Friday, March 20, 2015

Top 10 Reasons to Sell at the Networking Event

Repeat after me: Networking is not sales.

Of all the mistakes people make in their networking practice (consciously or unconsciously), this one is probably the biggest. You see it all the time -- people running around handing out cards, passing out brochures, and trying to "always be closing". There must be a reason for it, right? So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, here are the top 10 reasons you should be selling at the networking event.
  1. The panicky expression people have when you look their way. It's funny how the people you approach always seem to know where the emergency exits are.
  2. Their eyes like donuts -- glazed. It's nice how they just give up after a while, isn't it?
  3. All the glory of door-too-door sales, without the pesky success. Door-to-door isn't hard enough. You want the challenge of doing it with twenty other salespeople in tow and every house you approach is throwing a party.
  4. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Relive your junior high school dance glory years!
  5. Your reputation as a "user" needs a little polish. Too many people think you might value them as a person? Care only about how they can benefit you. That should lock in your reputation.
  6. Those aren't people. They're prospects. Because everyone loves to be dehumanized.
  7. If you aren't having fun, no one else should either. Hey, this sales, er, networking is hard work. They shouldn't be expecting sunshine and rainbows out of you.
  8. When you run out of targets here, you can always join a new group. If you stop being successful here, there are always more groups who don't know your reputation yet.
  9. Your brochure is one that no one will throw away. It's not advertizing. It's educational. The people who left it on the table obviously just didn't take the time to read it.
  10. They don't know how much they need you. It's your duty to help people understand just how much pain they are in.
Yes, looking at this list, it's easy to see why people prefer selling to their fellow networking event attendees instead of developing an actual connection with them. I guess I'd better order another case of brochures!

Photo by Claude Covo-Farchi

Friday, March 6, 2015

Focusing the Out-Of-Control Networker

Completely under control
"Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus."
~ Alexander Graham Bell

Over the weekend, on a visit to Grandma Debby's house, we went on a sledding adventure. We donned our winter gear and headed to the local hill -- a real beaut with several rises and a couple of jumps. We had our two sleds in tow. One was a streamlined, molded number with footrests, runners, and even hand breaks. The other was a simple round pad with handholds along the side.

Depending on which sled you chose, you had a completely different ride. The first was fast. You would rocket down the hill going airborne over the jumps. It was easy to control and usually at the end we would hop off whooping with delight. The other sled was pretty much completely out of control. You never knew if you were going to make it to the bottom of the hill without spinning around three times and tumbling head over heels.

So what does this have to do with networking?

Most people network like the second sled. They have no real focus or direction. They often find themselves pointed in the wrong direction and occasionally crash spectacularly. Unlike sledding, though, where that kind of ride can be a lot of fun, in networking it can be a waste of precious time and money.

Any success they might achieve is pure serendipity.

The few master networkers out there are more like the first sled. They know where they are going and what they plan to achieve. They have the tools they need to accomplish those goals and they tend to do so fairly quickly.

Oh, and the goals they do achieve often leave them whooping with delight.

If you are feeling like your networking is spinning in all directions but the one you want, take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:
  • What are you trying to achieve with your networking?
  • Who can help you achieve it?
  • Where can you go to meet those people (or those who can connect you)?
Half of successful networking is simply focusing your activities to align with your ultimate goals. Do that and you'll be rocketing down the hillside in no time -- and having a lot more fun to boot.

Photo by Pixabay user hmschl

Friday, February 27, 2015

Practice Your Networking Weaknesses

Gee, do you think he
practiced that?
"I've always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation."
~ Will Smith

At the end of our advanced Karate class last night, the instructor had us all sit down in our best seated splits. Looking around at the other students -- all in their early teens -- he commented that this was a weak area for them. He then pointed out that the "old guy" (me) had a lot more flexibility than they did. The reason? Because I practiced it.

Of course, these young students had the advantage of me in other areas. Most of them can do way more pushups than I can -- because that's what they practice.

To be a well-rounded martial artist, though, we all need to be aware of our weak areas and pay at least enough attention to them in order to prevent them from limiting us. We need to practice.

