Simple and Effective Networking Tips, By Chris Bergman, SSP Architects
As a Business Development Manager, I truly enjoy meeting new people and learning about their businesses. Whenever I meet a business owner or salesperson for the first time, I make it a point to ask them what sales techniques or best practices they regularly use that they feel helped them take their sales to the next level. Not surprising to me, networking comes up as one of the top answers to this question.
With that said, here’s a few valuable business networking tips that I commonly follow that have absolutely helped me gain new clients and help keep my pipeline robust.
- Select the right groups.Not every networking group will be targeting the same type of businesses as you. Look for groups where there’s a natural affinity for the types of people and businesses you are targeting. For example, if you’re trying to meet people in commercial real estate, you wouldn’t select a group that focuses mainly on residential real estate.
- Networking is all about building relationships. Networking is not about trying to sell your product or service. It’s about meeting like-minded business professionals, getting to know them and their business and figuring out how you can help each other. You need to forge genuine relationships and gain the trust of the people in the group before they’ll ever feel comfortable referring business your way. In the process, they will get to learn about your business and who your ideal referrals are. You must establish a level of trust and comfort before you can expect anyone in a networking group to send you a qualified referral. Who in their right mind would give a warm introduction to one of their top clients to someone they barely know? The bottom line is: People do business with people they like and trust and it takes time to build relationships.
Too often, people walk into a networking group for the first time with the hope of making a sale or getting qualified referrals. Basically they have the “what can you do for me attitude.” In any established professional networking group these people are red flagged and never receive a second invite. It takes time to gain someone’s trust. As a member of one of the premiere networking groups in NJ, The Executives Association of NJ (EANJ), it took almost a full year before I started getting highly qualified referrals.
- Always be prepared.Bring plenty of business cards, but only give them to people who you have meaningful conversations with who take an interest in what you do. Don’t just run around like you’re in a contest to give out as many business cards as you can. Go for quality over quantity. I’ve found that it’s best to speak to someone first and then offer them your card after.
- Ask questions then shut up and listen. There’s an old saying: “he who talks the least wins.” The basic premise of this is that many salespeople actually talk themselves out of a sale by over talking. This is also true when networking with a new group of people you’ve never met. You should be short and concise rather than ramble on and dominate the entire conversation. Listen more than you speak. This is one of those business networking tips that can be applied to all conversations you have (business and casual) and works like a charm on a sales call. Ask people questions about themselves and their business, and then listen intently to their answers. In addition, show a genuine interest when they’re speaking. There’s nothing more off-putting than a person whipping out their cell phone to check messages while you’re in the middle of speaking to them. Find points of commonality that you can bring into the conversation. Have your “elevator speech” ready to go and keep it short and to the point when it’s your turn to tell the other person about your business.
- You have to give to get. In my opinion this is the Holy Grail of business networking tips. Focus on what you can do for others, and be a great giver of referrals without automatically expecting one in return. You’ll quickly establish yourself as a “giver” and it will come back to you in spades.
- Follow up.If you make a good connection with someone, after the event, send a short email letting them know how much you enjoyed meeting them. You can also include an article or some kind of information that they might find helpful. At this time, you can also ask them if they may have some time in the coming weeks to get together. It could be for a cup of coffee, or over lunch, to spend some more time getting to know each other’s businesses and to further discuss how you may be able to help one another.
- Always dress appropriately and professionally. First impressions truly are important. (This should be obvious but you’d be surprised.) I’m not saying that a guy should show up in a tuxedo. However, showing up in a well fitted suit with an appropriate tie and polished shoes will never be frowned upon.
To sum it up, networking is a long-term, ongoing process. Take the time to develop relationships with people who you are confident you could provide qualified referrals to, who in turn can do the same for you. You will likely have to visit a few different groups until you find one that you see yourself in for the long haul. So go ahead and try out some or all of these business networking tips. You’ll not only develop great business networking relationships, you’ll also develop some great friendships along the way. It’s a win/win!
Written by: Chris Bergman, SSP Architects