Purposeful networking: a stack of business cards is not a sales strategy
In the age of relationship marketing, we can’t just passively engage in face-to-face networking opportunities. Presence has power and commitment is the fuel. Individual approaches to networking vary, but the successful among us plan strategically to optimize sales value and customer loyalty.
According to a recent survey conducted by the International Association for Business Communications, Millennials (individuals born between the year 1980 and the year 2000) frequently use electronic communications. However, they are just as comfortable in face-to-face situations, and the preferred method for Baby Boomers remains face-to-face. Face-to-face networking is our first opportunity to become memorable and relevant. Regardless of location, business owners, job seekers, or community builders should treat networking activity as just another part of high-priority work assignments; carefully planned, goal-oriented, and strategically designed with detailed action steps.
Like a job search, we network for the opportunity to work with someone. Consequently, we must prepare with the same diligence and serious intention to cultivate the greatest benefit. If you want the job, the client, the opportunity, get ready to earn the relationship!
Where do we network?
Everywhere! We can choose to interact with people every time we leave our office or our home. We choose.” Interaction with others is a choice. Until we make a decisive effort to begin or develop a relationship with another person, we have not begun networking. There are countless possibilities, wherever there are people! Let’s focus, however, on the proverbial networking event; an occasion designed specifically to give people the opportunity to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships. Formal networking events are social venues that occur before, during, and after a business conference or training event , sponsored by community agencies like the Chamber of Commerce, trade associations or clubs, or job fairs Research tells us that most of our human communication is nonverbal In fact, up to 90 percent of face-to-face communication is delivered nonverbally Networking events provide excellent opportunities to go where you can best influence others using all of their participation tools, their words and actions.
Value is the engine of networking
Mutually beneficial relationships arise from the perceived value of their members. Like our image in a mirror, value is reflected. If there is no apparent need (or desire) for a thing, then the thing will have no value, or the investment/cost will seem unnecessary. According to Julie Schwartz, marketing strategist at ITSMA (IT Services Marketing Association), there are three fundamental types of value propositions for the stages of the buying process:
Segment-based – the epiphany or awareness stage when people are inspired to learn more,
Role-Based: The stage of interest in which deeper levels of understanding occur, including needs, wants, motivations, expectations, goals, fears, abilities, and biases, and
Customer Specific: Designed to move people from interest to trust or buying mode. Particular needs and a deeper understanding of the client occur, such as; knowledge of educational background, personal activities, association memberships, business objectives and how they are measured, the definition of customer success, and of course customer pain points.
In the networking process, keep in mind that we are working to meet as many people as possible in a fleeting amount of time. The focus for networking is certainly at the segment-based value proposition, epiphany, awareness, and inspiration stage. You will meet and interact to learn more about the people you interact with and to establish a foundation of engagement. The effective framing (or value) statement establishes its importance during network communication. Keep in mind that the fundamental task in preparing for the networking process is the statement of values. In other words, what is the value of you and/or your business to others?
Strategically plan Networking events
Planning networking events includes some personal and professional preparation. Too often, when they are left with chance meetings, the meaningful encounters can slip away. Set goals around networking activities. Networking events are opportunities to show others who you are, what sets you apart from others. So, how your new relationship with them differs from the competition.
Plan your participation in a networking event like you would a business meeting, team-building activity, or prospecting appointment. This event may be your first and possibly only chance to impress someone. Demarais and White, authors of First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You, recommend that we evaluate our social gifts, recognizing and appreciating our unique combination of basic social benefits. For example, be serious and provide examples for questions such as “Do I make others feel appreciated?”, “Do I smile and lean into others when I listen to them?”, “Do I lift others’ moods?” [Demarais, A. and White, V., (2004)]
Of course, as with all planning, set a goal for the event. Do you plan to meet specific people? How many people do you plan to meet? Please note that your goal for the event is NOT to make a sale. Remember the segment-based value proposition? One goal of this event is to create an opportunity for to be loved, to start relationships. The goal of meeting people is to get permission to move on to the next step and to create an opportunity to meet again. Networking events are loaded with potential to fill your calendar through the “I really enjoyed this conversation, let’s get together again” gateway.
