In business, being able to network is an important tool but is a skill which very rarely comes naturally to us all.
Personally I dont find it as difficult as some other things (cold calling for example) – I like to meet new people and am genuinely interested in what they do and what people are up to.
I think that nothing beats face-to-face conversation to build rapport and while you might often not get a direct sale from everyone you meet in networking, making a positive impression on a person definitely means that they will remember you and if they cant use you themselves, they will be very very likely to recommend you to others. Its often months afterwards before you see a clear business benefit from a particular networking situation or relationship but keep plugging away.
Its also important not to talk about yourself during the whole time – people quickly get bored with this; they will tune out and begin to look round the room for someone to rescue them! Networking is all about sharing information and if you make the effort to learn about others they will return the favour.
Also remember – its a gentle sales pitch which needs to be engaging, interesting and benefit led. So what do I mean by benefit led?
The Window Cleaner:
Well if I was a window cleaner, I wouldnt stand in front of you and tell you about the soap I used which I could get cheaply at the local wholesalers nor would I bother to tell you where I store my ladders or which of my customers gives me fresh water etc!!
What I would definitely do is tell you what a difference my service would make to your business life – how you would save money by having an expert do the job on a regular basis: all the corners would be done, there would be no marks left behind, and you wouldnt need to buy the materials. You would save time by not having to do it yourself and the sparkle of your windows would attract customers and show that you looked after your premises and cared about its image.
Then of course I would also throw in some testimonials of some of the other local businesses who use my services and perhaps even some funny anecdotes (provided they were for sharing of course!) – Im sure that many of us are interested in the things that a window cleaner sees in his day-to-day activities .
So youre speaking to someone, having an enjoyable networking conversation – what else is important? Well body language & responses are something to be conscious of: remember to respond during the other persons stories (small nods of your head, little affirmations like mhmm; I see what you mean; that makes lots of sense etc) will put them at ease and show that you are listening and interested. Face someone with your body, look them in the eye, dont fiddle with papers, give people a bit of personal space but dont be too far away – these are all small things which show you are interested and engaged.
And closure is all important too; make sure that you exchange contact details – business cards are the most common thing here – and if you have promised to follow-up with a particular piece of information or schedule a meeting – make sure you do so. Its important that you dont get a reputation for not delivering on your promises because if you cant be bothered to do something small like this then they will have good reason to distrust your business product or service too.
Of course you will always find going into a new situation a bit nerve wracking – however, what is important is that you relax and enjoy it – just remember that 99% of the room will be feeling exactly the same. Just ask one or two of the people you talk to at the beginning if they have been to this event before – the chances are that theyve never been either and are feeling just as unsure as you are – or if you find someone who is a regular use that to your advantage – ask them what they like about it, whats good about the event and if there is anyone in the room who they feel would be good for you to talk to. They will probably introduce you which is a good icebreaker.
You need to make the effort to speak to people – dont hide yourself away in a corner of the room or only speak to people you know already – you get out of networking what you put into it. Welcome people into your group – especially if they are alone – think about how you would like to be included and do that to others.
Dont hide your personality away but dont be over-friendly or casual just strike the right balance, mirror other people in their style and you cant go far wrong – above all relax and enjoy yourself then when you leave the event people remember you in a positive way which is bound to lead to good results for you in the future! Dont be tempted to fuel your confidence with alcohol – you might think you are being vivacious, funny and interesting but your audience will often have a very different perspective!
Next time Ill tackle social networking which can be a different ball game altogether; entertaining, addictive and very engrossing but until then: Happy networking!