Ask yourself this question. Would you rather make a cold call or follow up with a qualified referral; that is, someone who has already expressed some level of interest in your product as a result of an endorsement from someone else?
Okay, so maybe this question can be classified as a rhetorical question. If you would rather build your business off referrals, is your sales funnel bursting with potential new business that you've generated through networking and by utilizing a referral program? If not, then you will certainly have the opportunity to make this a reality and experience it firsthand after implementing the following strategies.
What is that, you say? You don't feel comfortable going to a networking event, into a room filled with people you don't know, and then have to ask a complete stranger for new business? How about those special interest groups or lead groups where the intention is to help other people build their business by sharing referrals? I have news for you. Most people feel the same way. Chances are, you don't enjoy networking because you feel that you're alone, "out there" all on your own. Hey, it takes a lot of courage to fly solo and into an event where you don't know anyone. Yet, maybe there's a way for you to change your mindset around this.
To begin, lets take a moment to define what networking actually is (in the spirit of selling). Networking is the act of meeting new people, often in a social setting with the intention of interacting with them, exchanging ideas, and developing mutually rewarding relationships that would ultimately lead to creating new selling opportunities which would bring in additional business.
One of my clients, Cindy, was a stay-at-home mom looking for ways to generate some additional cash to help out her family with the monthly expenses. To do so, she found an outside sales position selling a line of self-care products. This position gave her the freedom and flexibility to create her own hours, while honoring the priority in her life, which was her family.
Cindy knew that in order for her to make this worthwhile, she needed to maximize the little time that she had to devote to her business. After speaking with the top reps in her company, Cindy quickly realized that the only way to leverage her prospecting time was if she put herself in front of as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. As such, she began to search for local networking groups, trade shows and business events that she could join or take part in.
Cindy called me one morning and shared her situation with me. Finally, she said, "Keith, I am so uncomfortable attending these functions with people I don't even know. And even if I did start talking with someone, I wouldn't know what to say or how to stimulate their interest in what I am selling without sounding pushy or overly aggressive."
I then shared several observations that she considered to be the treasure she needed to make networking a prospecting activity she could actually enjoy.
1. Bring a Wingman: Rather than flying solo at your next networking event, bring a friend, co-worker, or business associate along with you. This "security blanket" will boost your confidence as well as your comfort level and immediately removes the bulk of reluctance associated with attending a networking event by yourself.
2. You Are Not Alone: If you ask most people who attend networking events, they would tell you that there are certainly some feelings of apprehension and fear when it comes to meeting new people (if they were being honest). Rather than placing yourself in the class of people who you perceive to be the minority, instead, consider that you are amongst the majority of people who feel the same way you do.
3. Keep Your Intentions In Focus: If you expect to go to a networking function and walk out with a handful of business cards from people who want to buy from you, think again. To maximize your networking efforts, detach from the outcome of having to generate new business. Your only focus should be on having a good time, relaxing, and enjoying yourself as you meet new people and foster new relationships. If you do, the other stuff will take care of itself as a byproduct of how effectively you are managing this mindset.
4. Lighten Up! Who doesn't want to have fun? Lets face it. When you go to a networking event, there's often food, music, even a keynote speaker. They are supposed to be fun. Don't take yourself or these events so seriously. Besides, people rather do business with those who are fun to be around and extroverted, not the wallflower sitting in the corner. And if for some reason, you've forgotten how to have fun, you're not alone. However, if you want to learn how to have fun again, you may want to speak with a coach.
5. Make A Friend First, A Client Second: "Okay Keith," Cindy said. "So I go to a networking event and I begin talking with someone. What do I talk about? I never know what to talk about at these functions." I asked Cindy, "When you go out with your friends do you have trouble finding things to discuss?" Cindy replied with an absolute "No." When I asked her what some of the typical topics of conversation were, she said, "Family, work, kids, school, travel, weather, leisure, current events, hobbies, sports, shopping, and movies." I then asked her, "So, why would it be any different to discuss these things when meeting new people?" "Because they are strangers!" Cindy declared.
I then shared with her the one belief I had that made networking so much fun, "Strangers are simply friends that are waiting to be met." At one point, all of your friends were strangers too! So, when does a stranger become a friend? Aside from liking the person's initial disposition, it's when you have enough mutual interests. It's when you find that their life often parallels yours with the same challenges, joys, and experiences you are going through or have gone through. Most of all, it's when you realize that you enjoy being around them because they make you feel good. They enrich your life and add value to your existence. If this is true, then it really doesn't matter where or how you meet them. Just think about the friends you have now. Where did you meet them, at the "Friend Shop?" After all, it is often easier to develop a friendship than it is to develop a client. (Less pressure to perform or to generate a measurable result.)
6. Make It About The Other Person: Rely on the pull approach to networking rather than pushing for the result. To build off the concept I mentioned in number five, Cindy now has a bevy of topics to discuss with the lucky person who she begins to talk to at her next social event. However, instead of talking about yourself, talk about them. Often, when people are nervous they try to find a safe haven, a topic they are used to and comfortable discussing. So they wind up talking about themselves. Use this as a leverage point. Take the topics I mentioned earlier and craft some questions around them that you can ask another person to stimulate conversation and get them talking about themselves. Inevitably, they will eventually start asking you questions, especially as it relates to your career. Now, you've just created the opening to discuss what you do without even trying.
Finally, instead of asking yourself, "Why would that person want to talk to me?" change the question you are asking yourself to, "Why would I want to talk with them?" "How can I deliver value or assist them?" "What can I learn from them?" These questions shift your balance of power back to you so that you are at choice rather than being on the defensive or feel as if you have to come up with reasons as to why someone would want to talk to you. Now that you are in the mode of inquiry, this change in your mindset will stimulate some questions you can ask them as they relate to the topics I mentioned in number five.
After taking the time to adopt this new philosophy and approach, Cindy said that changing her thinking about networking helped tremendously. She developed a more positive outlook and feels comfortable striking up a conversation; making small talk even bigger.
Effective networking will expand your bandwidth and position you in front of more targeted prospects.
To maximize your networking efforts, remember, don't take yourself so seriously. You will be amazed what you attract when you detach from the outcome of having to generate new Time Management for business and just have fun.
Keith Rosen is the president of Profit Builders, LLC, (www.ProfitBuilders.com) a provider of leadership and sales coaching and corporate training. He is the author of Time Management for Sales Professionals, Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cold Calling. Inc. and Fast Company named him one of the five most influential executive coaches.
Contact www.CoachingSalespeople.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.