Networking is an essential part of the sales cycle; however, it can fall to the wayside because of fatigue or shyness. Other times it is pushed aside because of laziness and neglect.
Case in point: a few years ago, I was in an elevator with two men on the way to a networking event that was a major feature at the conference we were all attending. They were talking loudly about how they hated going to these things and how they were planning to go in, get their two free drinks, then go out to dinner on their boss’s dime. And they did.
My advice is not to be these guys. There’s no excuse for this kind of behavior. It’s not only unprofessional, but also detrimental to your success.
In my case I do the complete opposite. I get there early. I offer to help the organizers set up. I stay there the whole time. The middle gets crowded because that’s when most people show up, but they’re missing the point. You could assume the ones who come earlier and stay longer don’t have lives, but they’re the ones doing the hard work. The best of them simply love to converse and forget the passage of time, which 9 times out of 10 pays off. They know that the real deals are made in the after-hours.
So where exactly do you stand in the networking spectrum? Ask yourself the following questions:
- How many of these events are you attending and how often? One of my top ninjas told me that he makes a goal of attending four a month, which is roughly one a week. How many do you think you should take on? What would best ensure your success?
- What kind of events are you attending? Some people prefer the most populated ones, because it’s more likely that they’ll see a friendly face and it’ll be less threatening. With that in mind, what types of events suit you best? Are you opting not to challenge yourself?
- What is your goal at these events? Even having a small goal in mind can get you far, like telling yourself, “I’m going to get 12 business cards from meaningful people.” It gives you a purpose and takes the guesswork out of what you’re doing. You could even make it into a game.
Here is another set of tips if you find yourself on the fence about networking or want to break out of your shell:
- It's really important to have an elevator pitch that you're excited to share and that has been road tested on your peers and previous customers. Also, the more pitches you have for different people and segments, the more well-positioned you are.
- When you attend, don’t drink at the event and don’t be pushy. If others are drinking let them dispel their anxiety and open up to you. Who knows, they might be even more nervous than you are and listening to them will help put them at ease.
- Don’t be afraid to ask people you’ve helped to refer you to others who might need the same services. It’s an easy way to transition while making the rounds.
- Remember your job isn’t to collect business cards; it’s to provide as much value as possible. If you go into it completely selfless, people are going to know you’re different than everybody else at the table.
- Be sure to take good notes on the backs of the cards you collect, and follow up with them immediately to suggest appropriate next steps.
Lastly, for those who are nervous about these events: my advice is to treat them as having fun. If that isn’t enough, you could always practice deep breathing before or during the event. You could even keep some lavender oil handy and take a whiff or two. Whatever keeps you calm and confident is worth using while you’re putting your best foot forward.