The same thing happens in networking.

Some people love attending the networking event. They can strike up a conversation with anyone. Where they are weak is in the follow-up. All of ther relationships are only five minutes deep. Others are great at the one-to-one interactions, but throw them in a room of strangers and they retreat to the corner of the room and wait for the whole thing to be over.

Just as in the martial arts, we need to be aware of our weaknesses and practice them at least enough that they won't limit us.

Here are a few of the skills you'll need as a real networker. How would you grade yourself on each one? For those that are low grades, how could you practice?
  • Choosing appropriate events
  • Showing up at appropriate events
  • Starting a conversation
  • Continuing a conversation
  • Gracefully ending a conversation
  • Following up with potential connections
  • Developing long-term professional relationships
  • Maintaining long-term professional relationships
  • Passing referrals
  • Asking for referrals

Remember, no one is a natural at this. We each have our strengths and weaknesses. So how does your report card stack up? Where might you focus some attention to bring your networking practice up to the next level?

And when are you going to start?

Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Eriseyes

Thursday, February 26, 2015

9 Reasons to Network Early, Part 3 of 3

Perhaps we should have arrived earlier
"How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?"
~ Dr. Suess

So here we are at the final installment of why you should show up to network early. I'll admit I've been holding out on you a bit because two of these three are more important than all the others combined. Aren't you glad you stuck with me?

First a little tease. The seventh reason may sound silly, but once again it points to making you more relaxed and feeling less rushed: Parking. Of course, the later you get there, the further away you will park. It just stands to reason. So, getting there only on time might mean just a few extra minutes of walking -- or running -- across the parking lot.

On the other hand, sometimes you might receive an unpleasant surprise from the parking situation. A few years ago, I was in a nearby city attended a two-hour event. I’d been to the location several times and I knew where to park. Unbeknownst to me, though, since the last time I had been there the city had turned all of the city lots in to 1-hour parking. If I had only arrived on time, I wouldn't have been able to contact the organizer to find out where alternate parking facilities might be.

OK, now we're getting into the meat of the discussion. Reason number eight is all about them. It shows respect. It shows respect to the organizer, the speaker, your fellow attendees. You have made the effort to be there a little early rather than a little late. While punctuality at the event isn't quite so important as when you are meeting with someone one-on-one, it can still make a difference about how others perceive you.

And that leads almost directly to the most important reason of all:

Reason number nine: It builds your reputation. People who show up early are organized, focused, and serious about building their business. I know if I refer someone to them, they will take it seriously and treat that referral like royalty. If someone is perpetually late, I have to wonder whether they will show that same lack of attention to those I might refer -- which means I’ll probably send that referral to someone else.

So those are the nine reasons to show up early. From making yourself more comfortable to possibly boosting your bottom line, why would you ever show up late?

We started this series with a saying from Mom. We'll check out with another:

"Early is on time. On time is late."

Photo by Pixabay user alicianess

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

9 Reasons to Network Early, Part 2 of 3

“It gets late early out there.” ~ Yogi Berra

Showing up early is one of the easiest and most powerful techniques for success when attending networking events. Last time we talked about three of the nine reasons to show up early: Own the room, double your networking time, and free your hands to be ready to network. Today let's take a look at the next three reasons.

First, you have time to scope out the location. Find the buffet line, the dessert table, the beverage stand (especially the coffee!). Look for the coat room if one is available and by all means locate the restrooms. Knowing where all of the facilities are will not only make you more comfortable, but others will see you as an authority and you just might end up being their hero.

In addition to the facilities, you should also find the “good spots” in the room. For example, if the room is full of round tables and you know that at some point you will be standing and introducing yourself, sitting at a table in the center of the room probably won’t be as productive as sitting toward the edge. An  edge seat means when you stand up to address the room, the other attendees are all in front of you.

