You know the scene. You walk into a room of people with the purpose of expanding the network of those who know you, trust you, would buy from you or recommend you to others.
You know you need to be out among prospective customers or clients. You have yet to see a single such event (breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour) result in your meeting someone who promptly did business with you. You’re behind on a critical deadline back at the office. Yet here you are, with a string of similar, non-productive events in your past. Do you simply endure it and rush back to work? Or do you slow down just a bit and make the most of this opportunity?
Your networking experience coroner’s report
Cause of death by networking could be any of several, including:
- Ridiculous expectations – Did you really think that you’d walk into that crowded room, introduce yourself to someone and make a sale on the spot? If you did, recall from Selling 101 that trust is the single most basic, important and first thing that must happen before anyone buys anything from anyone. Trust usually takes time, whether directly between two people or by way of a mutual customer/friend/acquaintance.
- Failure to engage – You had plenty of business cards and would have been happy to give them away three to a person had anyone simply asked. You didn’t take the leap yourself of asking someone, at least one person for his or her business card.
- Mistaking a process for an event – Networking is often perceived as the time between the beginning and the end of the breakfast or luncheon. One of the most common causes of death by networking, this misperception kills almost instantly.
- Missing on the follow up – You shook some hands, gathered some cards and promptly stacked them in a corner of your desk with the rest of your collection. In lieu of a note, e-mail or follow up phone call, the cards became casualties as well.
Make a friend, be a friend
Unless your business is permanently closing tomorrow, chances are good that a friendship initiated today could turn into an opportunity to serve in the future. Handled properly, that’s exactly what you should be hoping to do in each situation where you are meeting someone for the first time.
So how do you make a friend in this seemingly high-pressure situation? Here are a few helpful tips:
- Offer a friendly greeting – “Hi, I’m new here. My name is John Carroll. And you are…” This opens up the communications channel and gives the other person the chance to reply in kind.
- Follow up with a chance to listen – “I’m pleased to meet you. Tell me what brings you here today.” This allows someone to be as specific about his or her hopes about today’s event or as general as a thumbnail sketch of this person’s business or organization.
- Reflect what you’ve just learned – “So you work in the technology business. Terrific! I really value what I know about the technology tools I use and enjoy learning ways to be more productive with all those electronics. Tell me, what do you enjoy most about your work?” Now listen closely again as you may gain a personal insight to help you remember this person the next time the two of you meet.
- Ask for a business card – This is much more professional than handing one of your cards to another person unsolicited. More often than not, you’ll be asked for one in return. According to nationally recognized protocol expert Cynthia Grosso, you should take the card and immediately read it, again showing interest in the other person.
- Make a note on the card for easy recall later – With your conversation still clearly in mind, note something that you learned. This will serve as a quick and easy reminder of that person when you pull out the card later at the office.
- Make a courteous and graceful exit – “I’m pleased to know you. I know you want to meet some others here today, so I’ll let you do that.”
- Write a follow up note – Remind the person that you met at this certain event, that you’re pleased to know him or her and that if there’s any way you can be of service, please don’t hesitate to call or write. A handwritten note is the best impression you can make here. An e-mail, while falling far below the impact of the handwritten note, can still be that second touch that creates the basis for a friendship or business relationship in the future.
Use these steps to make the most of your networking opportunities. Remember, your time is valuable and an approach such as this provides you with greater value for your time invested in getting out and getting among others who may be prospective customers, suppliers or advocates for you and your business.