It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. We’ve all heard it before, and whilst many business leaders dismiss the value of “old-school” networking in today’s hyper-connected world, expanding and enhancing your personal networks has never been more crucial when seeking to achieve commercial growth.
Effective networking has moved beyond mingling in a stuffy room, awkwardly devouring a canapé with one hand whilst waiting for your next business deal to walk up and shake the other. Here’s my tips on how to make the most of professional networking in the 21st Century:
1. Always play the long game
You’ve met an interesting person at a networking event. Despite the fact you enjoyed their company and saw potential in their business, you see no immediate opportunities for working together. You may be tempted to throw their business card in the bin and move on to the next opportunity that presents a more immediate return. But don’t. Long-term networking is always the most effective as you can introduce your business in a “non-salesy” way. You never know when this person may need to call upon you (or when you may need to call upon them!). Drop them a note to say how much you enjoyed meeting them. Then keep your contacts warm by sending them relevant news articles every few months or regularly share their content on social media.
2. Quit the small talk
Whenever you meet someone new in a professional setting, the first question you will ask is “what do you do?”. Whilst that’s an important question to ask, it’s also boring and doesn’t engage your contact on a human level. Your second question should always seek to pique your contact emotionally. Ask open questions such as, “Did you always want to work in this sector?”, or, “Have you ever thought about working abroad?”. These types of questions scratch a little deeper and give your contacts an opportunity to talk about themselves. Your aim is for your contact to open up to you more than they would when answering the classic questions that everyone rolls out at corporate networking events. They’ll remember you for being engaging and inquisitive.
3. No sale has ever been closed at a networking event
So don’t even try. Laying on your sales pitch too thick at your first meeting is a huge turn-off. Instead, use the opportunity to introduce yourself and your business as you would to a friend down the pub. Whilst you’re in the room, your aim should be purely to connect on a personal level. You can then send through any sales/marketing materials during your follow-up communication. Always remember that nine times out of ten, customers buy the person not the product. So make sure you act like one, not a sales machine.
4. Avoid “me, me, me”
When you’re speaking to someone new, it’s always tempting to bring the conversation back to ground you know and feel comfortable talking about. But avoid the temptation to speak too much about yourself and your role. Some of the best and most fruitful exchanges at networking events are those where you don’t say a word. The idea is to be a fantastic listener and make the other person feel good about themselves. Whenever you’re asked a question by a contact, give a short answer and present an opportunity for them to reciprocate. Remember these wise words from Malcolm Forbes, "the art of conversation lies in listening."
5. Use digital tools to your advantage
Don’t let your conversation stop just because the networking event is over! Use social media to continue to conversation. Following up with a potential business lead via social media as opposed to email or phone is far less pushy and demonstrates that you’re not desperate to make the sale. By doing so, you’re also demonstrating to your contact that you are a savvy operator, adept at navigating the digital landscape. Remember though that context here is key. LinkedIn is great for this kind of move, so is Twitter, but exposing a potential business contact to your holiday snaps on Facebook and Instagram as a first impression is best avoided!
By Monika Juneja, Director of One Hit Consulting