The Long (Rich and Successful) Road to Networking Wins
There is a time-honored theory about sales networking that’s simplicity itself: business first. The whole point of networking is to get in front of prospects to tell them about your service or product. If it’s good enough, they’ll engage. But change is in the air. Clients are growing savvier—and hunger for trust relationships built on shared interests with those who serve them. So how do you strike a balance between “business first” and relationship building? You do it by putting giving before getting.
Today’s successful networkers are intent on forging relationships that deliver returns in stages. This is a paradigm shift that should influence your perception of brand marketing. Instead of focusing on the sale at the end of the value chain, you should be seeing the potential embedded in every link, from beginning to end.
Focusing on serving prospects rather than your bottom line may seem counterintuitive—until it results in a win. At its root, selling must prove that a product or service is useful. On the other hand, networking is a campaign to demonstrate the many ways you are, and will continue to be, useful on many levels.
Where does the value chain begin? With you!
Service-oriented marketing is not self-sacrifice. Absolutely this should be a process you find enjoyable and in alignment with your own interests and values. You begin by becoming or remaining engaged in activities you love. Whether it’s tennis, community outreach, hiking or school plays, get involved—and attend events. Your positive energy will come through and it will draw attention from those who align with your networking outreach. From there, smart tactics can help you forge solid relationships with great growth potential. Here’s a comprehensive—but by no means complete—list of networking best practices:
Do your research. Never walk into an event blind. Look at the host’s website; search for its latest press and find out what you can about speakers or other featured attendees. Have your conversation starters ready to go. If everyone there is a stranger, consider recruiting a wingman or woman who is known to the group and can facilitate introductions. Remember, if this is an event you’d attend for your own interests, you belong. Have confidence that you can make genuine connections.
Be present in the moment. Once you’re talking with someone, stay with him. Don’t ‘leave the scene’ by imaging how many dollars of revenue he might generate. If you’re already hearing ‘cha-ching,’ you’re likely missing cues that could be helping you establish a strong relationship. Besides, it’s rude. People can usually tell when you’re not engaging with their conversation.
Give first. Look for any opportunity to be of service and build trust. At a recent event, I was introduced to a woman I knew to be a terrific prospect. She had addressed the group and mentioned the bold, challenging behavior of her toddler. So I recommended a book that had helped me immensely with my own willful kids. Of course, I mentioned what I do for a living, but that was contextual, not the main point.
Beware networking no-no’s. Simply put, never ask for someone’s business flat-out, and never suggest he or she should contact you. This is Networking 101, but I’m amazed by how often I see veterans shooting themselves in the foot. Even if you’ve sparked a connection, this relationship is still tentative. Don’t wreck it either by thinking you’ve got it made or that you can depend on someone to remember your meeting. They won’t.
Figure out your follow-up before you leave. Don’t depend on your memory, either! Take notes after you exchange information. The great prospect I mentioned? On the cab ride home, I ordered the book we’d discussed and arranged to have it delivered to her office. She got back to me immediately with her thanks—and a request for a business proposal.
Relationship-building is not just a key to the initial sale. As a long-term strategy, it tends to result in repeat business, increased referrals, and a more gratifying career.