If you are looking for a quick fix to increasing your sales funnel, then networking is not for you. When most people think of networking, they automatically think the focus is to go and “sell” themselves and their business. If this is you, then you need to rethink.
The goal of networking is to build trusting and long lasting relationships which over time will definitely will increase sales for your business, but probably not in the way you first thought. If you watch someone at their first networking event, they are usually the person who has a stack full of business cards, marketing materials, and maybe their product if they can carry it. They will also be the one up in your face telling you what they do and thinking if you need their product or service – surely you will call them because now they have given you all of their materials. Little do they know, those materials will find their way to the nearest trash can that is passed on the way out.
In many cases, the individuals that you meet at a networking event will not end up being your direct customer, but will end up adding more value than any acquisition of a single customer. The best people to meet at a networking event are those that will end up providing referrals to your business. They will do so because they have built a trusting relationship with you so they in turn trust that you will provide quality products and services to those they refer to your business. This type of sale is worth its weight in gold because it is qualified and comes with an instant stamp of approval from the referring party.
Another type of valuable networking relationship is a partnership that you forge with those that provide complimentary products and services. This type of relationship is a win/win for both companies because overtime business will go back and forth between the businesses.
This is not to say you will not obtain any direct customers from networking, but if this is the reason you joined and you are expecting a quick turnaround, then you should definitely look for another way to generate leads. If this was the primary goal, then it would most likely not be a cost effective one. Once you sell to someone, unless you have a product or service that has a recurring revenue model – this is a one-time sale most likely and then what? If you are spending a few hundred dollars a year to belong to a group, what you really want is to cast the widest net and this is through referral business, as it is repeat and ongoing business.
I have been networking steadily for the last year and I find now this is really starting to pay off. I belong to a Board of Trade and another Area Networking Group. I am joining a Local Networking Group in my community and try different types of networking events on a regular basis. You CAN increase your sales through networking – but is not something to try for the impatient.
If you are new to networking or are considering networking, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Attending one event at a networking group will not get you to your goal. You will need to continue attending over a period of time to really get to know the right people.
Research the networking group before you go to make sure that people that attend that group are those that include your target market or those that sell or come in contact with your target market. If you sell to businesses and the group is full of real estate agents and financial planners, this is probably not the right group for you.
Know how to define your target customer and do not say everyone because you know that just is not true. Imagine in your mind if you could define the best customer target for your product or service what would that perfect customer look like. Are they a certain type of company, size of company, a specific age group, or are they from a certain demographic region?
Before going to an event, be able to articulate what your business does, who is your ideal customer, and what makes you unique or stand out from others that are in a similar business. This could be as simple as providing superb customer service. You should be able to say this in 30 seconds.
Take business cards with you and make sure that your business card contains at minimum the following information:
Logo and Tagline (if exists)
Address (if a customer comes to your location)
Description / Bullet Points About Business – if not obvious by company name
Do not take and hand out marketing materials at a networking event unless there is a table set aside for this purpose. Remember, people are not there to buy. If someone wants to know more, then follow-up and email them additional information. This is a good way to stay connected.
Do not give your business card to anyone that has not asked for it, otherwise you will just go into their global spam email database. Collecting business cards which are not of use is not the purpose of networking.
When you ask for a card, be sure to write on the card why this contact is important. If you receive a card, follow-up with an email to the person you met and if worthwhile, schedule a time to meet outside of the group.
Do not get discouraged. It will take sometimes up to a year to see the reward of networking, but is one of the best ways to get quality leads and build lasting relationships.
Get involved and participate in committees and smaller venues within a networking group, as this will help shorten the cycle. It is easier to get to know smaller groups of people that you work with and see on a more regular basis.
Provide discounts to those in your networking group, as this is a good way to help get you noticed.
If you provide services that can be utilized by others, donate time to speak at events put on by your networking group. This helps build awareness and credibility.
Make sure that you have a website and marketing materials so that your network can point or send them more information on your company and products and services.