Networking tips that can drastically alter your presence in the marketplace and industry.
Business development is one of the most time-consuming, yet extremely important parts of growing a business. At one time or another, as owners, we are challenged with keeping a consistent portfolio of clients. Business development starts and ends with networking tips and referrals.
Even though referrals are the number one source of business for most B2B companies, we are starting with networking since it often leads to the referrals. Networking doesn’t necessarily mean going to event after event. The initial goal is getting in front of people and making new connections. Every person you meet is a connection and you never know where it might lead. Below are some of our basic tips for productive networking.
Networking Tip #1: Choose Wisely
Choose events that either has a topic you are interested in, someone invited you who can introduce you around or are likely to attract client decision-makers. The third is fairly obvious, but can often be the least productive events without at least one of the first two criteria.
Networking Tip #2: Ask Questions
If you haven’t read it in a while, pull out Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. No one likes going to an event and being sold to, especially CEOs. Some don’t even like going to an event and meeting people. They go for the speaker, the topic, or because they were invited. Help to put them at ease in a conversation. Ask questions and get to know them. Whether they are potential referral sources or potential clients, you should end up knowing far more about them than they know about you. It is very off-putting when we go to an event where someone knows nothing more than what our company does, and we are handed a business card with the comment, “If you ever need my services, please call me,” and that is the extent of the conversation. You’d be surprised how often this happens. Many of our clients don’t network because they know most people they meet with either see them as a sales target or just tell them what they want to hear. That’s not valuable to them. If you do meet potential clients, ask questions. Keep the conversation focused on them. If they can use your help, the conversation will turn into a discussion. Make a gentle offer, like, “I’m happy to provide some additional insights and expertise. Let me know.” The more aggressive you are, the more it will turn them off.
Networking Tip #3: Good Connections
A good rule of thumb a friend once gave Kristen is, “If you connect with one person and schedule a follow-up meeting, it was worth going. If you connect with three people and schedule follow-up meetings, leave the event, because it doesn’t get any better than that.” That’s the Rule of Three. However, beware of walking out with a handful of business cards and expecting results from just this one activity and a quick conversation. Do the follow-up. Initially, you will be more focused on quantity and meeting with as many people as you can. Once you get to know who the best referral source for you is (and vice-versa), you can be more particular about the types of people with whom you speak and follow up. Make sure they have the best chance of referring the right type of business to you or you are able to refer business to them. It’s a two-way street.
Networking Tip #4: Research Speakers
Do your research on the speakers and panelists, especially if they happen to be C-Level executives at companies that fit your target audience. The more you know about them, the more comfortable you will be having conversations with them after the event. Speakers always appreciate it when you come up to talk about them and what they said instead of what you want to sell them.
Networking Tip #5: Have One-on-Ones
Kristen’s friend jokes about the Rule of Three, but in general, it is a good number to use. For each person with whom you connect and determine it is worth following up (hopefully for both of you), you will be scheduling a time to meet. Your goals for follow-up are a) to learn more about each other for the purpose of determining how you can assist each other, and, b) to determine whether there is anyone else in your networks to whom you can connect each other. You will likely end up with one to three introductions from each of those three meetings. Think of it as rock-climbing. You step from one rock foothold to another and see where it leads, with the goal of ending up at the top of the mountain.
Networking Tip #6: Explain Your Brand
We discuss this at length about your brand and what you are the expert at so we won’t go into it much more here. Stay consistent and stay focused.