Is networking growing your business? Or does it feel like a waste of time?
Nothing is worse than taking time out of your busy day to attend a networking event, only to find that it makes no impact on your bottom line.
It might feel like the answer lies in ramping up your sales pitch, but that often backfires. If you really want to increase sales and grow business relationships, you need to rethink the way you network. Here are four simple tips any business can use to take networking to the next level and get better results.
Tip 1: Set Realistic Expectations
If you head into a networking event thinking you’ll turn everyone you meet into a customer, you’ll likely leave disappointed.
It’s called “networking” because you’re building a web of relationships. Some of the people you meet will be potential customers. Others will be connectors who might refer business to you. Still others will be influencers who might help you reach a wider audience. Imagine the power of meeting someone who books speakers for events or who has a widely-consumed blog or podcast.
Even if someone is your ideal customer, people don’t go from 0 to buy in the time it takes to shake hands. The most effective networking is actually relationship building. When you take the time to let someone get to know, like, and trust you, that person will send you great referrals for the life of the relationship.
Tip 2: Deliver a Clear Message
It’s frustrating to lose out on the chance to gain a customer, connector, or influencer for your business simply because that person didn’t clearly understand what you offer.
Does that mean you should make sure to list every single product or service you offer? Not at all! In fact, the opposite is usually more effective.
When someone is first meeting you, that person generally isn’t interested in the fine print. She wants the headlines. Those big ideas combined with the rapport you create will determine if your new acquaintance would like to hear more.
Providing too much information might actually be the reason your message isn’t clear. Let’s say you repair computers and you’re introducing yourself to someone who uses a computer every day but has very little idea of how it works. (This probably describes the majority of people.) If you tell your new acquaintance that you run systems checks, free up hard drive space, solve network problems, defragment discs, and customize user settings, you can bet your new buddy’s eyes will start to glaze over.
On the other hand, if you mention that you help people get more speed from their laptops, you’ve probably just struck a chord. From there, your new acquaintance might ask you more questions or for your card. You’ve given just the right amount of information for someone to file you in her mental rolodex under the heading “Call if I have a computer issue.”
A great message about your business should be brief, clear, and in the language of laypeople, not industry jargon. Develop your elevator pitch and practice it so that you always know how to introduce yourself at events.
Tip 3: Listen
Networking might feel like it’s all about saying the right thing, but talking alone is not how we build relationships.
Listening is a key part of starting and growing business relationships. When you ask questions, you demonstrate your interest in that person and begin to build rapport and trust.
Not only does listening help you strengthen a relationship and be the person others want to talk to, it also gives you vital information. As a business provider, it’s your job to know what your customers need, want, struggle with, and wish they had.
Imagine you own a garden supply store. When someone tells you she can’t even keep a cactus alive, the expert in you might want to dive into all the plant-care details you know. If you resist this instinct and instead ask questions and really listen to the answers, you might gain valuable knowledge. Maybe there will be problems you can easily solve. For example, if this person says she’s overwhelmed by all the choices in the nursery aisle of Home Depot, you could let her know that your store has a highly trained staff who loves answering questions.
Even if the objections aren’t ones you can immediately address, you’re still gaining valuable insight into how the general public thinks about your field. This intel is priceless when you’re crafting marketing messages—including how you present your business at your next networking event: “Hi, I’m Noreen. I own Noreen’s Greens where we have everything you need to make your garden thrive—even if you weren’t born with a green thumb.”
Tip 4: Follow up
Meeting potential customers, connectors, and influencers doesn’t do you any good if you never take the next steps with those people. It bears restating: Effective networking is about building relationships.
Nurture your new relationships by following up with the people you meet. Something as simple as a quick email immediately following an event is a great start.
If you want to connect even more, invite the person to grab coffee with you. Since we’re all busy, you’re more likely to get a “Yes” if you give a specific reason to get together. Here’s a simple email template you can use to grow a relationship when you meet someone new.
I really enjoyed meeting you at [name of event + time if on-gong event]. [Short reference to something you discussed together, or to the event.]
I would love to chat more about [aspect of the person’s business or organization / topic you discussed together at the event]. Can we grab coffee sometime?
I’m available on [days]. What does your schedule look like next week or the week after?
Looking forward to hearing from you,
The next time you head to a networking event, set realistic expectations, deliver a clear message, listen, and then follow up. You’ll gain more leads and build business relationships that pay dividends for years to come.