Usually, more business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no business school courses are given on this subject. So, if you want to improve your selling power, it would behoove you to improve your networking skills.
It is good practice to prospect. In order to do this well, you need to seek out places where potential customers gather. We are surrounded by networking opportunities but often do not take advantage of them. To interest new prospects, you need to be willing to open friendly conversations and offer something that would be beneficial to them and their business.
Here are some tips for getting started:
1. Ask questions before meetings. The first few minutes of any local business group meeting is an excellent time to network. The atmosphere is casual and the conversation is light. This is when you can ask two or three neutral questions, such as where a person previously worked, what they like to do in their spare time or what brought them to this event. Another good opener is, “I’m curious, where are you originally from?” That is an easy, non-threatening way to find something you have in common which is a great way to open a conversation and even possibly begin a relationship.
2.Talk to fellow passengers. Practice networking while in transit. When you sit down, smile and say hello. Ask if your seatmate is heading to a meeting or heading home. Of course, you also should respect the person’s body language and personal space. If the person shifts away from you, that’s a sign he or she wants to be left alone. If they smile back, you may expect that they will be willing to chat with you. You never know who you might meet and what could come of that meeting, so make sure it is pleasant and beneficial for them.
3. Use a book as a prop. This is an anti-networking tip. When you network on planes, buses, and trains carry a book or an e-reader and have it visible. When you open up a conversation, this indicates that you have something else to do and won’t necessarily talk his or her ear off. In addition, if the person turns out to be boring, you can open your book and begin reading.
4. Network at conferences and trade shows. When you have a booth, make a point of catching people’s eyes when they approach. If the person is also an exhibitor, ask them questions such as how many shows does she or he typically attend in a year or what in particular does she or he like about this one. Monopolize the listening, not the speaking. Remember, you learn more listening to others than talking as you cannot listen and talk at the same time. If you are truly going to network well, you should listen more and talk less because you will learn more about the person, what interests them, what they are seeking for their business and what they might be looking for in general. Once you know that you will have a better chance of offering them something that you have that will be of interest or need for them.
5. Stalk, but nicely. If you are attending a conference or trade show, consider if there is someone specific you want to meet. Read speakers’ bios, try to discern who might be a good prospect for you by the conversations they are having or the sorts of people they are speaking with. If you wish to meet a specific person who you know is going to be there, you might want to make the connection a week or so in advance via e-mail or by phone. However, do not over commit yourself as you can easily run out of time and cancelling appointments at shows is not professional.
Again, listen very carefully to their needs and then sincerely seek to connect them with the contacts, information, or prospects they are looking for. You will find that the more you feed others, the more you will get fed because in the end, what goes around comes around.
Networking is the lifeblood for small business and needs to be done regularly. However, you need to have a system for follow up or you will be wasting your time and money. Be sure to follow up with anyone you meet who you think is going to be of benefit. Email them or call them soon after the event to set up a meeting to get to know them better. Always carry lots of business cards and have a system for how you file the ones you collect for future reference.