Sellers nowadays are on the move. Those in B2B solution sales are hitting the road or hopping airplanes an average of one to two weeks each month for client meetings. Even inside sellers are stepping out more often to visit key contacts.
Increased travel means more opportunities to network. In this case, our focus is clients and prospects.
With some simple strategizing, you can optimize your relationship building wherever you go, be it 500 miles away or five miles from your office.
Locate your opportunities
The first step to better networking is to plan in advance. Before traveling:
- Check your database to see who else is in that locale.
- Ask your client to recommend someone else you should meet.
- Look at associations you belong to – or should belong to – and find meetings that fit your schedule.
- Research your destination’s business journal or Chamber of Commerce website for lunch/dinner events you can attend to network.
For example, when I was with PSS Software (now OpenText) we belonged to the American Records Management Association ̶ today ARMA International. Whenever I headed to Houston, I scheduled client meetings around the ARMA chapter gatherings so I could network with new members and prospect. At one particular gathering, I met a buyer from an oil company I’d never heard of. My team later ended up closing a $150,000 contract with this prospect.
LinkedIn also helps to locate networking opportunities. Search for contacts in your destination. Send a message that you’ll be in town and request to meet up.
I always find people are more likely to meet me ̶ and keep appointments ‒ because I’m from out of town versus a local they can see any time. (And, in reverse, by having clients elsewhere I’m seen as more of an expert in my own market!)
Even if a person doesn’t become a client, they can still point you to other prospects and act as a referral. And, if you can help them as well, this earns you Brownie points and future opportunities to exchange information.
Follow the ratio
When scheduling meetings ahead of travelling, keep 3:1 in mind: Three qualified leads for every client. By having three prospects in the pipeline, chances are you’ll close on at least one of them.
A new coaching customer of mine with a very small territory said she needed to grow $110,000 to $250,000 this year. Aside from seeing all her clients, I recommended the 3:1 ratio. That way, she’d always have a new sale and an existing sale on every trip, which is double what her territory earned last year. Now she’s on track to hit this year’s quota.
Optimize travel time
Take car services or taxis whenever possible instead of driving yourself. How does this maximize networking?
It allows you to:
- Make calls, set up and confirm appointments, and plan for meetings. Also, it’s easier to spot signs for businesses that could be future clients.
- Skip the traffic battles and arrive on time and refreshed. Being frazzled impacts your networking. You’re more likely to complain about your negative experience, which prospects definitely don’t want to hear!
If you’re flying and it’s just for one day, try to book an extra night’s stay. For example, I’ll spend that whole first day working with clients and prospects. The second day I’ll network with influencers, new leads and attend a local breakfast/lunch event for an association before leaving.
If you can’t do two nights, then avoid the stress of flying in the day of your meeting. Arrive the day before, attend an after-work or dinner networking event, and then spend the next full day working with clients and prospects before heading back.
Also, make use of that in-air time to take care of your work so you’re focused on the client/prospects when you arrive.
Know your own customers
Don’t forget networking opportunities with your existing clients. If you’ll be visiting, ask for introductions to their colleagues. Have them invite someone new to your meeting – like their “Number 2” and “Number 3” person. If your request for introductions is turned down, ask your client if you can make calls to arrange quick meet-and-greets since you’ll be on site. You want to meet someone new on each trip so you’re constantly building out your network of people inside the company.
One of our clients was in town taking a buyer to lunch and asked, “Who else in the company is using the software we installed?” Turned out it was the legal department. The seller requested inviting one of its key people to lunch. The result? He met the chief legal counsel and built a relationship that led to referrals to the company’s overseas divisions and partners.
In addition to finding these kinds of opportunities with your own clients, you’re also creating security. The more known you are to the company’s employees, the more valued you’ll be ̶ therefore more solid in your business relationship. And, if one of your contacts leaves for a different company, you’ll have a new networking opportunity.
Keep the ball rolling
When meeting with a prospect be sure to carve out the next steps. That way, it won’t come as a surprise when you follow up. For example, tell them you want to give some thought to the ideas shared. Ask if it’s okay to send an e-mail in the next few days.
And finally, be sure to send a thank-you note. Ideally it should be handwritten, but an e-mail also works. Let the prospect know you appreciated meeting with them while you were in town. This will show you’re dedicated to building a future relationship with them.
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.