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Little Black Book: Turning Casual Conversations into Clients

06 Mar 2024
Theatre 3 MI
What is the art of networking?

According to some Austrian guy, of whom Wikipedia thought was important enough to quote, Networking is “Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.”

It's called net WORKing. Just the word itself implies there is going to be effort involved.

So the concept itself is simple...get into a group of people, meet them, and do business. But has it ever really been that easy? In my 15 years of professional networking experience, nobody has ever told me about that time they walked into a room and someone threw money at them. It's called netWORKing. Just the word itself implies there is going to be effort involved. As with any kind of work, if done correctly - you are rewarded. If done poorly, all of your attempts to acclimate the world to your own influence can backfire, and ruin you.

Skillful networking checklist: the before, during, and after
  • How are you preparing to network? What are you doing before you walk into the room?
  • You're in the room now...what do you do?
  • The follow up is key! If you do nothing after leaving, you wasted your time.

PREParation:

One of the most common mistakes people make is going into a networking session or event blind. They go there to meet "people", but do not take the time to research who those people will be. There are several ways to estimate who will be in attendance at a networking event. What is the "theme" of the event? Is it targeted to a specific industry? Does it even make sense for you to be there? Here are some todo's every networker should run through before attending an event:

  • Research the hosting organization. If they are membership-driven (like a chamber of commerce, business networking organization, BNI chapter, etc) then they likely publish a list of their members on their website.
  • Is the event being sponsored? If so, by whom? Most sponsorship packages for events include tickets to the event itself, which means representatives from the sponsoring organizations will likely be in attendance. The fancier the event (think awards dinner, golf outing), or the more expensive the sponsorship, the closer the reps get to C-Suite.
  • Is there an attendance list published or sent out in advance? You know you are attending a well-planned event if the hosting organization sends out an attendance list beforehand (thank you Ethan Nicholas https://www.pittsburghbusinessexchange.com). If an attendance list is not included in your registration, check and see if sponsoring the event can give you that level of access. Once you have it, take that list and highlight your targets. Now you know EXACTLY who you plan to meet!

You've arrived....now what? Just by managing your time effectively, you can easily meet 3-4 new people every ten minutes. You were always told to "work the room" right? Wrong.

You made it. You look sharp. Now it's time to go and avoid the corner. Remember? It's netWORKing, so standing in a corner, holding down the bar, is not going to get you anywhere, and it especially will not be putting any money in your pocket. Just by managing your time effectively, you can easily meet 3-4 new people every ten minutes. You were always told to "work the room" right? Wrong. Studies show that by having actual engaging and meaningful interactions with less people, your ROI from a networking event will be greater. The recommended average? 5. You had goals. You made a list. Now go get 'em.

Here's where things can get sticky. While you are out on the floor and tracking down your golden gooses, you have to remember: this is not about you. Find them, introduce yourself to them, tell them what you do, then listen. Your ultimate win for the day is to engage these new contacts, not sell to them. You did not attend this event to sell products or services, you are there to simply sell YOU.

Know the signs & budget your time

There's 100 people in the room. You did your homework. You have your list, the right outfit, and the world's most spectacular can-do attitude. But how do you budget your time? By understanding basic body language.

“He who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day; But he who is battle slain, can never rise to fight again.”

An interested individual will show you when they are interested. How are they standing? Are their shoulders parallel to yours? That means they're listening. Which way are their feet pointing? If they look like they want to run...they do. What about those arms? Are they crossed? Because that's a defensive tactic, used when someone doesn't like what they are hearing, or if they are feeling uncomfortable.

Remember what we said at the beginning of this article? Bad networking can actually hurt you. Take it from THE expert on this one....know when to stop talking. As Oliver Goldsmith once said “He who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day; But he who is battle slain, can never rise to fight again.”

The no no list:

***A quick note about alcohol tolerance: if you are a wine drinker, you should drink wine. If your typical beverage is beer, then drink beer. You build tolerance based on what you usually drink. By making a drastic change, you could accidentally end up drunk, and NO ONE wants to be that guy (or girl!).

We're back (to the office)

Now comes what could arguably be the most important part of the networking cycle: the follow up. My advice? If you are not going to follow up from an event, then you shouldn't attend the event at all. Statistics show the most effective time to follow up with a new lead is within the first 24 hours. Email is effective, and courtesy (contrary to what we may see and hear daily) goes a long way. Be specific in your follow up. "It was great meeting you, let's grab lunch!"

My advice? If you are not going to follow up from an event, then you shouldn't attend the event at all.

To be an effective networker, you should run your new leads on a 90-day contact plan. Email, lunch invite, phone call, another event, office tour, etc. Know your routine and start implementing it as soon as you’re at your desk. Your goal should be get a proposal in front of them for your widgets and dongles within the first three months. You've made the first connection, you sold you, now's your chance to turn that handshake into dollars (that is the overall point, right?).

Do not forget about social media through this process. There are some amazing tools out there to connect with people professionally. I know, it's ironic given where you are reading this article, but everyone is aware that LinkedIn is the world's leading social media network for professionals.

I digress here, but can we take a minute and talk about that big 'ole stack of business cards you have from all those networking events you've attended over the years? You might not even know where it is, but it has a worn out rubber band around it. It's also not serving you any purpose. Get yourself organized. Before you attend another single event.

Lastly: if there was anyone on your guest or goal list you did not get the chance to meet, be sure to follow up with them too. Shoot an email and let them know that you are "sorry you missed them", and would like to connect soon. Depending on the hosting organization, see if they can make an introduction for you. You still have the opportunity to make the connection, even if you missed them the day of.

In conclusion (because I know I talk too much)

I have spent the better part of my life attending, running, hosting, and sponsoring networking functions, including being a Chamber of Commerce member-turned-executive. I have served as board chairs, networking org presidents, and have more ambassador ribbons than anyone would know what to do with. Networking works. Period. If you do it correctly and take time to implement basic strategy and tact, you can turn first-time handshakes into signed RFP's and dollars on your bottom line

Speakers
Allen J. Martello, Vice President, Business Development - Business Optimization Group, LLC

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