Business development is leveraging your network connection to bring you new opportunities. And it means turning those connections into relationships. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Don’t let that fool you, though. Because it involves relationship building, it can be a deceptively complex process.
The aim of marketing is to make selling unnecessary.
Think about it. How many people do you know? How many of these people truly understand what you do? How many of these folks have directed prospects to you as referrals? And how many of those referrals have turned into a business? I’ll wager far fewer than you would like.
Business networking is much more than showing up at networking functions, shaking a lot of hands and collecting a bunch of cards.
Why? What does a business card represent? It’s a piece of paper, with ink and images on it. No relationship has been formed. This networking strategy, by itself, isn’t an effective use of time, money or energy. And it generates precious little new opportunities.
Networking for new opportunity must be strategic and focused. Not everyone you meet can help move your business forward. However, everything you do can be driven by the intention to grow your relationships.
You have total control over whom you meet, where you meet them and how you develop and leverage relationships for mutual benefit.
Networking your business means you have to be proactive. The core of networking is doing something specific each week that is focused on networking for business growth. When you understand exactly what business networking is and step up to the challenge, you’ll find avenues of opportunity that you may have otherwise never discovered.
Contacts into Connections
Networking serves as a lifeline for many businesses, which is why these relationships are important to cultivate. Keep in mind that networking doesn’t begin or end at a networking event. Networking can be done anywhere; at a bookstore, over lunch, during a conference or in your office kitchen.
It’s a common misconception that is simply attending a networking event will bring you new business right away. Neither will read books. Like most skills, you only learn with practice.
Network connection … preparation in advance
Ask open-ended questions
This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them.
Nail your elevator speech
Have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes you’re doing it special or different from others doing the same thing. To get referrals, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do that you can easily articulate to others.
Be able to say how others may help you.
Too often people in conversations ask, “How may I help you?” and no immediate answer comes to mind.
Ready to Engage
The word approachability derives from the Latin verb appropriate, which means “to come nearer to.” Interesting. It doesn’t say anything about the approacher or the approach-ee. Just “to come nearer to.” So the first idea to remember is that approachability is a two-way street. It’s both you stepping onto someone else’s front porch, and you inviting someone to step onto your front porch.
Although this article will address both sides of the street, here’s an example of the former. When you arrive at a meeting, event, party or anywhere in which many conversations will take place, prepare yourself. Be “ready to engage” with conversation topics, questions and stories in the back of your mind ready to go as soon as you meet someone. This will help you avoid those awkward “How’s the weather” type of discussions.
How to network for business
At the networking event
Networking connections … wear name tag
Your nametag is your best friend for several reasons. First of all, a person’s name is the single context of human memory most forgotten. And people are less likely to approach you if they don’t know (or forgot) your name. Secondly, it’s free advertising for you and your company. Third, nametags encourage people to be friendly and more approachable. TRUST me on that one!
If it’s you who has the chance to talk to someone else, here are some thoughts about the blend of how you can say “just enough” to get your presence across to someone else. I’d love you to agree or disagree in comments or posts.
Be genuine and authentic building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others.
Assume neither of you has lots of time
Try to keep the conversation moving and tight. This one is tricky, and you have to read the signs. Is the person you’re speaking to giving you the “I need to move on” signals? Are their shoulders turned away from you? Are they looking around instead of making deep eye contact? There you have it. Smile politely and make your exit.
Confidence is EVERYTHING
You are good enough. You are important enough. You are worthy. Everyone is just someone. The biggest names in the world that I’ve met (people like Glenda Watson Hyatt, Ed Shahzade, and Jon Swanson) have all been regular people when you get down to it.
When I’m meeting others, I lead with my name. It just takes it off the table.
Lead with most interesting topic
If you’re going to say, “I’m here to ask about a business partnership,” then start with that. Most people want to start with soft things like the weather, but in most cases, what’s really important gets buried in trivia. Don’t do it. Believe me.
Skip the backstory
I hear so much exposition explaining the main question or point, and it takes paragraphs of language to try to warm up to what ends up being one sentence. Here’s the thing. One sentence is usually enough. And at least, it lets the other person ask, “Can you tell me more?”