Your framing statement
Framing, or creating your value statement, is a primary step in network planning. Conversations at networking events are usually fast-paced and open to interruptions. Prepare a framing statement that comes naturally and expresses your passion for what you do. When we are excited about our business or career, we sometimes use words and phrases that are too expressive of our processes or attributes. Develop a succinct statement, no longer than 20 seconds, to describe what you do and how it has value. Keep in mind that emotion is contagious, so develop an energizing statement, a message that fully expresses your enthusiasm.
Prepare for the event
To be relevant is to be aware. Create a pattern in your daily activities that keeps you inspired and interested in community and world events/happenings, new trends, and understanding the workings of various occupations. Familiarize yourself with the businesses and industries in the network community. Learn about the nature of the various areas of work, what kinds of roles people play in your job, any information that might be relevant to your framing statement. You can’t link your value to someone else’s life or work unless you know what they do and who they are.
Be aware of logistics
If you are one of those people who find themselves dreading such events, give yourself a “job.” Arrive early with a properly attached name tag (on lapel or right shoulder) and business cards (easy access pocket). Please take a few minutes to carefully read the list of tags and identify anyone you want to meet. Take a look at the event room and familiarize yourself with the layout of the activities. Greet people as they arrive and help make them feel welcome and comfortable. In other words, you “own” the room. It is very important to arrive early to avoid entry after people have started to gather. When greeting people, make eye contact and focus to remember their name. Repeat the name frequently and offer a firm handshake at first.
be the naive listener
Ask friendly, simple, open-ended questions that force people to talk about themselves. Focus on the person you are with at any given time. Do not look around the room or be easily distracted. In fact, show deep respect in conversation as you listen carefully and “watch” their words. Remember, you are at the event to learn about each other. Be the intentional and naive listener. In other words, as you focus on your words, mentally link your value statement to the person’s business or concerns. Train yourself to remember significant details. Take notes while taking corona breaks while the information is fresh. Identify areas of mutual interest and ask permission to follow up. You may need to improve your listening skills to regularly update your framing statement. understand that you will No be relevant if its value does No reflect the changing needs of your network. Naive listening helps you receive and process the wants and needs of others.
Value your network with routine maintenance
Develop a system for recording and maintaining your contacts. Within one day after the event, process your notes and business cards in an electronic filing system for easy return calls and mailing. Most email providers, such as MSOutlook, Gmail, or Yahoo, include note-taking areas in the interface. Use the organizational tools for quick reference. Write down the relevant facts and record the details in your contact database. Personal notes can provide a great starting point in your next conversation with that person. Your reference to a previous conversation validates that they are memorable!
As you start your networking regiment, integrate methods to nurture your base with regular newsletters, social networking tools like Facebook, Linked, Blogs, Twitter, or other preferred media. If you’re diligent about staying relevant with your contacts, keep their interests in mind. As you search the internet for information related to topics that may be of interest to others, please reach out with an email and a link for them to view. Remember: stay away from political or cultural topics. And please don’t spam! Messages received with long lists of other people’s email addresses in the “Forward To” block are insulting and do not flatter your contact. It’s hard to feel special on a forwarding list.
Its well-maintained network supports follow-up with contacts. Establish your integrity and value by being the first to ask questions, providing helpful resources, and being the first to say “thank you”!
A stack of business cards is not a sales strategy, but don’t leave them behind!
Effective networking is a skill. Strategic planning for the process can pay off in remarkable ways. How can you achieve the rich benefits of face-to-face networking? Be intentional! Identify the events that can be most beneficial. Develop and practice your framing/value statement. Recognize and appreciate that the value of your network is what you learn from others through naive listening. And when he asks, give your new friend your business card.