Networking for Fun and Profit
Just what is networking anyhow? Talk to some attendees and you get a somewhat gloomy picture, depending on the type of “networking” being conducted.
Is this a meeting of fellow members of a Professional Group or Society like an Engineering Society, or a local Public Relations Society? Or, is it a business-related meeting, maybe sponsored by a local business publication or a professional Networking sponsor, a growing part of the Networking community. Maybe you’re networking through your Volunteer Board Membership at a local charity or non-profit.
The types of networking and related get-together’s are varied both as to purpose and as to strategy. Giving your “elevator speech” at your typical stand-up introduction at a business-to-business meeting is much different than your response to “What do you do?” at a Committee meeting of the Board at a non-profit, both as to Content and style of presentation.
Wait! Back up. What is an “elevator speech?” An Elevator Speech is a VERY short description of why you and your organization are so very valuable to whomever you are speaking with, whether on an actual elevator, or waiting in line for a table at a restaurant, or at a table of strangers at a fund raiser, just about anywhere. And, it’s no more than a few seconds long, maybe 15-25 works, that’s all. It’s just a few carefully constructed phrases that hopefully whet the listener’s appetite to the point where they respond with “Got a card?” or” Give me a call, here’s my card.”
An elevator speech is a Sales Pitch, make no mistake, and needs the same careful preparation of delivery and construction of substance as a personal, extended presentation.
Let’s consider that the universal currency in Networking is… Information. Information about you, your products and services, your needs. When everybody offers that kind of brief synopsis of their reason for attending, Information Currency is generated, and becomes useful in making “value” assumptions about your attendance.
Find a way to give more (Information) than you get, and you will be rewarded; with Prospects, Referrals, immediate and future opportunities. Even making acquaintances that lead to friendships is rewarding. Keeping expectations appropriate to the circumstances is necessary as well.
Response to “I help companies find more Sales Prospects at typically lesser costs than current or traditional methods” is sure to get a far different response than “I sell fulfillment services for company mailing lists.” They may both be the same thing, but one is sure more appealing than the other.
Maybe your product or service is specialized, and appeals to a limited audience that most business Networking doesn’t reach, and your prospecting research should be restricted to Professional peer networking meetings.
Sometimes investing Knowledge and Information is just the start; the follow up and follow through is equally or more important.
Many, if not most, Sponsored networking attendees are cynical to a degree. After your 50th or 100th Networking meeting you realize that ninety-five percent of the people there are there to SELL YOU something. The other five percent are just hungry. Wait, make that eighty percent selling and twenty percent hungry ( I might point out that almost any fast food restaurant has better food than…shriek!! Networking food, although it is getting better).
Most B2B networking has become a school of sharks looking for an unsuspecting Tuna.
“Do you Buy Stuff?” (use your Product description here).
“No? Who could I call about Stuff?” (use your Product Description here).
I’ve used every Networking technique and venue available; Non-profit Boards and Volunteering, Sponsored B2B meetings, and Association/Professional Society meetings, Non-profit Events and all that implies-Donations, Event Volunteering.
As your Networking IQ increases, you start to realize that Focusing on your target is the most productive course to take. Who are they, Where do they congregate, socialize? Do they need to be Contacted prior to a meeting; maybe the meeting is a better way to make Contact with a busy prospect than trying to talk in their office and inviting them at your expense is something they may not have been exposed to before, and is positive and different. Of course, you also take the chance that competitors hear your client/prospect’s introduction and their “prospect radar” goes off.
Looking for the occasional synergy of a Prospect who happens to attend a meeting or an Event is less productive by far than the specificity of Knowing Your Customer, and where to best find them.
(Did you know a shark can smell prey and “blood in the water” up to many miles away, and unerringly direct their energy towards their “lunch?”)
Okay, so why bother? Why get up early (ier), look nice, put your game face on, be personable, considerate, caring and invest the time and energy, and cost of the meeting and sometimes Membership, going “Networking?” Because, occasionally, new people come to meetings; prospects who haven’t heard your speech, or others, who may actually be willing to listen, maybe make a referral; that’s the best to hope for in most cases, since business owners seldom have the time or inclination to attend a typical meeting. The typical attendee is a Sales Rep, or marketing Representative, Accountants looking for business, small business owners looking for prospects for their products or services, financial consultants, Insurance reps of all kinds.
So, tell me. If everybody at a “typical”networking meeting is looking to sell, where are the Buyers?
Not necessarily at the meeting. And those that are there learn to keep a low profile. (If you wind up at a meeting of Vampires, you wouldn’t knowingly expose your jugular).
When is the last time you heard an attendee say “I’m looking to buy Marketing Consulting Services, “or “I need a new Sales Manager” or, “I’m here to sell you guys everything in my portfolio.”
Again, so why Networking? As it turns out, Networking is evolving as well. Professional Networking Meeting sponsors who try to set up meetings that balance real and Qualified Prospects, actual Buyers and Users of various products and services, with equally qualified Sellers of a variety of needed products and service, are becoming more efficient at successfully setting up B2B mini-expos, and task-oriented Information Seminars promoted by Sponsors to target audiences. Some Sponsors have started organizations that undertake the task of using one or more umbrella Sponsors for reaching particular audiences of interest through Expos or Seminars; business assistance programs through local governments, “green’ business opportunity evaluations, the opportunities are almost unlimited. As a “Networker” your job is to find the Associations, Groups and types of networking opportunities that offer the most Value for your time and money investment. Should you be a Sponsor?
Should you be an attendee at different types of meeting in different geographic local areas, or stick to your backyard? The location of your Prospects determines the answer.
Networking has changed and continues to evolve; so should you. If Networking is a place for you to invest your time and energy in prospecting, find the types of Business, Professional and other groups and Sponsors who really work at developing the kinds of programs and attendees that address your needs. The more universal the utility and appeal of your product or service, the more “prospects” are likely to attend-and the more competitors you might find, as well. Use your Networking Currency-Information- to build relationships that may lead to success through follow-up and referrals. have a “tip” or other useful information always handy to help someone.
For many, Networking will continue to be a place of “socializing,” a place that at least offers opportunities to make new business “friends.” But, if your are judicious in choosing which ones to invest your time and energy in developing, make your contributions valuable, are diligent in recognizing and pursuing opportunities, and equally diligent in avoiding those that don’t offer an acceptable “Value Package” of social and business opportunities, Networking can work for many.
It’s difficult to do correctly, but rewarding for the persistent. Networking sponsors need feedback, both when attendees are right for you, and when quality and quantity deteriorate.
And, encourage the Sponsors to consider better menus. If the socialization is the part that works for you, good food has to be part of the reward.