I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve been at a networking event, and witnessed a “networking atrocity” that left me wondering what the heck the salesperson was thinking — and which left the prospect running for the door (or at least the bar)!
Having Luciano Pavarotti’s voice or Brad Pitt’s dimple is something you’re born with. Being a good networker is a skill that anyone can learn, provided you’re willing to try some new ideas and — most importantly – put the needs of your prospect first.
When it comes to effective networking, being prepared with the right message at the right events with the right people is critical to success. Equally important is delivering that message and interacting with people flawlessly, so that you start your new relationships off in a professional manner — namely, leaving your partners wanting to see and hear more of you, rather than looking for a way out.
Lets take a look at a few ideas that the top 10 per cent of salespeople do to network consistently, effectively — and profitably:
1. Business cards. Conventional wisdom says you have to have plenty of cards ready to hand out at any networking event. Is all lost if you don’t have cards, or run out? No. In fact, I’ve found that sometimes not having cards can be a benefit, because it encourages me to ask for the other person’s card instead. By collecting the other person’s card, you’re able to keep the conversation focused where it should be: on them. It also gives you the power to follow up with your new prospect.
Far too many people think that networking success is measured by how much stuff (cards, information, pamphlets) you give out. Instead, your success should be measured based on how many people offer you their card. Many prospects use “do you have a card” at networking events the same way they use “can you send me some information” on a cold call — which is to say, to end the conversation, and get rid of you without making a scene. For me, the only true measure of how much interest a prospect has is when they offer you their card, and ask you to call them.
As a fun experiment, the next time someone asks for your card, tell them that you’re either all out or simply forget your cards that day. Then ask if you can have their card so you can follow up later. And while we’re on the subject of business cards, if you make a promise to introduce a prospect to another contact of yours, ask for a couple of cards so you can pass one on to your referral.
2. Arrive early, go alone — and eat before the event. It’s much easier to meet people when they’re arriving at an event, than it is when they’ve already settled into groups later on. It’s also easier to meet people when you’re alone, because when you go with friends or colleagues, you’ll have a greater tendency to stick to your comfort zone and talk only to those people you came with.
Force yourself to meet others by arriving without a safety net. If there will be any kind of food other than a sit-down meal, eat before you arrive. It can be tough to meet people when you have a drink in one hand and a plate of food in the other. It’s also difficult and rude to talk with your mouth full. If you’re ready to pass out from hunger and simply couldn’t eat before the event, at least go early and eat before the masses of new prospects arrive.
3. When meeting people for the first time, repeat their name out loud (as in: “Nice to meet you, Maria”) while making direct eye contact and shaking their hand. This will help you remember their name, and make a good first impression.
Remember to at least start to give a firm handshake. Go in with the intention of gripping their hand fully, so that the crock of your thumb meets theirs. This way, if you get a limp or “half” handshake in return, you can always ease off, and match what you are given to make sure they don’t feel uncomfortable.
Smile! If you’re meeting someone for the first time, imagine that they’re a long lost friend. This will allow you to focus 100 per cent on them, and respond warmly from head to toe.
A funny thing happens when you greet people like they’re long lost friends — you trick your subconscious mind into thinking that you genuinely like and know them. As a result, you’ll find that you instantly do like them. You’ll smile happily (and sincerely), move closer, look directly at them with a soft, caring gaze (not a cold hard stare) and your face will beam. Your new contact will feel this warmth from you, reciprocate it and your relationship will start strongly.
Prospects build business relationships with people they like, and they tend to like those sales people who like them first. Greeting a prospect like they were a long lost friend says: Hey, I care about you, I really, really do!
4. After greeting someone warmly, now you have to say something. This is the part that most people fear the most. Don’t panic. The truth is you can say almost anything, with four important exceptions:
A) It’s not insulting, complaining, rude, unpleasant or teasing. Don’t ever start a conversation by complaining about the weather, the event, the food, the venue, the attendees, or anything for that matter. When you complain, you lose your warm, friendly demeanor, start to frown or shake your head, and lose eye contact. You also cement yourself forever in your prospect’s mind as a complainer. If you don’t think that’s a horrible way to start a new relationship, ask yourself — how do you feel about complainers?
B). It’s not a pick up line.
Do I have to explain this one further? Don’t use anything you’ve heard in the movies, in a bar, or read on the Internet. No matter how funny or harmless you think it is, if you wouldn’t use it on your mother, don’t use it in business.
C) It doesn’t start with the word “I.”
As Zig Ziglar says, everyone loves to talk about themselves. So why not encourage them to do so? Keep the conversation focused on them, not you. Try to ask a question that uses the word “you” to get them excited about talking about themselves. Putting the “you” up front early on in the conversation gets the other person talking and immediately grabs their attention. Plus, you’ll get a more positive response because you’re getting the prospect to talk about their favorite subject – themselves – and allowing their pride the chance to shine through.
If your prospect starts the conversation by asking you a question, answer it quickly and in an interesting fashion, using language they’ll easily understand. Then ask a question that turns the tables, and gets them focused back on themselves – such as a question focused on their line of work, their interests or their reason for being at the event.
D) It isn’t “so what do you do?”
This is the most commonly used opening question at business networking events. Unfortunately, it’s also the worst! It puts people on the spot, sounds aggressive, makes them feel guilty if they’re not currently working or don’t particularly like their jobs, and gives the impression that you’re going to pass judgment on them based on their answer. Your goal should be to make the other person feel good about interacting with you – not to stress them out. So try something else, like: “How are you enjoying the event?”, “How do you spend most of your time?” or “How are you planning to enjoy the summer?”
5. Continue the conversation. The best way to keep a conversation going at a networking event is to ask questions. This is one networking technique you don’t even have to prepare for! Simply repeat back the last words or word from your prospect’s conversation in the form of a question. This puts the ball squarely back in their court, and lets you continue listening.
For example, if they’re talking about their work and tell you that they’re in charge of Information Technology for ACME Corp, you say “ACME Corp?” if you want them to talk about their company, or “IT?” if you want them to talk about the specifics of their job. Generally speaking, the shorter the question, the longer the answer.