Networking events are the lifeblood of the business world. Any small business owner or entrepreneur has attended dozens of these events, but all too often, people don’t get enough value out of these events to justify the time. Think of how much time, effort and energy you spend on getting ready for the event, driving there, spending time at the event, talking to people…only to go home empty handed, with no new sales leads.
If you’re going to go to networking events, do it right. Use a smart strategy just like you would for any other sales and marketing activity. If you use some of these simple tips, you’ll start getting more sales leads from your next networking event:
- Make a plan. You wouldn’t just blindly buy advertising for your business, or spend money on direct mail, or hire a new employee, without having a plan in place for what you wanted to accomplish. Failing to plan is planning to fail, right? So why do so many people go to networking events without having a clear plan for “why” they’re doing it and “who” they want to meet? Make a short list of 5 companies, customers or types of customers that you’d most like to talk with while you’re at the networking event. Then focus in on this short list of prospects, and make the most of your time at the event.
- Work on your script. What are the three things you most want to tell people about yourself and your company? Beyond your usual elevator pitch, think about how you can tailor this short “script” to be as up to date and relevant as possible. What are some new developments at your company? What have you been working on lately? What are you most excited about? Your enthusiasm should shine through in the conversations you have with other people at the networking event.
- Ask good questions. Remember that a networking event is a two-way street. You’re not there just so you can talk to people about yourself and your company; you’re there to learn from others and hear about their concerns as well. So be sure to ask good open-ended questions of everyone you meet. For example: “What are you working on right now?” “What are some challenges you’re facing?” “How do people at your company feel about (some issue or trend facing your industry)?” Your goal in going to a networking event should not be to make sales, because chances are, you’re not going to close any deals right there in person. Instead, you need to start conversations that will potentially lead to sales. Show people that you care about their needs and that you are willing to help.
- Follow up. After every networking event, you have an opportunity to make an impact by following up with the people you’ve met. Take that stack of business cards from your new contacts and send them a personal handwritten thank-you note, reminding them of what you discussed, and offering to talk further about a specific challenge or “pain point” that they mentioned to you.
Networking events can be a useful way to meet new prospective customers, but you have to do it right. Go in with a plan. Focus on a few key prospects. Ask leading questions to go deeper into people’s concerns and draw out more information. And make sure to follow up with a thoughtful message that shows you understood their needs, and shows that you are willing to talk further in a way that can help them solve their problems.
The best way to get the most out of networking meetings is to remember that it’s not about “you,” it’s about “them.” Go to networking events with a spirit of helpfulness and generosity, and you’ll be likely to get much more out of them.
Gregg Schwartz is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry-founding lead generation companies specializing in major account B2B lead generation.