Do you have a collection of many business cards as a result of attending several networking events and have nothing to show for it? Do you know how many people have your business card on their rolodex of "go to" people? If you answered YES to the first question and NO to the second question then you must re-evaluate your entire system of networking and get it out of the "notworking" category.
As a small business, the everyday challenge is meeting the right people who will become your customer. In my opinion a profitable business relationship is generally based on trust. And, building that trust is more effectively done in person. Also, a genuine trust is built over a period of time and is rarely accomplished instantaneously. Let me give you a personal example:
When I attended my first convention as a marketing department representative my boss told me and my colleagues to do three things:
a. Meet as many people as possible
b. Get their business cards (the more the merrier)
c. Pass out the corporation's capability brochure to everyone .
After a full day of activities, I managed to gather just eight business cards while my colleagues each accumulated dozens of business cards. I got chided by my boss for the low number of business cards. To make a long story short I managed to successfully follow up on all eight of my leads and within a period of 90 days converted them into customers who remained loyal to my company during my 18 year tenure as a marketing executive. The time and effort I invested in those 8 people resulted in numerous referrals who also provided more referrals. It validated the old adage, "It's not who you know but who knows you!" and the most ancient of all marketing techniques: Word of mouth marketing! I sincerely believe that this is the true goal of any networking effort.
My colleagues had limited success. Because of sheer numbers involved it was difficult for them to invest in a proper follow-up on each of their leads and establish a relationship. Consequently the majority of those leads were forgotten or passed on to others to follow-up on.
So, how can we improve our business networking skills? In the article, 10 Tips for Successful Business Networking, Stephanie Spiesman wrote:
"Effective business networking is the linking together of individual who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another.
1. Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others.
2. Ask yourself what your goals are in participating in networking meetings so that you will pick groups that will help you get what you are looking for. Some meetings are based more on learning, making contacts, and/or volunteering rather than on strictly making business connections.
3. Visit as many groups as possible that spark your interest. Notice the tone and attitude of the group. Do the people sound supportive of one another? Does the leadership appear competent? Many groups will allow you to visit two times before joining.
4. Hold volunteer positions in organizations. This is a great way to stay visible and give back to groups that have helped you.
5. Ask open-ended questions in networking conversations. This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them. (Suggestion: Use this technique I wrote about in a previous article)
6. Become known as a powerful resource for others. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them.
7. Have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes your doing it special or different from others doing the same thing. In order to get referrals, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do that you can easily articulate to others.
8. Be able to articulate what you are looking for and how others may help you. Too often people in conversations ask, "How may I help you?" and no immediate answer comes to mind.
9. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.
10. Call those you meet who may benefit from what you do and vice versa. Express that you enjoyed meeting them, and ask if you could get together and share ideas."
In summary, business networking can only be successful when continuing relationships are established as a result of the networking event.