I left a networking event recently and bumped into a fellow attendee as we left who said, “How awful?! Those people standing at the front of the room selling. That’s not what networking is about.”
Whilst the presentations could have been better, I completely disagreed with the conclusion. The number one reason to attend a networking event is to sell your services. The key is in how you do that.
I made the mistake for years of seeing industry networking events as a good chance to spend an enjoyable evening with industry friends and have a bit of fun swapping old stories and hearing the news. With the greatest respect to my business friends, if I want to spend an enjoyable social evening somewhere, I have family and friends with whom I’d rather be.
My tip, therefore, is to understand that you are giving up your time to attend a networking event in order to generate business. That is the number one reason to go.
Ask yourself three questions in preparation:
- Is there anybody worth meeting at the event? Check who’s coming in advance if at all possible. (I have grave reservations about attending an event if you have no idea who might be there)
- How do I ensure that I meet those people and have productive time with them?
- What results should I expect?
Of course I recognise that there are many occasions where something (or someone) unexpected crops up at these events and for that you cannot plan. However, that’s just like any sales conversation in that you cannot prepare for everything but that doesn’t mean you should prepare for nothing.
The costs of not preparing are too big to take the risk. Going to an event with nobody worthwhile (for your business development) to meet just means losing hours of your life you’ll never get back. Going to an event with 3 perfect people for you to meet who remain unmet at the end because you didn’t know who they were or that they were going is an even bigger loss. Meeting them at said event and not making the most of the opportunity because you haven’t prepared properly is also a terrible waste.
Let’s not do that again, shall we? Let’s assume, from now, that you’ve checked the list and found 3 people that you’d really like to meet (these could be existing contacts or new ones). How do you make sure you make the most of the opportunity and walk away with a productive result or three?
First, don’t focus your efforts on ‘What can I tell them about my company?’. Rather think of something valuable that you can give them, something that makes you nothing. Maybe you know a subject matter expert that could help their business. Your valuable offering would be an introduction to that person. This is also a very easy way to make an introduction to someone new.
“Jane, my name is Paul Owen. I saw in advance that you were coming to this event and wanted to make sure that I spoke to you. Having researched your company, I think that a business mentor I know, Tracy O’Sullivan, could really help with your expansion into the Chinese market.” You can probably work out the rest of the conversation yourself!
What have you done? You’ve flattered them with your desire to meet them and also given immediate value to them with no apparent gain to yourself. In doing so, you’ve made yourself memorable. You’ve given a reason to exchange business cards. And there is a simple and immediate next step to your relationship.
Your result? You’ve started a potentially productive business relationship by preparing properly. Do that once at each networking event you attend and you’ll reap the benefits. Do it three times and your business generation could go through the roof. And you can still catch up with some old industry friends too – the two outcomes are not mutually exclusive!