A large part of being a great sales professional is having a strong network. The network can be used to not only make more sales, but it can help you grow in your field by connecting you to mentors or other business opportunities. These connections don’t happen overnight. It takes time to build an authentic relationship that is beneficial to both parties.
Need some help brushing up your network building skills? Check out the five tips below.
1. Bring a wing man
Ideally, you’d meet with a potential client or partner one-on-one—but that’s not always possible, especially when other people are competing for their time. Fortunately, there’s strength in numbers. If you bring a friend or work associate to networking events, you’ll be able to cover more ground and help one another out as you initiate conversations.
Having a “wing man” with you can also help you feel more confident and less awkward as you approach prospects. Just be aware that this particular tactic also comes with risks; you might be more tempted to stay within your safe comfort zone and take fewer chances speaking to people you don’t know.
2. Focus on quality over quantity
Effective networking isn’t about trying to rack up the most business cards or shaking hands with the most people. If you’re just trying to meet as many potential clients as possible, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, you should be focusing on quality—both the quality of your contacts and the quality of your new relationship with them.
For most networking events, you should be aiming to meet about five to ten new contacts. If any of your existing contacts are at the event as well, you’ll also want to set aside some time to check in with them; they might even be able to introduce you to some new people themselves. Above all, remember that the wrong person in your network can do much more harm than good; avoid toxic people at all costs.
3. Package your materials
Having printed sales materials with you is an excellent way to show off your professionalism at a conference or meetup—but not if they’re all in a loose stack. Try placing business cards, leaflets, brochures, and one pagers into folders with large enough pockets. For extra measure, make sure to brand them with your company’s name, logo, and contact information. This gives recipients a lasting reminder of your sales pitch.
You may also want to include a promotional product (such as a keychain or magnet) with the materials you hand off to your new prospect. People are much more likely to hold onto promotional gifts, which means they’ll be engaged with your brand for that much longer.
4. Act selflessly
You wouldn’t be networking if you didn’t hope to get some sort of benefit out of it—but people can sense when you’re only in it for yourself. Don’t approach any new relationship from a position of self-interest. Instead, focus on what you can do to help out your new contact.
A good general rule is “always give before you ask.” Listen to what the other person has to say, and do what you can to help them out—even if it’s just referring them to someone else with the expertise they need. This shows that you’re interested in forming a genuine relationship, not just what you can get out of it.
5. Take detailed notes regarding your conversations
It’s important to follow up with people after the initial meeting. To prepare for your follow-ups, immediately take notes on your conversations with important contacts. You can keep a small notepad in your pocket to jot things down on it, or record notes for yourself on your phone. Your follow up can be with a phone call, email or personal note, and should reference your initial meeting. In addition, include a recommendation to a website, article or book you think they’ll find useful. This will show you want to contribute to the relationship and not just benefit.
6. Put yourself into a position of power
When you’re quite literally just another face in a crowd, setting yourself apart at a networking event can be challenging. Give yourself a competitive advantage by getting involved with the leadership of the event itself. Become a volunteer or offer help to the people running the event, even if it’s as simple as introducing them to an A/V technician or an expert panelist who could bring their conference to the next level. This gives you an insider’s perspective into the event’s inner workings and will encourage other attendees to take notice of you.
Professional networking can take just as much effort as making a sale, but like the sale, it’s worth it in the end. Make time in your schedule to attend mixers, join chats or even research different icebreakers to expand your skills. Remember, people will notice if you are unprepared or are just trying to find the benefit for yourself. Hopefully, these tips can help you get on track.
Do you have any other strategies? Leave them in the comments below.