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% 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.
4. 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.
5. 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%
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!
6. 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
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
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?"
7. 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
Plus, make sure that you attend networking events armed with lots
of details about current events and recent news items. If you’re aware
of what’s going on in the community, you’ll have an easier time keeping
the conversation going as it shifts towards more personal topics,
and away from business speak. Take a quick glace at the local newspaper
in the morning, watch the news the night before or check out an on-line
Remember: a successful interaction occurs when your prospect leaves
the conversation feeling better about themselves then they did before
you started talking to them. To accomplish this, all you need to do
is be nice, and stay focused on them.
Join us next time for ideas on how to disengage professionally and
without hard feelings from a conversation – and what to do after the
event is over!