Everyone understands the potential value of a networking event, be it a trade show, industry conference, informal “meet-and-greet,” etc. Nevertheless, busy entrepreneurs often think they have better things to do and that walking away from such an event without making solid contacts is a serious waste of time.
My Last Networking Event was a Bust
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you’re a bubbly extrovert who loves working the room or a more solitary type who wants nothing more than hiding away and working on the latest big project, there are strategies to employ in advance of a networking event that can help reap big benefits in terms of prospect leads and future sales.
Keep the following tips in mind so you can come away from an event energized by the people you’ve met and eager to pursue a future relationship.
1. Have a game plan
Not everyone you shake hands with will be eager to do business with you, but that’s OK. If you go into the experience with a predetermined strategy and you achieve what you set out to do, the event can be seen as a success. Determine ahead of time what you most want to get from your participation:
- Making a set number of new contacts
- Handing out a specific number of business cards (and collecting a similar or higher amount from those in attendance)
- Quickly sizing up a handful of people and pre-qualifying them as prospects
Going into a networking event with the attitude that I have to make a sale is a non-starter. These events are designed to make it easier for you to meet people—some of whom may be interested in becoming future customers, some of whom might be useful to you in growing your business. What no one wants is a hard sell.
2. Be picky in choosing the events you attend
If time permits, it’s always nice to attend a bunch of networking events—on the premise that the more people you meet, the more chances there are for future business. But few of us have that luxury of time, so look carefully at an event before registering to attend. Also, seek out events that are designed to benefit the demographic that fits your customer base. After all, the more you know about what your customers need, the better equipped you are to market your products or services.
Don’t just sign up for events that appeal to you personally. Make a point of attending conferences or tradeshows aimed at the people you serve.
3. Leave them wanting to know more
We’ve talked before about the value of having a polished and rehearsed elevator speech. Remember, in a crowded room, you have a very short time to get your message across and make some sort of impact. Can you describe what you do and the benefits you provide in 60 seconds? If you can, that’s a good starting point. But if you can do the same thing in 30 seconds—or even 10 seconds!—you’re ahead of the game.
The goal is to make your business appealing and potentially valuable to the other person and leave it at that.
4. Be present at the event
Are you by nature a person who shows up late for appointments? If so, now’s the time to change your behavior. Never show up late for a networking event. It only gives the impression of unreliability—or worse, the sense that you’d really rather not be here—which prospective customers interpret as red flags.
A better plan is arriving 15 minutes before the event begins. Take a spot near the door and greet people as they come in. Make eye contact. Shake hands firmly and always be smiling. While in conversation with someone, be present with that person and resist the urge to look over their shoulder for someone else to approach. Your total attention should be on the person with whom you’re speaking.
5. Be conscientious about following up
The day after the event, or as soon as possible thereafter, look over the business cards you collected and follow up with the individuals you met. Obviously, you want to make contact with potential prospects, but others may still be valuable as future contacts. In any case, dropping a brief email describing your pleasure in meeting them—and offering your assistance with any business challenges they may face—will resonate with virtually everyone you meet. And there’s no telling where that might lead.
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