Networking has become the preferred method of prospecting for many modern sales professionals. The reason is quite simple: people buy from people they like and trust.
If a prospect is looking for widgets and a friend says, “I know the best widget person around. Let me give you their contact info” the referred widget seller is probably well on their way to making a sale. In order to have people referring your services you need to know the right people and networking is a great way to get that done.
Here is a list of 5 networking do’s and 5 don’ts to make sure you spend your networking time wisely.
DO #1- Strategically select the events and groups that are serious about “doing business”- Don’t join a regular networking group and invest the time unless the members are committed to, and capable of, helping each other grow their respective businesses. For example, an event may be a sub-optimal use of time unless it is well attended by the right people with access to your target market. An ideal referral partner is someone who is calling on the same people you are but with a complimentary, or at least non-completing, product or service. Additionally, an event attended by mostly B2C companies may not do the B2B networker much good.
DO#2- Be consistent with your networking efforts- If you are going to be successful building your business through networking it can’t be a hit or miss proposition. Networking time should be scheduled on a consistent basis and you need to participate when you attend.
DO #3- Give referrals- Approach networking with the thought of giving first rather than taking first. An important element of finding the right group is finding a group that YOU can contribute to. No one is motivated to help people who are just in it for themselves.
DO #4- Be prepared- There is a time and a place for to share your 30 second commercial but make sure you are prepared when it is the right time. Carefully crafting your message and practicing the delivery until it doesn’t sound “canned” will pay huge dividends. Others can only effectively refer you if they clearly understand what you do and also clearly understand what a good prospect for you looks like.
DO #5- Set goals- One of the classic mistakes that many people make when attending networking events or joining networking groups is failing to set goals. Goals shouldn’t be purely financial because networking doesn’t always pay quick dividends. The level of trust you develop in your networking circles takes time to build and the pay back from networking is almost always in direct proportion to your level of trust within the group. Set goals that are long term as well as short term and are activity based. Examples of activity based goals are things such as the number of new people you meet, 1 to 1 meetings you set up away from the event, the number of people you develop relationships with inside your Power Partner group, etc.
Don’t #1- Try too hard to be liked- the best way to be interesting to others is to be interested IN others. Turn the conversation back to the other party and be genuinely curious. If you try to fake interest in others only long enough to allow yourself to talk you will fail at building authentic and trusting relationships.
Don’t #2- Overcommit to multiple networking groups- Choose several (no more than 3) networking groups that you will invest your time and energy into. Many people join dozens of networking groups which usually ends with none of them actually paying off. The reason is you can’t refer business to 10 different real estate agents (as an example) in any sort of consistent manner. You end up being a taker and not a giver, which is both short sighted and ineffective.
Don’t #3- Don’t get lazy and spend all your time with the same people- Networking isn’t easy for many of us because in addition to building trusting relationships you are also required to meet many new people. It is easy to slip into a comfort zone of continually socializing with a select group and missing out on maximizing your opportunity within the larger group.
Don’t #4- Focus on the act of networking at the expense of building a network- It is commendable to meet numerous people while attending networking functions but keep your primary focus on building a productive network of people that you can contribute to as well as benefit from.
Don’t #5- Confuse professional networking with your personal social life- Far too often otherwise successful networkers have completely derailed their efforts and destroyed credibility by their social habits at networking events. Don’t over indulge in alcohol or use networking events as a dating service. It is a professional part of your job and should be treated as such.