By Kyle E. Glass
Over the past few months the team here at Marketing Matters has taken steps to hone in on better work practices and procedures. During this time, we’ve also been taking a look at ways to increase leads to bring in new business.
As part of that outreach, my coworkers and I have increased our networking schedule and have learned a great deal on how to be more effective in approaching how to network effectively. Here are a few of my “lessons learned.”
1. Don’t Sell to Me, I’m Selling to You
This is by far my most frustrating issue with networking. Nearly everyone networks for selfish reasons; to raise their sales. But if no one is interested in what you are saying because they’re too busy trying to sale their product, communication breaks down. Your initial interest should be building a relationship and gaining credibility. Use it as an opportunity to get to know them by asking questions about their business, their hobbies, and so forth
2. Add Value to the Relationship
Listen for ways that you can help other people, especially in ways that don’t include your product or service. For example, think about who you could connect that person with. Perhaps you know someone who could use his services. Or, she’s looking to fill a position in her business and you know someone who would be a great fit. When you connect the right people together, everyone benefits.
Another way to add value to the relationship is to personalize your business card by hand writing your cell phone number or a small note. Also make sure to write a note on the cards you receive to remind yourself who they are and what you talked about, especially if you come across something during the conversation that could be useful in the future. They’ll be very grateful, and you’ll make a lasting impression if you remember they have two kids, one of which is starting college in the fall.
3. The Forum, Format, and a Cause
The problem is, most of the networking forums I’ve attended are constructed in a way that allows each person to give their five minute elevator pitch and get on down the bar. Networking groups should provide more. They should provide a forum that is conducive to building credibility and trust all the while being in an environment that you’re comfortable with.
As with anything, you reap what you sow, and you have to put in the time and associate with the same people meeting after meeting. Fraternities are great for this, including organization like the Moose Lodge, Elks Lodge, or Knights of Columbus, as they all provide stable networking opportunities. Aside from being a member of the VFW, I also attend the Greater Hollywood Chamber of Commerce “leads group” every Thursday. If you’re not familiar with a leads group concept, I meet with the same people every week to discuss business topics and exchange leads I have gotten for others in my group. Great opportunity if you’re ever invited. If not, make your own.
If you are seen as someone who has the intent of doing good for others, people will be more apt to trust you. I think networking groups should provide a service aspect. If you’ve ever cleaned a highway with someone, or dished out soup next to a stranger, you’re building a bond of trust with those people. This means joining groups like the Rotary and Key Clubs are great for networking.
My point isn’t that most networking events are useless. It’s just that most are formatted in a way that makes it good for only making acquaintances – at least initially. You need to then take it upon yourself, after the event, to grow those relationships into trusted business relationships and partnerships. Ask them to meet for coffee, take them to lunch, stop by their office, or in some way connect with them. You can network smarter by choosing a balance of different formats, as opposed to a schedule full of acquaintance-making events which is ineffective without putting in hours afterward.
Perhaps you have some to share networking tips to share, as well.