Hello, My Name Is…
If attaching a name tag to your lapel in preparation for your next networking function makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Especially if you’re more introverted by nature, the thought of spending a couple hours around people you don’t know – but probably should know – can be intimidating.
But if you’re trying to grow your company, you need to meet prospects. And an efficient way to meet prospects is to attend events where lots of prospects can be found. This can mean an industry-specific conference or trade show, where your company would be a logical supplier to many attendees, or a more general chamber of commerce or economic development association get-together, with a more diverse crowd.
So don’t let a shy-streak or worries about things like, what do I say?, get in the way of what could be a great opportunity.
Here are some tips for making networking events not just bearable, but productive, too.
Remember, You’re All in the Same Boat
Sorry to sound a bit negative, but you know what? Nobody really likes these things. Which is not to say that they necessarily hate them, but that they might rather be doing something else.
The lesson: Don’t worry about feeling a little bit out of place or awkward. In fact, use that to your advantage. “Cowboy-up” and introduce yourself. Look for loners hovering near the hors d’oeuvre table and say hi.
And while there’s an art to moving a conversation around to what your firm might be able to do for a prospect (more on that in a minute), you can take some comfort in knowing that everyone there is hoping to promote themselves and their companies to one degree or another. So don’t feel strange about pitching…you’re all in the same boat.
A sure fire way to break some ice, garner some attention, and meet anyone you’d like at a networking function is to volunteer to help out.
Soccer moms, hockey dads, regular church-goers, and political precinct captains have known about the power of volunteering for a long time. You can make it work for you on behalf of your company.
The great thing is, you don’t necessarily have to be the keynote speaker. (Although that’s something to eventually aspire.) Even if you’re just taking tickets, passing out name tags (a much underrated great gig, for obvious reasons), helping at the bar, or setting up tables, your official capacity puts you in a position that lets you approach anyone. “Hi, I’m Bill. I worked on the silent auction committee. Did you see anything good?” Or even just, “I’m Sarah. I helped with the set-up this afternoon. Did you find your table okay?”
Besides making it easier for you to chat-up attendees, your volunteer efforts will be remembered by others in the organization, and you never know where that might lead.
Preparation for these events takes two forms:
1.Being able to talk concisely about what you can do. That’s kind of obvious, but think about the type of individual likely to attend (engineers, purchasing agents, accountants, etc.) and consider what they might find interesting.
If you need some pointers, check out MP Star’s post on How’s Your Elevator Pitch?
2. Knowing who’s there. These groups will often provide you with the list of pre-registered attendees just for asking. Check for company affiliations first, and find out beforehand if anyone from your company has already made contact.
You can use the event to follow-up on previous interactions, or – if there’s never been an introduction – to introduce your business.
Tip: When talking about what you do, don’t assume your new contact wants to hear about it….ask for permission. Example: “Joe, our company has had a lot of success helping companies with their accounts receivables problems. Would you want to hear more at some point?”
Concentrate on Quality
No one bats a thousand.
You don’t need to talk to everyone and convert them all to prospects. If you leave a networking event having talked to a dozen people and leave with one or two quality leads or contacts, you’ve succeeded. Especially when you consider that you didn’t spend hours on the phone, or blow your marketing budget to do it.
If you go three for ten in baseball, you end up in Cooperstown. Going two for twenty at a networking event – assuming they’re worthwhile contacts – is almost as impressive.
But put the odds in your favor by swinging only at good pitches (no more baseball analogies after this, we promise), and spending your efforts on people who might matter. (See the previous remarks on preparation and knowing who’s there.)
Of course, you will. But do it right.
Send an email or make a call within 48 hours of the event. If appropriate, invite the prospect to your office, plant, or warehouse. At the very least, send over some pertinent information on whatever business matters you talked about.
Tip: You, and you alone, do the initial follow up. No matter what your role in the organization, never have “my salesperson,” “my service tech,” or “my assistant” make the next contact. Hand off later, if appropriate, but it’s imperative that you introduce your prospect to your organization.
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