I went to a networking meeting last week, where I met an enthusiastic salesman who was promoting a combined fire and security protection system.
He shook my hand enthusiastically and proceeded to hard sell his amazing new solution that would solve all my domestic fire protection and security needs. Did I want to buy, at the amazing introductory price of £199.99?
As sales people, we’re always told that the best way to generate new business is by networking – and many of us put untold pressure on ourselves because we go out networking trying to make a sale or two. After all – we’ve all got to put food on the table.
This pressure to make sales drives people to become increasingly desperate in their attempts to sell, but they get no tangible results. This leads people to not even go to networking events, as they fear it will be a waste of time: result – no business being generated.
There is a fundamental problem with going to a networking event trying to sell: because no one goes out networking to buy! Think about it – have YOU ever gone out networking with the intention of buying anything?
So – what should we do instead? Networking is all about building relationships that lead to generating referrals. To do this, you need to get into interesting conversations, get to know people well, and then once you’ve got a relationship, give your network the tools they need to find your referrals.
Let’s have a look at how to do these effectively.
1. Getting into Interesting Conversations
Recently, while at a networking event, I met a man called Mark. Here is a transcript of our conversation:
Me: “Hello there Mark, I’m Charlie – what do you do?”
Mark: “I’m an accountant.”
At that point, the conversation ended. Now, don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t trying to offend him (or every other accountant) – I just literally couldn’t think of anything else to say!
Compare that scenario to this one – from the same event – where I got talking to a lady who was about 4’11”, (and I’m guessing here) was somewhere in her late 50s/early 60s.
Me: “Hello there Anne, I’m Charlie – what do you do?”
Anne: “I’m a weight-lifter.”
Me: “What? Really? Tell me more!”
I couldn’t quite believe my ears – how on earth was this lady a weight lifter? It didn’t make any sense, so I had to ask her for more about what she did. So Anne told me that her business was stress counselling – and what she did was help her clients lift weight off their shoulders. We had a very interesting conversation about her business, which left me in no doubt as to what sort of clients would help her grow her business.
Comparing Mark and Anne’s responses then, the following points struck me:
Many potential networking conversations never happen because of scenarios like the one with Mark the accountant. If, on the other hand, you can introduce yourself in a way that gets the response ‘tell me more’, you’ll go a long way to making your networking successful.
How do you introduce yourself when you’re networking?
2. Getting to know People Well
Let me tell you a story about Steve. Steve is a great networker who I’ve known for several years. He does sales for a web business, and manufacturing firms are his area of focus.
Now, on my regular route to work, I pass by the premises of a big manufacturing company. Every time I went past, I always thought to myself – I really must try and help Steve out and get him an in to that company.
But I never did.
Then, one day, I saw Steve at a networking event, and afterwards, as everyone was starting to drift away, he and I got into a conversation about Formula 1 racing. Neither of us knew that the each other was into F1 – but we got into a discussion about our favourite drivers, races we’d been to, and so on.
How we got onto the subject is irrelevant – I can’t honestly remember – but the effect of that conversation was profound. I immediately felt I knew Steve that much better: as it was, I saw him regularly, I heard him talk about his business regularly, I knew who his dream referral was because I’d heard him talk about it regularly.
But now, I knew ‘stuff’ about him – and crucially, that stuff helped me build a rapport with him. I didn’t realise it at first, but, the next time I went past the premises of his dream referral, I didn’t just think to myself ‘Oh, I really must try and help Steve’. So, I went onto LinkedIn, searched for the company – and I realised I knew someone who had a contact within the firm. It was relatively easy from there to get him a referral.
What’s fascinating to me is, following our conversation, how I felt about Steve changed, such that I was prepared to go out of my way to help him: and all that because we had connected at a deeper level.
How strong are the relationships you build with your networking contacts? Do you know enough ‘stuff’ about them to be prepared to get them a referral?
3. Giving your Network the Tools they Need
One of the questions I get asked more often than any other about networking is how do I know that the people I’m networking and building relationships with are going to introduce me to the right potential clients? Isn’t it a bit of a scattergun approach?
The short answer to this is: yes, it is a bit scattergun, and you don’t know who you are going to get introduced to. That, however, is one of the joys of networking – you genuinely don’t know who other people know and how they could help you. But surely it is possible to promote yourself more effectively?
The good news is that there is a far better way to promote yourself – knowing your target market. The more specific you are about who you want to speak to, the more likely you will get referrals to them.
This story illustrates this point rather well:
I was running a training workshop, and at the end I facilitated a business generation exercise where all the attendees (about 60 or so) were asked to share their top referral target.
The key to success in this exercise is that it only works if the targets shared are specific – so not only naming a target company, but also the person at the company they’d need to speak to, both in terms of their job title, and their name.
We’d just started the exercise when I was confronted by a sales professional who ran an events company. I could tell from the look on her face that she thought the whole process was not likely to work – but, loving a challenge, I asked her who her dream referral request was.
Now, her facial expressions may have told me that she didn’t believe that the process would work, but that was nothing compared to her reaction when she spoke to me. “It is absolutely inconceivable that anyone in this room will know the person I need to speak to” was her answer.
“Go on, just give it a go”, I replied.
“Seriously – it won’t work, just move on to the next person”, she replied, folding her arms, and by now, sounding a little cross.
“Just give it a try – you never know”, I ventured.
“Look – I’ve told you already,” she answered. “Most of the people in this room run small businesses. It is absolutely inconceivable that anyone will know the Marketing Manager of the Hilton Hotels group, so it’s not even worth wasting my time.”
Before I could respond, the gentleman just two seats away from her said to her: “I don’t know the Marketing Manager of the Hilton Hotels Group, but my next door neighbour is the Group Chairman – would that be of any use to you?”
Somewhat more sheepishly now came the response. “Er, yes – I guess it would…”
It’s incredible – when networking, we so often close our minds to the opportunities that are sitting (literally) right next to us. Remember, it’s not WHAT you know that is important, nor is WHO you know important.
What will help you achieve success in networking is thinking about WHO YOUR CONTACTS KNOW, how well they know them, and whether you have a good enough relationship with them to access their contacts. Have you built up a list of your target clients to share with your networking contacts?
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