Management Perspectives: Making Connections
Mar 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Ted Tate
I can't recall how many times I've attended so-called networking events, hoping to develop some sales leads, only to leave discouraged. Not only did I not meet any potential clients but several salespeople tried to sell me questionable propositions.
All networking situations are not created equal. Although many are real wastes of time, some have excellent potential. Here are some moneymaking strategies for evaluating and developing serious business opportunities while networking.
The word networking is misunderstood by most people, and it is frequently misused. Many networking attempts are doomed to failure because the individuals treat it as though they were making a sales call.
A good example is people who are in a multilevel marketing pyramid. They learn quickly that most people avoid these scams, so to get someone interested, they grossly exaggerate or lie. After all, they invested in the thing, so now they have to find some other people to invest or they won't get their money back. Of course, they don't call it a lie — just creative selling.
I've had former friends con me into attending some half-baked pyramid scheme meeting. Not only did I have to drive 45 minutes to get there, I also had to sit through a good two hours of meaningless, mindless rhetoric before it became apparent I was expected to invest a mere $5,000 so I could “change my life.”
You'll meet people like that networking, especially at events billed as networking mixers. At most of those events, you'll find everyone there is trying to sell something to each other — all salespeople, no prospects. It's a no-win situation.
One common networking behavior that many people find offensive is when a person intrudes inappropriately. People who do so often have short, superficial interaction with others, and during those moments, they are constantly looking around the room for more opportunities. While doing so, they talk and focus on their agenda instead of listening to the other person to gather information.
Bad networkers can come on as overly assertive, even rude. They will try to make a sale on the spot, even to someone they don't know. It doesn't matter to them if it's a networking event, a wedding, or even a funeral.
Networking is not attempting to sell to people you meet on the spot, using those people strictly for personal gain, badgering them about your business, or bothering those who have politely expressed no interest. It's also not about putting associates, friends, or neighbors on the spot.
THE RIGHT WAY
Networking is something you should be aware of wherever you go. Trade shows, shopping, parties, family gatherings, and meeting new people are among dozens of ways to come in contact with potential opportunities. However, networking is not a dependable source of opportunity unless you know how to maximize your efforts. The trick to getting a good return on your networking skills is to place yourself in the right surroundings. Here are some good sources for effective networking.
Billed as networking events, these are sometimes sponsored by chambers of commerce and other community groups. Of all the sources listed, this is usually the weakest. They usually draw so many salespeople that it's hard to find enough qualified contacts.
Finders are not people you can sell to but rather individuals who may come in contact with people you can sell to or in some way network with. When I was president of a Central Station Burglar and Fire Alarm, I instructed my sales staff to contact every locksmith, window glazier, and insurance agent in his or her territory.
When a burglary or fire occurred, these people were the first to know about it and were in a position to either recommend us or give the salesperson the victim's name. We reciprocated, of course.
Think about your own situation and who may be in a position to run into folks who are good prospects for what you sell.
Read the meeting calendar listings in local business magazines and business newspapers as well as the business pages of the daily newspapers. You'll see business and professional groups listed with meetings open to the public.
You'll have to attend a group once to explore what networking possibilities exist. Some are excellent for networking, others have limited memberships, and after attending a few meetings, you will have exhausted all possibilities. Join no organization until attending preferably two meetings to see if the organization lives up to expectations. Before joining an organization, ask yourself these questions:
- Are these the people you need to meet? If not, is their daily routine, career, or background putting them in contact with the people you need to meet?
- Do the members seem to be successful?
- Do the members appear to have a win-win attitude, a true atmosphere of sharing and friendship?
- Are most members negative or positive in attitude and behavior?
- Are they eager to share new ideas?
- Is it mostly a closely knit group that you may not be able to become part of?
Sales leads clubs
Sometimes these are called leads exchange clubs, tips clubs, or other similar names. They are different from networking groups simply because these clubs meet for only one thing — to exchange sales leads among their membership, which consists of mostly salespeople and owners of small businesses who sell.
The clubs usually meet weekly or twice a month. Everybody knows what the other members do for a living, and when they see prospects for other people, they get the particulars. Some commercially run clubs charge a membership fee, which can cost hundreds of dollars. Before you let that stop you, consider what a good lead is worth in dollars and cents.
Numerous informal groups have little or no dues. They consist of groups of salespeople who can, by the nature of what they sell, benefit each other. To evaluate this kind of club, attend two or three meetings as a guest. Watch for everyone contributing their fair share of leads. Do members complain about lousy leads? Do certain people get leads often and others rarely? One negative side of these clubs is selfish individuals who take leads but contribute little if anything in return.
Salespeople should join trade associations in the systems integration industry, but in those groups, there is no one there to impress but your competitors. To find new business opportunities, join a business organization other than your industry's trade association.
Become a member of an organization that potential new customers (or business contacts) might come from. Yet simply joining is worthless. If you can't attend regularly and aren't willing to get involved, don't bother. In organizations, 90 percent of members pay dues and come to events. That's it! To make a lot of good contacts and be known to the membership, you need to volunteer. By just taking some time to get involved, you'll become known. You'll be surprised at the business opportunities and business friendships that come your way.
Remember, this happens over a period of time, and it is not a fast and quick moneymaker. People will eventually see you as a dependable person who gets things done, and you'll be respected for it.
THE LONG RUN
Networking can help you find excellent prospects you can sell in the future, make new friends that can refer you new business, meet potential future prospects socially that you could never get to on a cold sales call, and develop a reputation among prospects as an expert in your field.
Remember that trade and professional associations are the most lucrative prospects, as are trade shows and meetings or functions where potential prospects will be. Good luck and good selling!
Ted Tateis an author and a sales training expert. He offers additional free sales, time management, and negotiating tips atwww.trainingexpert.com.