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Business Networking for Success

(by Hannes Geiger)

Networking is a key ingredient and vital to generating business for your company — the following article can serve as a step-by-step guide for networking in your organization.

Networking is not a contest to collect a stack of business cards, get a hot lead, or reel in a live prospect.

Networking is creating a pool of contacts from which you can draw clients, referrals, resources, ideas, and information; it is the beginning to building relationships, getting the word out about what you do, and looking for ways to contribute to others.

The ultimate goal of networking is to develop leads into prospects and prospects into customers based on the relationship of trust built during the networking process. The end goal is to generate profitable revenue from your networking efforts.

If the following sounds over simplified and should be common sense, then take a good look at your networking success and identify if you are as successful as you can be. Chances are that there is always potential for improvement. Sometimes it helps to go back to the basics.

Networking Steps

  • Before attending a networking event, set an intention, such as:

- meeting a certain number of people
- finding answers to questions
- setting up a meeting with a potential client you’d like to get to know better.

  • Introduce yourself naturally by offering our hand. Potential ice breakers:    

“Hi, my name is……., and I am…(a consultant for business development and marketing, a business coach, a financial advisor, an insurance planner, a manufacturer, a computer programmer,…). What business are you in?”

“Hi, my name is……. I haven’t met you yet.”

“Hi, my name is……. How did you hear of this event here?”

“Hi, my name is……. What brings you here today?"

  • When you describe what you do, do not use jargon. Most people are too embarrassed to admit they don’t know what you are talking about, and if they can’t easily explain to others what you do, they won’t be able to relate to or refer your company.

  • If more than one person from your company attends an event, one may strike up an interesting conversation with a person or group of people; the other can join in and be introduced. Agree on a “code” for silent communication between your companies’ participant.

“That is really interesting! Do you mind if my colleague is joining us in this discussion? He does a lot of work with companies such as yours and he would really benefit from this.”

  • Develop awareness for opportunities to develop contacts. Always carry a stack of business cards with you and hand them out if opportunities come up. Any social event is a networking opportunity.
  • Be curious — ask questions but primarily listen! Most people love a good listener and are happy to talk about the subject they know best — themselves. To encourage conversation, ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no response. Important questions to ask:

“So, how are you guys doing in today’s economy?”

“That is excellent! Nowadays, all I hear is how companies are not doing well. How are you achieving that?” (If “positive” answer is received).

“What is the biggest challenge your company is facing right now?” or “What is your most urgent business problem?” (If “negative” answer is received).

Depending on their answers, a determination needs to be made whether or not it makes sense to get to know this person better.

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Questions for getting to know them better may be:

“Is that problem solvable?”

“What are the strategies you are considering using to accomplish that most quickly?”

“What opportunity are you missing out on because you are too busy dealing with problems?”

“How is business this year compared to last year?”

“What consumes your time that isn’t making you any money?”

 “What’s new in your industry these days? Any events or trends that are shaping it?”

  • Look for things you have in common with the other attendants. This will help you to better remember the person and create a bond over a similar interest or challenge. Don’t be afraid to get personal here. People do business with and refer to people they know, like, and trust. Give others a glimpse of who you are, not just what you do. Most importantly, listen after asking any question!

“How did you get into that business?”

“What types of challenges keep you up at night?”

“Help me out here, draw me a mental picture, what does success look like for you and your business?

“For myself, I put a lot of emphasis on personal vision so I have a roadmap of where I want to go in life. Do you have a personal or professional vision?”

“Who is around to keep you stretching the vision you have for yourself or your company?”

“What goal or part of your life have you put on the back burner because the time isn’t right?”

“What part of you is just waiting for the right person or opportunity to catalyze it?”

“What is a dream or goal that you’ve given up on?”

“How would you benefit from partnering with a personal coach?”

  • Look for opportunities to be of service, i.e. a newsletter or article to support the subject of a discussion, a book recommendation or another resource within your company. Ask people what challenges they are facing and how your company may be able to support them.

“What you just told me, reminds me of a project one of our guys  was working on with a client. Would it be OK for him to contact you to see if he can help you as well?”

“One of the services we offer seems to be exactly what your company needs to overcome that problem. Do you mind if I send you some information about it and set up a meeting next week to discuss how we can be of help?”

“I remember reading a great book / newsletter / article about that. If you don’t mind, I will forward a copy to you.”

  • For potential future referral partners, find out exactly what they do, who their ideal clients are, and how their clients benefit from their products or services.
  • Don’t limit conversations just to business topics. Obtain recommendations for great restaurants, movies, long distance plans, vacation spots and more through networking. Sports and traveling are acceptable subjects. But avoid religion, politics (unless the networking event centers on a political subject) and other potentially controversial subjects.
  • Spend enough time with each person you meet but don’t force a conversation beyond its natural ending point. Exit gracefully so you can meet others.

“I can certainly see some synergy between what you and I do. Can I give you a call next week to set up some time to talk further?”

“It’s been great meeting you, will I see you at future meetings?”

“Wow, this is quite an event don’t you think? Well we should probably keep moving… it was great meeting you!”

  • Don’t feel like you are wasting your time for talking to people who clearly will never become your customers. You need to keep looking for “chickens” — people who know and can put you in touch with other people — not just “golden eggs” — ideal prospects. Considering that the average person knows 250 other people, every interaction holds exciting potential.

“If you hear from somebody that could use our consulting / coaching / training services or has a need for our product, I would appreciate it if you could refer him to me. We actually have a referral rewards system.”

“I am sure that a lot of people ask you for help all the time. So if you come across somebody that could benefit from what we do, it would be great to forward me the contact information.”

  • It’s always more important to get a business card than give one. If people don’t have cards, ask them to write their contact info on yours. Bend the corner of the card so it is not mistakenly given out another person.
  • Wear an outfit or a purse with two pockets, one for your cards and one for those collected.
  • Write on the back of cards received how and when you will follow-up, and anything else that will help remember the person. You can do this while still talking to the person or immediately after the event, while the details are fresh in our minds.
  • FOLLOW UP — most people don’t, so this alone will make your company memorable. As a general rule, you should follow-up with people within a week of the networking event.

Immediately after each networking event, create a list in Excel that documents the names, companies, contact information, a short description of the discussions, the potential challenges faced, what type of service or product may be needed and how to follow-up (e-mail, phone call, visit).

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