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Business networking is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting tools you can use to grow your business. Of course, done incorrectly it can actually be harmful to your business.Somewhere down the road salespeople were given the idea that business networking meant pitching and selling. Eek! Nothing could be further from the truth.
Skip straight to the networking commandments >>
Of course, if you don’t plan on being in business for very long, then by all means pitch and sell. If you plan to switch companies often, have at it! If, on the other hand, you plan on building a great business that will stand the test of time, don’t pitch and sell when you are networking.
Business networking is really about building relationships. It’s about finding those people with whom you have things in common. It’s like dating. Have you ever met a man or woman who was so aggressive and pushy that you ran the other way? You wouldn’t dream of dating them.
Then there are the people who are so unsure and timid that you never get the chance to meet them. And then there are the people who are genuinely interested in meeting people and getting to know them so they can find the person they want to spend the rest of their life with.
Am I describing dating or business networking? Exactly! Both. They are very similar in nature.
Just as in dating, in business networking you have to meet and get to know people to determine whether they are good referral partners or clients. When you go into the process with the narrow focus of gaining a piece of business, you miss all of the steps designed to keep you safe, happy and successful. Your focus is in the wrong place.
When, however, you focus on really getting to know people, you will be open to and aware of all of the signals. You will build quality, productive relationships that will work for you and your business over and over again.
I define business networking as building relationships with people who may or may not need what you have to sell. So you see, it’s not about selling to them. It’s about making the connections and building your contact base.
People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. How can you make sure you are presenting yourself as someone who is trustworthy? By following the 59 commandments here.
Now, commandments might be a strong word–but this is a serious topic.
There was a time when we would network through organisations, events and referral groups. These are still relevant and have been joined by social networking. Social networking is relatively new and therefore requires a conversation about guiding principles – or commandments.
Let’s start with networking at events. There are various aspects of this type of business networking, from preparation to follow up, and everything in between.
All venues are not right for all people.
You owe it to yourself to do your research and find the venues that make sense for your business.
Make a decision about which organisations you should join and which you don't have to join in order to gain value from their events.
For example, does it make sense to join a local chamber of commerce, or just go to the events that sound interesting and will most likely include people you should meet?
Many people either don't sign up for events or sign up for them and then forget to go.
Determine how often you should be networking in a given week, month or quarter.
This will help you narrow down where you should be going.
Attend events with a plan to learn something new. This will keep you from talking too much about yourself and your business.
Dress appropriately. Bring business cards.
Turn your phone off or set it to vibrate (I'm not kidding!).
When you walk into the room, step to the side, take a deep breath and scan the room.
This will give you a chance to regroup and focus before you approach anyone.
Don't sit down until the program begins.
If there is no program, you can sit once you've connected with someone.
You'll be saving their life! They are alone and nervous.
You can even take them with you to mix and mingle with others.
Rather, give it to anyone who asks you for it.
Your handshake is a key indicator of your level of confidence.
If it's too weak you are telegraphing. If it is too strong you are sending a signal that you are probably more aggressive than assertive or cooperative. Either way, it doesn't lend itself to building relationships.
When you are talking with someone, look them in the eye and really pay attention to what they are saying.
Don't look around the room or over someone's shoulder when you are talking with them. It's rude.
You are letting them know that you aren't really interested in them.
If you are expecting a call or have a situation that may need your attention, let the person you are talking with know there is the possibility you'll have to excuse yourself.
Go to a quiet place.
It doesn't make you seem important if you take a call in the room. It makes you seem impolite, silly, rude, arrogant . . . take your pick!
How do you get away from someone politely? There are a couple of tactics.
- You can tell them you don't want to monopolize their time.
- You can tell them you see someone you need to speak with.
- You can excuse yourself to the restroom.
- You can tell them you'd like to continue meeting people.
Follow up (this is critical)!
If you are going to take the time to network, then please take the time to follow up with the people you meet. You can send them a handwritten note or reach out to them to schedule coffee or a meeting. This depends on how well you connected.
They didn't give you their business card to get spammed.
Don't assume that just because you met someone you now have licence to gain a referral from them, use them as a resource, or give them your promotional and sales materials.
Now let's talk about referral groups. When you join a referral group it is not to sell to the people in the room. It is to build relationships with those people so they will trust you and think of you when they are out and about. And you will think of them.
Referral groups work best for growing your business when you approach them with the idea of what you can provide to the group and its members. Follow these commandments of business networking in referral/leads groups to set your business up for success.
Do not expect to get until you give.
And don't expect the get right away. It takes time to build the relationships with group members so you trust them and they trust you.
When you show up late and/or infrequently, you send a message to your fellow group members:
- You tell them that you only care about yourself because you don't take the time to learn about their needs.
