Maximize Your Profits Through Networking – Part 1: Do Your Homework

Have you ever admired (or perhaps secretly envied) those successful
sales people who seem to have it all?

They talk confidently with their bosses and peers. They’re as comfortable
with their clients’ executive teams as they are with the people who
use their products on the front lines. And they always know exactly
what to say at every turn.

How did they get that way?

Through active networking.

Many sales reps and managers complain that they can’t create a consistent
flow of revenues or commissions month after month. Instead of a nice,
straight line increasing consistently over time like an upwards pointing
arrow, they find themselves staring repeatedly at sales results that
look more like a hockey stick: nothing for two months, a sharp increase
for a month or two, and then back down again to nothing a month later.

How can they keep their sales funnels full of leads, to ensure a
consistent, reliable flow of revenues all year round?

Through active networking.

The fact is, if you’re in sales, there’s no avoiding networking.
As salespeople, we’ve all been taught that networking is an effective
way to meet new contacts and develop business. We’re told to go to
events, attend trade shows, and participate in business conferences
and luncheons, all with the intention of meeting new prospects, engaging
with existing customers and developing new sources of referrals.

In my experience, however, hardly any salespeople know what to do
when they actually get to these all-important events. During our workshops,
more and more people are asking questions like:

  • What do I say when I get there?
  • Should I ask for a card?
  • When should I give them my card?
  • How do I remember their name?
  • What do I do when I get back to the office?
  • How do I turn the conversation to business?
  • How do I escape from a useless or annoying conversation?
  • How do I enter into a conversation that’s already in progress?
  • Who should I approach?

It’s one thing to show up at an event. It’s another thing entirely
to emerge from it with a list of names, or the beginning of a series
of potentially profitable relationships.

Over the next three issues of Engaging Ideas, we’ll look at
the answers to all these questions and more to dissect what you can
do before, during and after every networking opportunity, to ensure
you maximize your time, your results – and your profits.

Do your homework before you go
Regardless of the type or size of the event, doing some simple preparation
before you go will work miracles to improve your results once you’re
there. The following are some examples of the kind of "homework"
you can do to improve your success rate at your next networking opportunity:

1. Find out what the event is about, what the audience will be
like and who the speaker is. Be prepared to talk about the event
to anyone you meet. And take an interest in what the event is all
about! If you’re excited about the event, it will encourage others
to attend as well. The more people that turn up, the better it is
for everyone!

2. Make a list of some current clients and contacts who might be
at the meeting, and send them a quick email a couple of days before
to let them know you’re going, and to ask if you’ll see them
there. If it’s someone you haven’t seen in a while, let them know
that you’re looking forward to catching up.

3. Make a list of prospects you suspect will be at the event who
you want to meet. Think of ways to find common ground with them,
and devise an opening question that you can ask when you meet them.
Try also to think of a connection you can give them, which could
be of benefit to them.

For example, if you know that your client is looking for new resellers
for an upcoming product launch, and one of your target prospects
is a reseller, you could give them a referral, or even introduce
them if both parties are at the same show. Remember, sales is all
about building relationships. This referral will show both the prospect
and your customer that you’re a sales person who is interested in
building a relationship with them – not just making a sale.

4. If you have a list of attendees who will be at the event, double
check to see if a company you’re interested in is registered
for the event, and make note of their contact information. If you’re
going to a trade show or convention, I even suggest that you call
your target prospects in advance to set up a meeting with them during
the show. It’s also a great idea to set up meetings with your current
clients, by inviting them to come to your booth at a specific time
so that you can reconnect. This gives you an easy way to stay in
touch, plus it has the added bonus of making your booth look more
popular, which will help attract more new people to come see what
the fuss is all about.

While we’re on the subject of trade shows, why not advertise that
you’ll be at the event in your email signature tag line? No need
to get complicated – something as simple as "Be sure to
visit Engage at the SMEI Conference September 21-23 in Shreveport
should suffice. As well, check your database
for contacts in the area where the conference or event is being
located. You may find that you know people who live nearby who won’t
be at the event, and you can make an appointment to reconnect with
them, too.

I always make a habit of staying an extra day or going one day
early to reconnect with those contacts and conduct some sales calls
in the area. Your contacts will take advantage of the fact that
you’re in town, especially if you’re located far from the event
area, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your schedule will
fill up. The only cost is an extra day of travel, and the profits
will pay off in spades.

5. Study the conference guide before you get to the event and choose
which sessions you’ll be attending in advance. This will give you
time to research the speakers for each of the topics, allow you
to formulate some intelligent questions to ask and give you something
to talk about with the other attendees afterwards.

I often find that the first thing people ask me at a conference
is what session I’m attending. If you don’t know the answer, the
conversation can dry up pretty quickly. On the other hand, if it
turns out that you’re both going to the same session, you’ll have
something in common to chat about later. As an added bonus, if the
person you’re talking to already knows something about the
topic of the session, they might refer you to their network or offer
a solution to your problem.

If you’re going to a small event like a breakfast, luncheon or
dinner, take a few minutes to review the outline of the meeting
and the bio of the speaker. Formulate a couple of relevant questions
you can ask during the Q&A session, to increase your expert
status and encourage others to approach you.

6. Set a goal for the event. How many people do you want to meet?
Who do you want to meet? How many referrals or introductions do
you want to make?

Be realistic about your goals. If this is your first time attending
a particular lunch event, for example, a goal of coming away with
5 cards may be more realistic than 20. If you’re attending a trade
show in your biggest target market with 5000 attendees, perhaps
200 cards is reasonable.

Write your goals down, and leave them in the office so you can
check back on how you did after the event. Having these goals established
before you attend the event will also ensure that you’re using your
time productively, help you decide whether the event is a profitable
one for you – and help you determine whether to attend it regularly.

7. Finally, be prepared to answer the most popular networking question
of all: "So, what do you do?" Although you might
think telling a prospect that you’re a computer/financial/hotel/printing
sales person is enough, those people who don’t work in your
industry might not understand what you mean. When they don’t
understand, they’re less likely to say those four magic words: "Interesting,
tell me more."

To beef up your description, try tossing in some interesting facts
about what you do or how you help people. Give them a "for
example" of a relevant, real life story. Keep it short, because
the idea is to get them talking by asking your questions, not answering
theirs. In fact, most smart sales people prepare and rehearse the
answer to the "what do you do" question in advance so
that they’ll be able to transition smoothly into a conversation
where both parties are engaged.

Join us next month for ideas on how to maximize your networking during
the event itself!