Stefan Thomas – speaker, blogger and author of Networking for Dummies
I attend hundreds of networking events every year, and work with companies of all sizes to help them improve their ROI from networking.
One of the questions which people ask me most often is “can we make it work more quickly?”, which seems to come from the belief that networking needs to take months or years to work.
You see, for every connection you make through your networking, you slip into the MEET-LIKE-KNOW-TRUST (MLKT) process. Particularly, but not exclusively, in B2B sales, the first thing that happens is that you MEET someone, then they work out whether they LIKE you and, if so, they get to KNOW you a bit better before you ultimately get to the stage where they TRUST you enough to do business with you.
The Holy Grail of networking then, for a lot of people, is how do we move more quickly through that process, so that people trust us, so that we make sales. And I believe the process can be accelerated. Here are some tips, so that if you want to make sales in networking more quickly, you can do so.
- Everyone is there for the sake of their business, not yours. Think about that just for a second. You got up at stupid o’clock to go to a networking event because you thought it would be good for your business. The other people in the room may be lovely, but in the end, you wouldn’t be there unless you thought it would be somehow profitable for you. Guess what? Everyone else in the room is the same as you. So a really quick win is to respect that and not go in and try to sell straight away. Be genuinely interested in the other people in the room. Find out about their business. Remember you have something in common with them immediately as you are all at the same networking event. Spend your networking time getting to know people and building the relationship with them on their terms.
- Go to more networking events. The MLKT process isn’t just about time but immersion. How much time you are spending with the people you are keen to build a relationship with. I know this is blindingly obvious, and requires the time being put in upfront, but it works. I attend, on average two networking events every week. When I was getting my business going, I was going to three or four a week. This puts me, and you if you choose to do the same, weeks and weeks ahead in the process, than people who are only going once or twice a month.
- Treat the event as the start of the conversation. On my travels, I find that too many people seem to consider the networking event as an entire process. So they try to start the relationship and move it all the way to the sale, within the confines of the meeting. Everything about the networking event itself should be treated as the start of the conversation. Your 40 or 60 second introduction needs to be crafted so that people want to continue a conversation with you and your 121 conversations should form part of the conversation, without trying to be the whole of the conversation.
- It is YOUR responsibility to continue the conversation. When you leave the networking event, your mind will drift onto all the other things you have to do – the missed call from your client, putting the postcode for your next meeting into your satnav, working out when you’re going to get time to do that proposal. All of that will start to push your networking conversations, which seemed so important at the time, down your list of priorities. Guess what? EVERYONE has a life just like yours and, no matter how fantastic your introduction was, they will move onto more important things as soon as they leave. It is YOUR job to remind them that you exist, and not their job to remember you. Follow up, and make sure you do it in the 21st century way, by connecting with them on whichever social media platforms they are active on.
- Social media is part of your networking activity – you have worked that one out haven’t you? In 2016 the opportunities to continue your networking conversations are all over the place. You have LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, SnapChat and, even, the telephone. Find out where your contacts prefer to have their conversations, and go to them. Use all of the opportunities to get onto their turf, find out what you have in common, and keep every connection warm. Social media allows us to communicate at scale like never before. Most people only ever think of using it to broadcast, but the real opportunity is in the engagement, replying to other peoples’ posts, liking and sharing what they’ve taken time to create. I have won more opportunities by liking, commenting on, and sharing other people’s blogs, articles and posts than I ever have just by broadcasting mine. You can be the first to bring value to the relationship specifically by taking the time to engage with your contacts activity and sharing it, where appropriate, to your crowd.
And remember, finally, that it IS ok to sell. Once you’ve built the relationship, once you’ve put the effort into making absolutely sure that what you offer may be of real value to your connection, once you’ve put the effort into being the first to deliver value into the relationship, then it is not only ok to sell, but you owe it to your business and theirs to do so.
Get stuck in, and treat your networking as an important part of your business, and it will become so.