Networking is not sales.
What you do at a networking event is . . . network. Not sales.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of networking opportunities in your town. Meet-and-greets. Lunches. Parties. Gatherings. Open houses.
I love to meet people. In 2011 I was able to do some major traveling and hit some major events. I got to shake hands with at least a thousand people.
Part of meeting and greeting is talking about what you do. But believe me, it's the least interesting thing you can talk about! And, more importantly, it's the worst thing you can talk about.
There are exceptions. If you're at a nerd conference and you're talking to other nerds, then 100% business is fine. But even there, you need to know when to notch it down. At the after-party on the roof of the Rio, with free booze, great views, dancing, and music . . . don't ask me about which warranty programs we push with our servers.
Seriously. Do you like the band? Is the music too loud? Is this your first trip to Vegas? What kind of hot spots do you have in your home town? Isn't that a great outfit? I have a killer recipe for . . .
See? Talk about anything except work.
Reality Check One: You're Not Signing a Deal
When you go to a networking event, the goal is networking, not sales. No one is going to meet you and sign a deal at the buffet table. Really. So don't act as if they were.
Many people tolerate sales at these events. Some people move away as quickly as possible. Some will hold it against you for the rest of your life. Notice that two of these are negative and none of these is positive.
No one goes to a chamber mixer to find a new computer consultant.
So, please understand that everyone wants a 30 second intro, an exchange of cards, and then move on to something else. If you need help, Google "How To Make Small Talk."
Reality Check Two: Networking is About Meeting People
Your goal at the networking events is to meet people and make a positive impression. If you do that right, you can collect business cards and write notes on the back.
What kind of notes? That's easy as 1-2-3.
1) Where you met the person
2) An interesting topic you discussed
3) Follow-up idea
- Pet Peeve Side Note
- Take out your business card. Turn it over and write on the back. 1=Small Biz Mixer. 2=Has a newborn. 3=Send seminar invite.
- If you can't write this on the back of your card, neither can anyone else! If that's the case, order new business cards.
- If the back of your cards is glossy, throw them away and order new business cards.
- If the back of your card is covered with advertising or something else, throw them away and order new business cards.
The reason you want to talk about anything other than work is so that you can get to know the people you are meeting. 99.9% will not be looking for I.T. consulting right now. And even if they were, this is not the place for that discussion. See Reality Check One.
So, you want to make a good impression, get a business card, and add this person to your trickle marketing. Someday, they made need a new I.T. person . You want to be the person they met who seemed amazingly normal . . . and interested in them. If you're just another geek that only cares about computers, they have no reason to remember you.
In the best case scenario, you will meet some really interesting people and maybe even make friends.
I'm sorry to admit this, but I go to lots of networking events in Sacramento, CA . . . even though I have nothing to sell these people. I'm not doing sales for America's Tech Support. I won't turn down business, of course, but we've got a full time hob-knobber. So I'm not the sales person.
I go representing Great Little Book and Small Biz Thoughts, or Relax Focus Succeed. As a result, I'm never going to meet someone who will hire me to give a speech or buy an ad on my web site. But I still get to meet people! I still get the occasional free beer.
. . . And when I go to industry events and meet people who CAN do business with GLB, SBT, or RFS, then I'm all practiced up and able to network. I've exercised my networking muscle so I'm not at a loss for words or topics when I find myself on the roof of the Rio with an hors d'oeuvre in one hand and a drink in the other.
And on the roof of the Rio, I'm not selling. I don't even bring contracts with me. I dance. I chit-chat. I network. I collect business cards. I try to make a positive impression.
99.9% of the time, I just make new friends. Because most people don't need a speaker or writer or advertising. But everyone can use more friends.
Reality Check Three: You Still Need To Do Sales
The WORST thing to happen to the economy in the last five years is Social Media. Somehow, somewhere along the line, people came to believe that networking, horsing around, and bullshit will replace sales.
"Wow. He posted a cool video of a dancing frog. I think I'll hire him to take care of my computers." Not.
Bizarre. Strange. But somehow people have come to believe that networking replaces sales. I'm not kidding you when I say that this has played some role in delaying our recovery from the recession. Somehow, people think money will simply show up in their hands. Unbelievable.
Networking is part of marketing. Marketing is getting your image and brand out there. Marketing is promotion. Marketing is filling your funnel so you can do sales. Marketing is not sales.
Sales is when you actually ask someone for their money. No amount of marketing will do that. Marketing makes sales easier. Networking makes sales easier.
But networking is not sales.
. . . so you need to follow up on your leads. You need to collect those business cards. You need to write notes on the back. Then you need to follow up with an email or a letter.
"It was great to meet you the other night. I hope that newborn lets you get some sleep. . ." (and on to the pitch).
You met this person. You reminded them of your conversation. At the gathering, you made a good impression, so your mail/email actually gets opened. Now you need to begin the (sometimes long) process of getting them into your sales funnel.
Introduce your company. Introduce your products. Introduce the latest promotion. Ask for a meeting. Make a proposal. Sign a deal.
This process -- the sales process -- might take years. Why? Because, 99.9% of the time, 99.9% of the companies are not looking for what you have to sell. So you need to execute the sale funnel process. Do the work that leads to new sales.
Your job will be a LOT more difficult if you started out as the boring geek at the party who could only talk about gigabytes of blah blah.
If you're the associate or friend that someone met at a party awhile back, and they've come to know you, then life is easier. When a prospect knows you, likes you, and trusts you, everything is easier. But if all you can talk about is business, you make it harder on yourself.
Most of the time, it will be easier to make friends than clients. So be grateful that you have new friends. Enjoy the new relationship. And when they need a computer consultant, you'll be on the top of their list.