation and get them talking about themselves. Inevitably, they will start asking you questions, especially as it relates to your career. Now, you’ve just created the opening to effortlessly discuss what you do without even trying.
7. Master your Laser Introduction™
“So, what do you do?” You’ve probably been asked this question hundreds of times. Often enough, the response isn’t given much thought. You may reply, “I’m an attorney,” or “I’m in sales,” or “I own a business,” or “I’m a financial planner, “I’m a sales manager.” I’ve seen people stumble to get the answer out as if they weren’t sure themselves of what it is they do.
Here’s a technique to assist you in opening up a conversation and new opportunities that will increase your network and client base, while leaving a lasting impression.
When creating a laser introduction, begin by identifying some of your client’s challenges. Then, describe how your product or service provides solutions to those challenges.
Begin with the phrase, “You know how…” followed by a couple of common problems that your clients normally experience. Then follow up by saying, “What I do is…” and continue with one or two key points, benefits, value propositions, compelling reasons or MVP’s (most valuable proposition) as they relate to how your product or service solves these problems.
For example, if you are a sales trainer or consultant, here’s an example of what the dialogue between you and a potential prospect might sound like.
Prospect: “So what do you do?”
You: “Well, you know how some sales organizations experience high turnover and struggle to meet their sales targets, as well as find new prospects which ends up costing the company time and money?”
Prospect: “Yes. I’m actually going through that myself with my company.”
Tip from the Coach: Allow the person to respond. Then respond with the following statement.
You: “Well, what I do is help businesses improve their bottom line and bring in more sales by getting their salespeople in front of more targeted, qualified prospects on a consistent basis.”
Prospect: “That’s interesting. So, how do you actually do that?”
Notice that I did not tell them what I sell or do or even the specifics of how I go about achieving these results. I simply shared with them the end results they can realize.
Using this approach, you have not only clarified the results you can deliver, but you have opened the door for further discussion about similar challenges that the person you are talking with; their company, clients, or other people who they know may be experiencing.
8. Making the Phone Ring
At the end of a conversation with a potential prospect, we often end such conversations by handing out one of our business cards and then waiting for the phone to ring. By doing so, you have placed the responsibility on the other person to contact you. If you hand out 100 business cards, think about how many people actually call you. Chances are, not many.
Instead of waiting around for these potential clients to find your business card and call, take on the responsibility of getting in touch with them. Doing so will give you the opportunity to get in touch with every contact you make instead of waiting for the phone to ring.
When asked for your business card, hand it to them and add, “You know, it’s sometimes difficult to contact me since I am often out of the office or on the phone working with my clients. Let me have your phone number and a good time to get in touch with you so that I can make myself available around your schedule.”
Spend time putting together a laser introduction that works for you, then try it out at your next social event, chamber mixer or tradeshow. You will notice people taking a greater interest in what you do, while spending less effort generating new clients.
9. Ask Yourself the Right Question
Finally, stop asking yourself the wrong questions. Don’t ask yourself, “Why would any of these people want to talk to me?” Instead, change the question you are asking yourself to, “Why would I want to talk with them?” “How can I deliver value or assist them?” “What can I learn from them?” These questions shift your balance of power back to you so that you are at choice rather than being on the defensive or feel as if you have to come up with reasons as to why someone would want to talk to you. Now that you are in the mode of inquiry, this change in your mindset will help you develop some questions you can ask them as they relate to the topics I mentioned in number five.
After taking the time to adopt this new philosophy and approach, Cindy said that changing her thinking and approach to networking helped tremendously. She developed a more positive outlook and feels comfortable striking up a conversation; making small talk even bigger.
Effective networking will expand your bandwidth and position you in front of more targeted prospects. To maximize your networking efforts, remember; don’t take yourself or the pressure of uncovering selling opportunities at a networking event so seriously. You will be amazed what you attract when you detach from the outcome of having to generate new business and just focus on the impact and value you can deliver to others.
Photo Credit: Cranky Pressman