Like many business owners I attend a number of networking groups on a meeting a range of people from micro business owners to those running large established businesses. And the people watching is fascinating.
In some networking groups where’s there’s a constant core of say 12-15 people any new person to the group whether a visitor or new member will quite literally be pounced on by certain regulars. Fresh blood = a new prospect! They seem to be permanently tuned into that well known radio station WIIFM (what’s in it for me).
To me networking is a way of making new contacts, contacts that could support either my business or a client’s business either now or in the future.
Yes there’s a possibility that I can be of service to the people I meet in their business but that will come through developing mutual trust and that relationship will extend beyond networking.
When working with new clients I love to be able to recommend people from my network that might be able to support them or could be a potential collaboration or even a potential client.
My rule is to only recommend those I work with or I would work with in my business but I can only do that if I’ve built a relationship with the person and business that I’m recommending. And that isn’t going to happen just by listening to their pitch to the room or from a brief conversation.
It happens when you understand the business, the value proposition they have, get a feel for how they treat and work with their clients as well as getting to know the person. Because at the end of the day people buy from people and although a recommendation of the person or product or service isn’t actually buying we’re unlikely to recommend someone or something unless we would buy from them or seriously consider doing so.
And whilst a networking meeting may be a great way to catch up with friends and colleagues we lose the point i.e. meeting new people and starting to form new relationships. It can be intimidating for a new person to walk up to and start interacting with a group of people who obviously know each other very well so watch out for those who are hovering or standing on their own.
For some people their product and service is very simple and easy and they feel that they can make sales more or less straight away but to be honest few of us want that almost in your face way of doing business.
I don’t know about you but I find myself backing away from the person who launches into a detailed pitch straight away and it often doesn’t feel a great experience. Of course that’s my personal thinking but I often wonder what the person giving the pitch feels like. Are they really comfortable and happy with how they are interacting?
And when you start to engage with people at the meeting, especially people that you don’t know very well, remember to use your two ears and one mouth in that proportion and listen more than you talk. Its entirely possible that they aren’t the most interesting person in the room or are very shy; and its possible that you may not be at all interested in the service or product they are providing but its not just about that. What you won’t know until you get to know them a little more is who is in their network. Who do they know that would benefit from your services or products?
There are many studies about the number of touch points that take place before a purchase is made for a business and generally there are more touch points for services and software products. These statistics also show that many people give up quite quickly i.e. after just a couple of conversations because what they are doing is trying to sell at every touch point and not build a relationship. They aren’t spending the time understanding the customer, the business, their clients, the company’s ethos and so on. Again its like dating finding out about the person over a period of time.
And so networking is really only one small step to building that relationship and how you behave in a networking meeting with that person and how they observe you with other people will be the first and very important step.
- When introduced to someone new think about how you can be of service to them. Who do you know who might benefit from their business?
- Spend time learning about them and their business.
- Don’t tell them directly how you can help them but tell stories of other customers you have worked with.
- When you exchange business cards remember to write down which meeting you met them at and also a couple of key points.
- Within a few days of the meeting connect with them on LinkedIn. When sending the request include a personal message referring to where you met (they may not have a good a memory as you) and to something in the conversation you had.
- Add their details to your CRM, tag with the networking group and other relevant tags and add notes re the type of business they are looking for, whether there maybe a possible collaboration etc.
- Send an email saying you’ve sent a LinkedIn connection request and invite them to connect with you on other social media. I always add that I send out weekly business tips and a monthly newsletter and will add them to the circulation list but if they want to opt out please let me know.
- Keep in contact to nurture the relationship, have further conversations with them.
- Do send introductory emails to other people you think that would be benefit from their business or be a possible collaboration partner. Send an email to your contact first advising them.
- Have a look at their LinkedIn connections, see where you have common connections and make reference to those. Find out how they know those connections.
- Make a point of diarising a call with them on a regular basis for a catch up or meet for coffee.
Remember people buy from people.
Don’t be one of those people who gives up after two or three touch points.