When I speak with people about business networking many times I get a big Groan. Many say they don’t like walking into a room full of strangers and introducing themselves. Now, we all have our moments of shyness. It’s natural.
But in just about any business, business networking is the key to a successful business. I have a new account manager and she is an amazing business networker. She thrives on walking into a room and finding people to speak to. She loves the challenge of coming out of a networking situation with a number of leads for her to pursue.
Approach the Wallflower
One of her big tips is to look for the people not engaged in conversation. Those are the ones she goes for first. Why? They are feeling like a wallflower because they are not engaged so she introduces herself and asks them about their business and their ideal prospects.
Then she uses that information to take that individual around the room and introduce them to potential prospects. It works every time. She is remembered and she typically meets others in the room while introducing this new individual.
Be the Host and Encourage Networking
One of my biggest tips for business networking is when you are in a luncheon or breakfast environment. I recommend you act as the “host” of your table. Take the initiative to get up and make sure you meet everyone at the table. Encourage everyone at the table to do the same. Then make sure to exchange business cards with one another. That way you are not asking a stranger to pass the salt. I can’t begin to tell you how many times people have thanked me for making them feel welcomed and it’s remembered when I follow up.
Networking events are one of my primary business development resources. I go to Chambers of Commerce programs, non-profit fund-raisers and general business programs of interest on a regular basis. I typically have a goal of meeting up to 5 new people. If it’s an hour or so event, that’s about all I have time for effectively. You don’t want to be seen as running from group to group gathering cards without taking time to have an actual conversational exchange.
Networking Organizations Encourage Shared Referrals
Then of course, there are organizations that are designed strictly for business networking. For example, one of the most-well respected is BNI or Business Network International. They have over 230,000 members in over 8200 chapters. In South Florida alone I know we have multiple chapters so you don’t have to travel too far to meet. They meet weekly and encourage businesses to share referrals.
I’ve had a number of my account managers over the years belong to different BNI chapters with mixed results. And I blame the mixed results on my employee attending not the organization.
And that’s why it’s important to be prepared for networking. Many people think it’s just showing up and maybe saying hello. But it’s much more than that. To be successful you need to have a plan, just like everything else.
Plan for Successful Networking Results
If you don’t plan your approach and know the results you want to achieve then how are you going to be sure of your success?
First of all, are your sales promotion materials up to date? How does your business card look? Easy to read? Clean? Professionally printed? I met someone just last week that their card looked like they had copied it at the local copier machine. The paper stock was flimsy to say the least and didn’t give me a favorable impression of them at all.
Secondly, are you giving them something at your first meeting other than your business card? Do you have a promotional item that will brand your business and make you memorable? This is especially important if you are exhibiting at the networking event. You don’t want your table to be the one everyone walks by because it’s got just a couple of brochures. At a minimum you should have a branded table throw or runner, then if possible add a small table top banner.
Branded Promotional Item will Keep you Top of MInd
But always have something that you can give people that stop by your table, a branded promotional item that will keep you top of mind. It can be a as simple as a stylus pen, stress reliever (one of our clients logo is a pineapple and so they have a pineapple stress reliever they give out – always remembered), hand sanitizer during flu season has been a big hit (and used regularly so your logo is seen time and time again) or something more custom designed. You get the idea as you’ve probably seen and appreciated the good branded items you’ve received when networking.
Next, how are you going to follow up after your meeting? Are you going to email them? How about sending them your materials or developing a small direct mail package asking for a follow-up meeting?
Impactful Follow-up Gets Results
Or what if you go big? Today I received via Federal Express a large box that included a (I’m talking 24” x 24”) mounted Gossett Marketing logo. Now, I would have done it differently for sure, but I applaud this company’s tactic. They then proceeded to say how nice it was to meet me last week and were taking a “big” step to get my attention. They wanted to show that they could “cut through the clutter”. Which, I admit, they did for sure.
I opened it. Who wouldn’t? I appreciated their letter and read it through. Unfortunately the person I met last week didn’t take good notes as I said at the time that I didn’t need their services. But the follow-up was memorable and I may very well recommend them to someone else. And isn’t that what you want from your networking efforts. To make connections and ultimately get business!
And they didn’t wait weeks to send it to me. It’s Monday. I met them last Tuesday. They obviously have a process for making sure this happens in a timely manner. Now, that’s a well-designed sales promotion follow up for a networking event!
I’m actually not responding right away as I want to see their next tactic!
So what’s your plan to have impact after your successful business networking?
Her corporate marketing experience included National Advertising Director for Avis Rent a Car Systems, Inc., and Director of Marketing Services for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Read More