On the back of business cards, write down quick notes about your interaction with the person. Did they mention they were looking for graphic designers who specialize in logo design? Or that they recently adopted a puppy? Write that down. In your follow-up, you could mention someone you know who designs logos and ask how that puppy is doing.
Finish with action
Because you’ve kept it short, because you are letting this person go on to the next thing, your goal now is to decide whether there’s some “there” there. If yes, then move on to business cards and next steps.
If no, then be clean and wonderful about it. Just say thanks and pleased to meet you, and move on. Believe me; that’s a great way to move on. I’m fond of NOT moving forward more often than not. It’s the better way to figure out your business.
Business cards are for continuing business
If you’re done talking, exchanging a business card is great only when you have further business to do. Send your message quickly. Within 24 hours is probably the best way. Do you agree?
This acronym stands for the Common Point of Interest. It’s an essential element to every conversation and interaction. Your duty, as you meet new people, or even as you talk with those you already know, is to discover the CPI as soon as possible. It connects people to you. It allows them to feel more comfortable talking to you. And it increases your approachability since people will be magnetized to you due to the commonality you share.
A great tip is to ask the right type of questions. Similar to our first example, “ready to engage,” you don’t want to ask people about the weather. You can do better than that! Instead, ask questions that begin with “What’s your favorite…” “Tell me the best…” or “When was the last time…” The CPI is almost guaranteed to be discovered.
Watch your body language
Even if it’s cold, even if you’re bored, even if you’re tired and don’t want to be there – don’t cross your arms. It’s such a simple, subconscious non-verbal cue that too many people practice and it hinders their approachability.
Network connection … post networking event
Options for communication
Your friends, colleagues, customers and coworkers will choose to communicate with you in different ways. Some will choose face to face; some will email, others will call, while others will do a little of everything.
The bottom line is: make all of them available. On your business cards, email signatures, websites or marketing materials, let people know that can get in touch with you in whatever manner they choose. Sure, you might prefer email. But what matters most is the comfort of the other person and their ability to communicate effectively.
The good idea is to give people as many options to contact you as possible. There’s nothing more annoying to a “phone person” than when she discovers she can’t get a hold of you unless she emails you.
Reach out to them
You don’t have to meet physically a person to network with them. If the person you’d like to chat with has a blog or wrote an article you liked, reach out to them. The worst thing that could happen is they say no or don’t give a reply. The best things that could happen are virtually limitless.
Whatever program you use for email – Outlook, Eudora, Yahoo, and Hotmail – find out how to customize your signature. There’s nothing more frustrating than receiving an email from someone who wants to talk further, get together or have you send them something that doesn’t have any personal information in the email.
So at the end of every email you send, always cross reference the following information: name, title, company, addresses, website, and telephone numbers.
Hold volunteer positions in organizations
This is a great way to stay visible and give back to groups that have helped you.
When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.
Your mileage will vary
Okay, first, all you shy people who have been clenching your jaw while reading this, it’s okay. I get it. I know that it’s a lot easier to do this when you’re not shy. Hint: I’m always shy. I just push hard NOT to be shy when it’s important.
Something to research: 10 Entrepreneur Lessons You Need to Know
Second, sometimes, things don’t follow a formula. This is a recipe, but you’re making leftovers sometimes. That’s okay. Do what makes sense at the moment.
Finally, I want to re-stress that this isn’t a post about how to meet me. It’s a post filled with thoughts on what works best in meetings. I’m thrilled and honored when you say hi to me at events. It’s the best part of my job. When I get to meet people (like you), the above is what’s on my mind.
What do you think?
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So what’s the conclusion? The conclusion is there is no conclusion. There is only the next step. And that next step is completely up to you. But believe in the effectiveness of collaborative innovation. And put it to good use in adapting to changes in your business environment.
It’s up to you to keep improving your learning and experience with innovation and creativity efforts. Lessons are all around you. In this case, your competitor may be providing the ideas and or inspiration. But the key is in knowing that it is within you already.
All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new lessons.
When things go wrong, what’s most important is your next step.
Try. Learn. Improve. Repeat.
When things are not what you want them to be, what’s most important is your next step. Call today.
Are you devoting enough energy to improving your continuous learning for yourself and your team?
Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change. We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.
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