Business people network a lot. Unfortunately, most of it is a total waste of time. They spend a lot of their time at networking events talking to people who will never ever be a prospect or influence a customer to buy. They randomly go from person to person and event to event “hoping” to bump into someone that is valuable to their business. Even worse, many people just use it as an excuse to get away from the office.
You can, however, make the most of networking events and make truly meaningful—and profitable—connections by following some strategic advice.
Before You Go (30 Days Ahead)
Preparation is the key to making any business-networking event productive and profitable. Don’t expect to just show up and use your “charm” to woo prospects into wanting to buy. This urban myth does not really work consistently. Instead, here is an alternate strategy that is always successful.
Write down your primary and secondary business objectives for attending the event. Is it to meet new prospects or to close existing business? Do you want to learn more about the industry or get closer to the people you already know?
Find out who is going and contact those people ahead of time. Many events are so big that just because a person is there, doesn’t mean that you will bump into them. If the event has more than 200 people and takes place in more than one room, set a specific date, time and place to meet your contacts. Ensure that you have cell numbers if anything goes wrong.
Use social media to connect before the event. Go to the conference's Facebook page, LinkedIn discussion group or use the Twitter Hashtag to have conversations with other attendees before arriving on site. This will give a big head start in your networking and relationship building when you meet them IRL (In Real Life).
Practice your elevator pitch. When someone asks what your company does, practice an exact 15-second reply. It should state the pain your business solves and whom you solve it for.
At The Event
Confirm meetings already scheduled as arriving on site. This will ensure there are no missed opportunities with the meetings already set up or last-minute schedule changes.
Seek other people at the event that match your networking criteria. Listen for other prospects that are similar to the profile of the people you went to the conference to meet. This can be through questions that are asked in session or people you meet before and after each session. Ask people you already have a relationship with at the event if they know others that match the profile of prospects you want to meet.
Be open to changing course if the strategy doesn’t work or you acquire new information. Just like in daily business, strategies may need to change. If you are halfway through the event and your strategy is not yielding results, than pivot in another direction.
Back at the Office
Within a few days, reach out to the people you met. Remind them about your meeting and your common interests. Always offer to help. Do not try to sell them anything.
Keep them out of the business card graveyard. Enter their name into your contact management system and set a follow up a month from now.
Always give value. Remember, we can’t sell anything to anyone. We need to be there when people are ready to buy. Build trustful relationships by sending valuable information that is not about selling your products. In the long term, people buy from whom they know, like and trust.
How do you get the most out of your networking events?
Getting ready for a networking event? Join me at the New York Times Small Business Summit (sponsored by American Express OPEN). Come by and strut your networking stuff!
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