Networking is often a key part of the marketing mix for SMEs, so its important that it is fully integrated into a joined-up promotional approach. It is very easy to think of it as a process in isolation rather than a part of a wider strategy.
With this in mind, here are my top tips for joined-up networking:
1. Commit to relevant groups, and go regularly
Anyone who reads our blog will know that we believe marketing is a process, not an event. This is particularly true of networking. One networking group uses the phrase:
'Meet - Like - Know - Trust'
This is how good networking works – and you cannot expect to work through this process with someone in one conversation
2.Networking is not a lifetime commitment
Business networking is about business development. I have met some great people while networking but it is important not to forget why you are there. If, after 2 or 3 meetings with the same group you just aren’t finding the sort of people your business is looking for maybe this is not the best environment for your needs.
Do remember that networking is not simply a way for you to target new customers. Great suppliers can be found on the networking circuit and a good business is a marriage of supply and demand.
Be realistic about the business value of people you are meeting if not, find a different group
3.Keep it fresh
You are likely to quickly find that a particular network group continues to attract the same people. Entering a room and seeing familiar faces is always comforting but if you get to the point where you know everyone and the business processes have plateaued, maybe you should focus your networking elsewhere – but don’t forget these contacts! See 5 below.
That said, remember, networking meetings are great forum for building relationships as well as finding new ones, so if you have contacts who don’t attend, inviting them to go along could be a good way to strengthen & build on a contact. New blood will also help to keep groups fresh & interesting.
4. Networking is a two way street
Yes, I know your business is important – but so is everyone else’s! Are people really going to Meet-Like-Know-Trust you if you are just pushing the hard-sell? I think not. Yes you need to get your key messages over but you should also give your co-networker chance to do the same. You never know, you might learn something interesting that can help your business and in any event, a bit of mutual respect is a great platform for developing a business relationship.
There is an old sales training cliche “Remember – you have two ears and one mouth”. It is good to remember this when networking too. Listening to others rather than simply telling people your story is a great way to build trust.
5. Quality ahead of quantity
If there is one networking style that winds me up, it is the “Hit and Run” networker – Say hello to as many people as possible, tell them what you do, swap cards then move on – We have all met them! Can you honestly say you like their approach to you? Perhaps not.
A classic example occurred recently; I was having an interesting conversation with a co-networker when a third person approached us and stated:
“I don’t mean to interrupt but…”
Actually, you do! The interloper then proceeded to ignore that we two had been in conversation and started to spout about their ‘unique approach to recruitment’
I can’t remember their name, only their interruption. The card they thrust into my hand went into the bin.
Having 2 or 3 good conversations is better than collecting lots of business cards.
This means it will take you a few visits to get to meet most of the group, but you will have the chance to find something out about them, and tell them something about you and your business in a considered, professional and respectful way, is this really a bad thing? It is certainly what the sophisticated networker does!
6. Networking doesn’t finish when you walk out of the door.
This is the key to integrating networking into your wider Marketing, as the networking doesn’t finish when you walk out of the door.
OK, you are having good conversations and establishing that some of the contacts you make could be good business opportunities. But then what? It is rare that there is an immediate sales opportunity so how do you make sure these prospects don’t ‘slip through the net‘?
There are some fantastic tools for building relationships on-line too, but those started off-line are always going to be stronger, so feeding contacts made at networking events into a system to keep in touch on-line using like LinkedIn (an obvious and perfect online partner to networking), twitter or email ensures that its just not when you are in the room that people hear your name.
7. Play the long game!
I really believe that good B2B selling is a more subtle art than it used to be. The days of the ‘foot in the door – never take no for an answer’ are gone. Gentle persuasion is more the name of the game. Most people don’t appreciate having their arm twisted up their back but if you just sit back and wait for something to happen, you could be waiting a long time.
People buy from those they trust, and building trust takes time. Don’t try to force your business relationships – allow things to develop steadily but stay focused on your business objectives.
I have numerous examples where I have developed excellent, long term customers taking months (or even years!) to get to the first sale while trying to force a sale too quickly often closes the opportunity for good. Being pushy doesn’t help!
Joined-up networking – In summary:
- Be Respectful & Professional
- Have a process – and use it
- Focus on long rather than short term objectives
- Remember to link your “in the room” networking with online tools like LinkedIn & email
- Be ready to cut your losses and move on if it is not working for you.