Published on April 22nd, 2014 | by admin
How Proficient Are You At Networking?
Business networking is a cost-effective way of developing new leads and potential sales opportunities which is often overlooked but should be considered as part of any wider marketing strategy.
It is a particularly relevant route to market for small business owners and entrepreneurs with ambitious growth plans who are looking to engage with key decision makers and promote their products and services.
After all, there is plenty of truth in the phrase ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ and building relationships is one of the critical success factors for any aspirational business owner as it can often lead to recommendations and personal introductions.
In stark contrast to many traditional marketing methods of self promotion which often fail to engage with the right audience, business networking often enables interaction with individuals from the same industry who are receptive to a sales pitch within an informal setting.
However, making the most of a networking opportunity can’t be judged solely on the number of business cards obtained. Anybody can go to an event and come home with somebody’s business card but it’s useless unless you can use it to follow up with a potential relevant new lead.
So, having invested precious time in deciding to attend a networking event, here’s some handy tips to making it worthwhile:
1. Select relevant networking events to attend
The local chamber of commerce is a good starting point to identify events that may be attended by potential like-minded business people in close proximity. In addition relevant professional trade bodies and dedicated business networking websites are ideal ways to identify forthcoming networking events to potentially attend.
2. Be prepared
On arrival, take a moment to study the attendee list and identify a list of priority individuals to ideally meet. Also arm yourself with plenty of business cards to distribute to attendees who show a genuine interest in what you do. Whilst exchanging business cards, it is prudent to ensure you have a pen to hand as you may wish to make note of a few key points covered during conversations, especially if you end up speaking to a whole host of individuals and who is who becomes somewhat of a blur!
3. Develop relationships without using the ‘hard sell’ approach
It is vital to attend a networking event with the mindset of developing relationships rather than adopting the ‘hard sell’ approach. Building trust whilst mingling with other attendees is far more likely to lead to future sales or referrals in the longer term. Often there is very little to differentiate one business offering from another but decision makers buy into someone’s personality. Find points of commonality to bring into the conversation, from both a work and non-work perspective.
4. First impressions count
In the same way that making the right impression at the outset is vital in a job interview, the same thinking applies in a business networking scenario with appearance being all important. So wearing formal attire appropriate to the relevant industry concerned is important to enable that initial first approach to be as potentially fruitful as possible.
5. Talk, listen and move on
Try to identify someone standing alone during the walk-round and prepare to tell people very briefly about what your business does remembering to spend just as much time asking them about their business too. Exchange business cards before politely making a move to the next person.
6. Follow up
Contact key prospects after the event telling them how much you enjoyed meeting them with a view to opening dialogue with them. Use a business card holder to organise all those valuable leads for future reference.