By far the most effective way of attracting valuable and qualified business prospects and getting access to key stakeholders today is through personal contact networking.
Therefore, today networking is not an option for professional advisers and executives, it is a professional requirement.
Why? Because in a world that is moving from old style command and control models of business to where collaboration is the key to success – one’s network of contacts, one’s ‘knowledge network’ – is a valuable asset.
It is increasingly recognised that the people who can leverage relationships are the ones who wield greater power in a world where information and access is critical.
Proactive networking can provide us with profile, position, credibility, market knowledge and the many other benefits of being able to work comfortably and consciously within a room full of other professionals, colleagues and potential clients.
However having to “work the room” can be an uncomfortable, fearful and even resentful feeling for many of us.
Like the negative stereotypical image of ‘the sales person’ we often associate ‘good networkers’ with brash, self-confident people, who can handle any rejection, muscle themselves in anywhere and take over a conversation to suit their own ends - people that are not nice to be around.
We would rather hug the wall, cradling our coffees or drinks until we have waited the allotted time and can mercifully escape from this room of people who all seem to know each other.
However professional networking is about strategy and fortunately everyone can learn the strategy.
The first thing is to understand that networking is not about “selling ourselves” or ‘pitching’ our company’s offerings and the second is to understand that it’s about asking permission.Networking is not about us, it’s always about the other person and a good networker will spend time asking questions and actively listening to what the other person has to say.
Not only that - but they will have reached this stage by having first gotten the person’s permission to talk with them.
So what are the steps that get us speaking with not just anyone but the right person, the perfect prospect for my business or stakeholder in my career?
1. Choose the Correct Event:
By this I mean select the event that is most appropriate to the profile of our ideal prospects or contacts.
Let me ask a question - where is the best place to meet other professionals, executives or prospects?
Answer…at their own conferences or events. With this basic understanding we can start to define the networking events we attend based on profiling or nicheing our clients or contacts.
By actively profiling our existing clients and contacts and dividing them into categories, we can start to identify which kind of contact can provide us with the most business or professional influence.
Then it’s a simple matter of identifying their professional associations, their suppliers associations, their technical conferences – even social events – in fact anywhere they are likely to gather for reasons other than being ‘sold to’ by us.
For example, I was working with a well-known international accounting firm recently and one partner, using this profiling exercise, discovered 26 new events where her ideal prospect profiles met. That’s 26 new opportunities where she and her team could access their prospects and renew existing client relationships.
However if we really want to excel at networking and establish as eclectic a network as possible my credo is simple “wherever two or more are gathered together…there also shall I be”.
So, accept invitations to all events – plan them like a meeting and use them as tools to expand your contacts and influence.
Think about invitations as ‘door openers’ where someone else has done all the work to get us in the room with our exact type of client. With everyone being a potential decision maker or referrer of business or a door to key stakeholders.
2. Target the People We Wish to See:
The more specific we are with networking the more successful we can be.
Decide how many people we wish to meet (it’s often best to go with a target of at least three new contacts per event). We can even plan to meet specific people who we know are at the event because of their value to us.
Ideally get a delegate list in advance from the event organiser - or get the attendee list when you get there.
Ideally with the delegate list secured before we attend the event we can target specific contacts – and research them first on the Internet or on LinkedIn – which provides us with a photo and something of their background.
This can also help identify if we have any common connections or links who might provide an introduction.
…and it’s not stalking ...it’s research!
3. Learn the Psychology of Networking
Conferences, seminars and events aren’t just a morass of people. Next time we attend an event we should take time to study the room before we launch ourselves into the fray.
We’ll then see that people arrange themselves in three distinct ways.
- The Individual
- The Open Group and
- The Closed Group.
They’re wondering if they’ll ever meet someone and how to go about it. These are a prime source of contacts – they really want to connect with someone. Anyone who says ‘hello’ to them will be welcomed with open arms.
Remember that people come to networking events to network!
To be accepted is the highest of human values. We are herd animals. So if we offer a chance to connect to the Individual then he or she is very likely to grasp it with open arms.
2. The Open Group is a collection of individuals who don’t really know each other - so the group is arranged in such a way that there is always a space for another person to join at any time. This is our space; all we have to know is the secret of the introduction.
The best kind of Open Group to join is a mixed-gender group, especially if we can make up the numbers. This is an opportunity to get many different contacts at one go.
Clever networkers also know that by joining an Open Group they can close the group to others until such time as they have “worked” the group and then they simply open the group again and disengage.
3. Lastly the Closed Group. This group is best avoided because they know each other, they are in deep conversation and are not ‘open for business’. They don’t want anybody else joining.
4. Making the Approach
So what is the magic formula that gets us ‘invited in’ to speak to all these people? Simple courtesy and permission.
On making the approach to an Individual or an Open Group, we first make eye contact and smile!
It’s important to smile because a smile is a clear message to the other person’s unconscious mind that we are harmless and therefore not a threat – as we humans cannot bite with our upper teeth alone, when the upper teeth are exposed we are communicating safety to the other person…
Then we ask ...’Hi would you mind if I joined you’ or ‘May I join you?’... wait for a response (which will be positive), then extend our hand to shake hands (another means by which humans install emotions) and join the person/group.
The key to engaging with anyone at an event is simply to request permission.
Ask – and you shall receive!
I hope you find this short article of value to some of the challenges most people have with networking.
If you want to find out more about how to use professional networking as a powerful tool to win clients and infuence colleagues then visit http://www.SeanWeafer.com