By Mark Perl
Most people believe that to be a good networker you have to be ‘a natural’ or you have to be ‘born with it’. I’m assuming the ‘it’ people refer to is a high level of interpersonal skills or what behaviourists refer to as EQ; the Emotional Quotient. It is said to be a measure of a person’s emotional intelligence - affecting a person’s abilities to perform under pressure, and to generally cope with personal challenges, like networking, where people are under stress, in strange environments and when amongst strangers. People believe networking abilities are simply a matter of personality, which cannot be measured or modified and that people either lack or possess these skills.
Frankly, I disagree. I believe that self-awareness, innovative thinking and the implementation of personal performance strategies will doubtless optimise an individual’s achievements, outcomes and success. I believe you can learn to think, behave and communicate in a way that significantly enhances your chances to succeed in both business and life. A belief echoed by many, including John D Rockerfeller (http://bit.ly/CtdtZ), who, in the heyday of his activity said “the ability to deal with people is a purchasable commodity, as coffee or sugar..[...]and I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun”
This article is for those who believe networking skills can be learnt.
Most people are nervous when they go networking. If that’s you, it’s okay! You’re normal!
Despite the many definitions of, and opportunities to be derived through, networking, if it doesn’t culminate in bringing more money into your business, my advice is - don’t do it. Here’s a glimpse of how, by understanding the four questioning zones, you can ensure your opportunities to do new business will dramatically increase and I hope you’ll realise that with a little effort, forethought and preparation, your success as a business developer really can be unlimited.
A key networking skill to learn is that of asking questions. It is only by asking clear, concise and probing questions that you can engage, establish connectivity and find where pain, challenge and change exist within your prospect’s business. It is these things that, hopefully, your product or service can resolve, enabling your prospect’s business to get back onto an even keel and to be more effective and successful.
There are four questioning zones at networking events. It will pay you to consider each, individually, and to prepare your questions, long in advance. For those who just ask questions “on the hoof” they risk unnecessarily using up mental band-width, by having to think of what to say next, whilst their prospect is talking to them — if they’re thinking, they’re not listening. If they’re not listening, they probably won’t find out the information they need to be able to help their prospect and the potential new business opportunity just slips away from view, unnoticed.
Zone 1: What will you say to Break-the-Ice with someone you’ve never met before? You’ll only need three or four of this type of question, depending on what type of event you’re attending and, really, you’ll only need to use one. EG Where have you come from today?; How do you come to be associated to x, y, z company (the event hosts)?; What’s your link to this sector/event?... or, when all else fails, you can always fall back on the weather as your opener. Breaking-the-Ice is simply about the initial connection with a person, where you try to find something in common that leads on to further and comfortable discourse. You’ll nearly always have to ask a question or two, here, to get this conversation rolling. Are you ready to break-the-ice with a stranger? Or are you nervous and feeling under stress, before having to meet people, because you’re simply unprepared?
Zone 2: The Small-Talk. Most of the talk at an event is small- talk. For those who say they just like to ‘get straight to business’ or they ‘don’t do small-talk’, they’re missing a trick. You can’t do big business without the small talk. We all acknowledge that people buy people, so it pays to find out what they’re like, if you like them, if they’re like you, if they like the things you like and if you’d like to do business with them in the future. Have you taken 10 minutes to pre-prepare your questions on life, travel, interests, current affairs, sport, leisure, the economy, films, theatre, books or the most current news headlines before you’ve arrived? Or will you simply make the lazy, age-old excuse that you just dry up, or that you’re no good at small-talk or that you just run out of things to say...?
Zone 3: The Business Talk. What are the questions you’ll need to ask to qualify your prospect? What questions have you prepared, to be able understand about the size of their business, the market they serve, what they do, if business is good for them (without liquidity they can’t buy from you), what problems they’re experiencing, what changes are coming and where their business is going in the near future (the next 18 months or so)? Without answers to these questions, how do you expect find your opportunity to do business with them? Without preparing these questions, you’ll really just be engaging in idle chit chat. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that ‘idle chit chat’ isn’t likely to make your till ring. So — when you go networking, are you ready?
Zone 4: The Current Supplier Questions. To confidently move into Zone 4, you’ll need to be perceptive. Your timing, here, will be important. Only you will know if your prospect is ready for you to move into Zone 4. Only you will know if they’ll be receptive to your questioning. How well are you getting-on with your prospect? Do you feel the seeds of a mutually beneficial relationship have been planted? Are they fully engaged with you? How forthcoming have they been in answering your questions? If you feel all your prior questions have been welcomed, then that’s the time you’ll move into the current supplier questioning.
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but irrespective of how good you are at what you do, how big you are, how long you’ve been going, or who your clients are... however much it may pain you to hear this, you’re probably not the only company providing these services in the marketplace. It is most likely that your prospect already has an existing supplier for your services. But, you’ll need to get your courage up to explore this area. Zone 3 was all about finding out where you can help. Zone 4 is where you’ll find out if there’s an opportunity for you to supply.
You’ll need to know a raft of things to arm your next move. Who are your prospect’s existing suppliers for your services? How long they’ve been with them? Exactly what services does your competition provide to them? What made them choose them in the first place? Are they happy with their services? Where are considered areas for improvement? Are they any good? ...and, if you’re really on the ball, ‘the money shot’....what would have to happen for your prospect to change suppliers?
Now you’re aware of the four questioning zones it remains for me simply to explain why you need to pre-prepared for these zones, and the many other sections within the cycle of a networking event.
It’s because your time is limited. Have you ever thought about this?
If you work on the theory that most events are a maximum of three hours long, then how long do you truly believe you have to achieve your business development goals? Take off the first ten to fifteen minutes at the start of an event, as many will arrive late. Many will go almost immediately after the food or the speaker is finished — minus another twenty minutes. Take off your hosts opening words of welcome and their closing thank-you — minus another ten minutes. Deduct the speaker session — anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. What are you left with? That’s all the time you have to get what you came for! Are you ready?
So, my simple view? If your order books are bursting, if you don’t need any more business and if you’re confident that your networking activities are successfully bringing in all the money you want, that’s great. Keep doing what you’re doing. But, if, on realistic review of the new business you are bringing in from networking events, you’re not actually happy. If you’re just not able to find the opportunities to get tangible new business from almost every event you attend, then you have to change the input. It’s probably time to realise there is slightly more complexity linked to profitable networking than at first glance.
I suggest you can only make it profitable if you are well prepared.
I’m hoping that being aware of the four questioning zones will begin your journey to helping you to be a more confident and effective networker.
Am I right?
Mark Perl is a trainer and speaker on Business Networking Skills. He is focused on helping individuals and businesses become more connected, about helping them to make the best use of face-to-face networking situations. He helps his clients define the best connection strategies to meet both their personal and corporate brand and business development objectives so they are then clear on what they need to do next, to instantly enhance how they connect to others with ease, and how connected they are to the right people.
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