- You show them how you deal with business meetings and associates. Why would they trust you with their clients? How can they be sure you'll treat them well?
Have a specific list of referral needs.
The more specific you can be, the more referrals you'll receive.
We are never so busy that we don't need more prospects in our pipeline.
If you don't ask all the time, you'll run the risk of getting into a place where you never ask.
Once again, be sure you are really listening to the needs of the group members.
Don't play with your phone or answer e-mails while others are talking. Really listen and think about how you can help them.
Meet with the members individually between meetings so you can get to know them better.
Do not try to sell your fellow group members when you have your one-on-one meetings.
When you know how they do business and trust them, you can use them as resources when people mention needs those group members can solve.
This can elevate you in the eyes of your contacts, prospects and clients.
Make sure your clients, contacts and associates are open to you giving their names and contact information to your group members. One of the worst things that can happen is for you to refer a group member to a client, only to have the client get mad.
Your job is to know your clients and contacts well enough that you know who would be open to taking a call and who would rather not. This doesn't necessarily mean that you can't connect these people. It just means that, instead of passing on the person's name and contact information, you may have to make the introduction. Reach out to your contact and set the stage for your group member.
If someone gives you a referral, treat it like gold.
You want to be sure that you follow up on it right away. Imagine how you'll make the other person feel if they refer you to someone and you don't follow up in a timely manner. It won't make them want to refer you again. It takes time to build relationships with the people in your referral group.
Don't destroy that trust by failing to take a referral seriously.
Now what about social networking? What is it really all about and how can you navigate it successfully? Social media has given us a great platform for accelerating the relationship building process. It does not replace face-to-face meetings; rather, it enhances the process.
Consider this: You connect with someone at an event. Then you ask them to connect with you on LinkedIn, Facebook or both. Now you can interact with them online. You can learn even more about them by taking a look at their profile. What groups are they in? What discussions do they participate in? Who are they connected to?
Just like event networking and referral/leads group networking, there are guidelines you should follow when participating in online social networking. These social networking commandments will help you continue to grow your network and your business.
Of course, you should be you! What I mean is that before you say something in your news feed or in a discussion, make sure it maps with how you want others to know you.
I participate on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and some blogs. I always think before I write anything.
First, I want to be sure I am being consistent with my message.
Second, I know that my clients and prospects come from varying backgrounds and belief systems. I want to be sure that nothing I say will change the way they think of me. This is especially true for social networks like Facebook.
The intersection of social and business is very blurry. Interacting with people in these arenas helps you get to know them on a personal level. That can work for or against you. So, think about what kinds of conversations you want to engage in before you write something.
No one likes spam and that includes pitch messages on social networking.
Use the platforms as a way to continue to build relationships and expand your network. Irritating people won't help you accomplish that.
You can let people know what you are up to as long as that's not your only topic of conversation.
People love to learn things.
Use social networking as a way to share relevant information with other people.
Don't use the standard connection script if you can help it.
If you want an introduction through one of your contacts, make sure you explain why you want it.
Social networking is just like in-person networking. You want to approach it as a way to learn things.
When you pay attention to the chatter, the events, groups and conversations you'll learn an awful lot about the people in your network. You'll also learn about people you should be connected to.
This goes along with spamming and self-promotion.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Of course it does. That's because social networking has nothing to do with selling. It has everything to do with building relationships so you can grow your business.
You can make decisions about who you connect with on different platforms. Just be consistent.
If you decide that you don't want to be connected to business associates on Facebook, then don't. If someone you don't knows requests a connection to you, you are under no obligation to connect with them.
Whenever you can connect people or help someone with a question, do it.
Use common sense and good judgment and contact people privately when you want to have a one-on-one conversation.
When an online group you are in has an in-person function, go to it.
Meet the people you've been interacting with. It helps to build the relationship.
When you connect with someone via social networking, follow up and suggest a meeting. The meeting can be via phone, Skype or in person, depending on geography. Don't let physical distance get in your way. In this day and age it doesn't have to be a deterrent to growing a business relationship.
I'm not going to get the chance to know you and like you if you are aloof.
No one is so special that they are untouchable. Besides, who would want to build a relationship with someone distant?
We network so we can grow our businesses. We meet people and build relationships so we will receive referrals from them over time. What we're talking about here is how to do it well so those referrals actually happen. Whatever business networking venue(s) you choose, make the most of them.
Although increased sales is the end goal, we don't participate in business networking to sell. We do it to find and develop relationships with people who we can help and who can help us. When we detach ourselves from the emphasis we tend to put on selling, we actually improve our ability to build relationships. The sales will come naturally from there. Remember these guidelines when you venture out of your office into the world of events, groups, and social networks. Make the most of the time you spend on business networking.
This article was originally published on Small Business Trends and has been republished here with permission.
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