People are in one of two camps after attending a handful of networking events. They either sing their praises or they regard them as a complete waste of time, but there is more to networking than simply turning up at an event with a pocket full of business cards and some company literature. Approaching a networking event unaware of what you want to gain from the day will often mean leaving unsatisfied and the same is true if your company representatives are blinkered or completely sales orientated.
Targeting Improvement as a Priority
Sending your sales staff and only your sales staff to networking events is a mistake. You need to send decision makers who can speak on behalf of your company and who are credible. Placing people in suits and calling them executives does not make them executives. Sales are important and that is something nobody can deny, but making your business profitable is the number one target.
Increasing sales helps, but reducing costs can add as many percentage points to your mark up and you don't need extra staff or need to work at it. Having someone who knows your business, its running costs and where it can improve is as essential as nailing the next sale. So send a salesperson, but remember that the person is representing your business.
How to Stand Out
You will receive pitches from other companies, of that there is little doubt, but how do you make sure your representative speaks to the right people to boost your sales? Firstly, you need to target the right people from the start. The right people are those who organised the event. This is everyone from the main host through to the person taking names and handing out badges. Those people know who is who in the room and they can point you in the right direction and will send people your way if you can establish rapport early on.
Learn How to Talk
We all know how to talk, but only a few of us know how to communicate, especially in a contrived situation. I've had people say, "I'm not in your target market" after I've only been speaking for around a minute. That is extremely rude in a networking event and the person had no chance of me helping them out during the day because of that. Had the person said, "I don't think I can help directly, but tell me what your ideal customer is and I'll keep my ear on the ground for you", I would have happily done the same for them for the rest of the day and even beyond. That's what networking is all about.
The Ten Minute Rule
Walking into a buzzing room is hard especially when you are new to networking. Most people find it hard to strike up the first conversation and you usually find there are people who seem to be draw like the Earth's gravity and some float around the fringes and appear less confident. Warm up with a fringe networker if you are struggling to mingle and you will find they are often glad to have anyone approach them. After a few conversations, you should be in the swing of things and confident enough to ask any attendees about their businesses. Always start with a question about what the other person does because it puts everyone at ease when you show and interest in what they do, even if it's a feigned interest.
Write Things Down
Taking notes will help you distinguish one business card from another when you get back to the office, but it also tells other people you are interested in what they do and this is important because people appreciate those who take a genuine interest. Networking is hard work because it's a constant pitch and you are always thinking on your feet (often quite literally) so don't think for a second everything will sink in. Notes will stop the conversations running into one another in your head because if you have networked properly, you should have too many faces to match with cards and conversations.
Leave with a Goodbye
If someone or some business impressed you, always say goodbye to solidify your fledgling relationship. This is really important if you have talked about collaborating or doing business together. You should also email or call to say you enjoyed your encounter at the event even if you have not agreed or discussed how you can work together. This reminds people of your business and what you do and the more familiar your business becomes, the more recommendations and referrals you receive.
Published on behalf of Mr. Peter North. He has been helping businesses manage trade exhibitions and networking events for many years. He has worked with small and large enterprises during the time he has represented www.exhibe.com.