So here we are in the age of digital where email, internet marketing, social media and Skype offer vehicles for personal relationship building … all from the comfort of your business, home office or Panera of your choice.
Does that mean that in-person contact takes a back seat or is no longer necessary? Maybe, but our take is that is only the case in a limited set of commercial circumstances.
Here are our exceptions as to when you may get away with electronic contact and avoid the shoe leather, gasoline and time required to engage one-on-one with customers, prospects and referral resources. You may successfully do so when your product or service offering:
- Is self-evident as to function and how to use. (Think toilet paper.)
- Does not require a manual. (tooth paste comes to mind; you will have others)
- Never requires an in-person answer to a question. (examples are few)
If you accept the above criteria, odds are that in your business, “person-to-person-in-person” still matters. So how do you expand your universe of prime contacts? Can you spell …
You will enhance your success both personally and professionally by “knowing and being known”. A new play on an old adage is, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you.”
An excellent way to expand your key contacts network is through face-to-face networking with a specific focus on developing quality, mutually-beneficial business relationships that will endure. Therefore it is a skill that requires a long-term strategy, not one that anticipates instant results. A good guiding principle is that networking is connecting with people, not collecting people. That means exercising patience and persistence in your networking efforts.
There are two ways to network: do-it-yourself (DIY) or pay-to-play dues paying groups (P2P). In this article, we’ll visit both paths with an eye to delivering comparable facts for you to decide the route most comfortable for your unique personality and networking preferences.
Goal: Regardless which avenue you choose, the objective is the same. You want to be top-of-mind with past customers, current customers, key prospects and referral partners. That means you are at the top of the list, when the question is asked, “Who do we know that does that kind of work?”
Guiding Principle: Invest your precious time only with events and groups consistent with your networking goals.
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Start by creating a contact list that is consistent with your networking objective. Start with your current circle of family, friends and acquaintances. You can start with an Excel spreadsheet, Outlook or another contact manager.
Include all pertinent contact information – name, title, company, website, office, email address and home, office and cell phone numbers. Then be diligent and update your list after every networking encounter whether it results in multiple contacts or a single introduction.
Alert: Don’t prejudge. Enter all contacts. Exclude no one, as you never know how a positive relationship may develop. One further thought. Everyone you meet may not be a valuable contact in pursuit of your networking goals, but may well be capable to introduce you to others who are.
Finally, identify those groups that will complement your efforts to reach out to those who will be key contacts and can support your networking purpose. For example, service groups are excellent sources to develop business contacts. It will require a commitment of your time and some money, but participating is a relatively easy and proven approach to networking.
Service groups are easily identified, i.e. Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc. Certainly, visiting several is a worthwhile introduction to the world of networking and a lesson in contributing to causes without expecting immediate personal reward.
Talk with others who you know that network and add their groups to your list. Often, participation will be based on an invitation from a member to be a guest at a meeting. So, keep your ears open and ask around to identify opportunities.
Visiting a variety of networking organizations will help you to identify those that best fit your profile, plus provide opportunities to practice and hone your networking skills. Be choosy about where and with whom you spend your time. “Test-drive” groups and check out the vibes … dynamic, vibrant, boring, controlled by a few, productive or more social, etc.
Here’s a Checklist-for-Success to make the most of your networking event. Caution: You are not there to sell … but rather to seek opportunities that promise reciprocal, synergistic relationships.
✔ Find out who will be at the event and target those most meaningful for you to meet.
✔ Invest in an attractive, easily read name tag with your name, logo and company name.
✔ Introduce yourself with confidence and eye contact.
✔ Circulate to meet as many folks as possible … especially those you identified as prime.
✔ Carry and distribute your business cards
✔ Develop and practice your “elevator speech” – a 30 second description of what you do for a living with an emphasis on how you bring solutions to pain points.
✔ Don’t sell! Relate!
✔ Initiate conversations … the easiest and best way is to ask the person about their work
✔ Listen, listen, listen … hear what’s being said and remember it
✔ Old saying, “If you don’t follow-up, you’ll foul up” – an email, handwritten note or small gift depending on the circumstances.
✔ Stay in touch … ideally with information that will be perceived as valuable to the person, e.g. industry news, a new development affecting her business, etc.
In this digital age your networking activities must include social media. Your choice should be consistent with the audiences you want to reach and that you will devote time to nurture. Certainly, if your business is B2B (business to business), a presence on LinkedIn is a must, as well as joining appropriate LinkedIn Groups. B2C (business to consumer) are likely to realize pay dirt through Facebook and Twitter. There are others and additions seem to crop up weekly. So be alert to the current social media landscape and participate appropriately.
In Central Virginia there are a number of networking groups that provide networking support, training, introductions and referrals to dues-paying members. All are similar in some respects, e.g. limits on number of members; attendance requirements; and structure of meeting agenda.
P2P groups are particularly valuable if you are new to networking. Your participation will help you to hone the skills listed in the above Checklist in a supportive setting with fellow members seeking the same goal as you … to become more proficient and successful in expanding your contacts to include prospects and strategic partners who can open doors for you.
Do be aware that some P2P group members find it somewhat costly and unduly disciplined to specific meeting time commitments plus pressures to refer business to fellow members. Visit several groups and determine whether the membership orientation is B2B or B2C … or some mix. Choose based on the one or more that fit your business networking objectives.
Long story short … be effective and efficient in investing your networking time. Networking is connecting with people, not collecting people. And above all recognize that instant results are seldom the norm. Networking is a process, not an event.