Imagine yourself walking into a building
A door inside slowly opens and you find yourself in a large room containing over 100 people without a recognizable face in sight. You walk up to a table and select your name tag. Music is lightly playing in the background. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres are being served. People are divided into small groups talking and interacting. Many folks seem to know one another as they are quite comfortable in this setting. You are there representing your company or organization and the word comfortable doesn’t describe how you are feeling right now. You feel nervous. You have a stack of business cards in your pocket and are anxious to sell your product or services. You need time with a potential decision maker to explain your company and its product. How do you find them? How do you “break the ice”? What do you say when you have their attention? This is not a situation most Low B’s enjoy. It requires the ability to connect quickly with someone who may be a total stranger.
Here are three professional networking tips:
1) Ask Questions
It is not easy for most folks to sashay up to someone they don’t know and take over the conversation. That’s why you should not even try to do that. Instead, you should begin your discussion by talking about the person who is the most interesting individual in the room to the person to whom you are speaking. Talk about them. Don’t jump right into your elevator pitch. It is more time efficient and more socially acceptable to name yourself and your company and then starting directing questions to them. Who are they? What does their company do? What problems does their product or service solve? Why are they attending the networking event? Is their company growing? Do they know a client of yours? What challenges are they facing in their company or industry? That’s simple to do and easy to remember. And it allows your prospect to talk about their favorite subject: themselves. Along the way, you will determine if you are speaking to the right person and what you should be focusing on when it is your turn to talk (or if you should forego a pitch). Most people will eventually repay the favor and start posing similar questions to you once they feel uncomfortable talking any more about themselves. If they don’t, just say: “I’m sorry; I seem to be asking all the questions without telling you anything about me and my company, here is what I do….”. Then, transition into your story.
2) Tell Your Story
When speaking about your company or organization go straight to the “Why.” It is easier to explain why a client engages your company to solve a specific problem than going into the remaining questions that round out a journalism article (Who, What, When, Where and How). And it is easier yet to relate that in the form of a story. People understand and remember stories. It has been the dominant form of human communication over the many years of our existence. A single example can explain why your company would be beneficial to a prospective client. For example, you might say:
“We have a 100 employee client that had to hire 80 new people a year due to constant employee turnover. They had to fill that many open positions every year due to poor employee candidate selection and an inability to motivate, manage and engage their existing employees. After just one year of using AcuMax, their turnover dropped from 80 employees to 15 employees a year. AcuMax literally saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars in turnover and training costs and that allows management to focus on getting new business and turning out a better product. Now, they know how their employees are wired and they can solve the mystery of people.”
Then ask them to tell you a story of any similar instance or experience they might have had. Have you ever hired or promoted the “perfect” employee only to find out the hard way that they weren’t so perfect after all? Ask how bad or how good the experience turned out for them. Wouldn’t they like to avoid that or have that happen again every time? Listen (Low B’s tend to be good listeners) and appropriately respond to what they are saying, repeat a portion of what they have said, or by nodding, smiling or widening your eyes to connect with what they are saying. Then, transition into a networking wrap-up.
3) Wrapping It Up
The wrap-up at this point could be anything from a sales closing pitch (very rare) to a walk away to approach other prospects. If this is a good prospect – please do not just exchange business cards. Ask if you can call, email or have an appointment to carry on the conversation. Ask if they would be interested in learning more about whatever product or service you provide or if they know of someone in another company who may be interested in what you do. Ask if there is anyone else in their organization that you should speak to instead. If that person is present, ask for an introduction. If appropriate, commit that you will pass along prospects to them as well — that is the implied contract of networking. You can then politely state that you will move on so as to allow them (and you) to network with other individuals at the event.
Networking is much easier when you approach it from a questions first and information later perspective!