Meet the organizer. OK, so you’re there and you have the lay of the land. You are ready to network. Here’s where reason number five for being early comes in. Who can you connect with who will be there before anyone else? Think about it for a second. Before the first attendee, before the sponsors, even before the speaker, the first person there will be the organizer. These are the folks who are actually throwing the party. You may even have spoken with them when you called to find out more information about the event. Do you think they might be well-connected? You bet! Do you think it would be a good idea to get to know them? Again, yes!
Here’s the trick. These folks are usually a bit busy and possibly more than a little stressed with all the preparations. Stopping them for a friendly chat at this point isn’t likely to endear you to them. No, the best way to connect with an organizer shortly before the event is four little words. “How. Can. I. Help?”

At this point, one of two things will happen. One, they will say “no thank you”, or, two, they will take you up on it.

If they turn you down, don’t push. You will get credit for the offer. You will stand out as someone willing to make an effort for the group and when you next approach the organizer, during a more calm portion of the gathering, he or she will remember you and be more willing to connect and help you.

If they take you up on the offer, even better. Most likely it will be a relatively low-effort task, such as handing out flyers. For the expenditure of very little time and energy they now see you as someone who has actually worked to support the group -- making you much more worthy of their assistance in the long run.

I do want to repeat, though, just make the offer and, if they say “no”, move on. Many organizers already have a plan and you diving in to help without being asked may end up making the organizer irritated

Finally, meet the other early people. The organizers are only one category of people who show up early so benefit number six would be to meet the other folks who tend to be there before the event officially starts. You can connect with the speaker (if there is one). Depending on the person, they may also be quite well-connected. Be aware that some speakers don’t like to be disturbed before they go on, so do be respectful of their process.
Master networkers also tend to show up early (for all the reasons we’ve been talking about). Not only are they good to know for their networks, but they are also quite comfortable making conversation, so if you aren’t at ease making small talk, they can make it much easier to slip into that mode.

One other group to be aware of is the newbies. These are the folks who show up early because they’re afraid they might be late. Remember, just because someone is new to the group doesn’t mean they aren’t worth knowing. That poor lost soul standing off to the side, waiting for someone to come talk with him might actually be the CEO of his company. Be his hero and rescue him. You’ll never know where it might lead unless you make the effort.

While it may "get late early", there's no reason I can think of to be late. Tune in next time when we talk about the final three reasons, including the most important one of all.

Photo by Sun Ladder

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

9 Reasons to Network Early, Part 1 of 3

"It's just as easy to be ten minutes early as ten minutes late."

Do you remember Mom telling you that? That was right after "Never talk to strangers" and right before "If you keep making that face it will get stuck that way." I don't know about the other two, but let's talk about that first one, especially when it comes to networking events and meetings.

Showing up early has an amazing number of benefits. Let's look at nine of them over the next several posts.

Reason #1: If you show up early, you own the room. The cliques haven’t formed yet. Anyone arriving after you (at least at first) will have to approach you. That gives you a little bit more power and control of the networking environment. And that will serve to make you more relaxed and better able to connect with those around you.

This can be particularly important to those who haven't gotten over the whole "Stranger Danger" mindset. As I've told my clients in the past, instead of being a small child afraid of strangers, why not be an adult and pretend you are hosting the event? It's a lot easier to be the host if you get there before anyone else.

Reason #2: Double your networking time. Depending on the type of event you can almost double your networking time. While most events run for an hour and a half to two hours, that usually includes a meal and possibly some other form of activity such as a speaker. That means your effective networking time can be as short as fifteen minutes -- not much time to complete that ambitious networking goal you picked before you walked in.

That extra ten to fifteen minutes you get from showing up early gives you a much better chance of reaching your networking goals. The more goals you reach, the better long-term results you will see.

Reason #3: Free yourself of the stuff. As with most of these benefits, this is all about you feeling relaxed and at ease. When you first show up at a business gathering, you really aren't prepared to network. You might have your purse or briefcase, maybe a coat or an umbrella. Business people always seem to carry a lot of stuff with them. If you walk into the event just on time, then you still have to get rid of all of that stuff just to have a hand free to reach out to the other attendees.

Getting there early allows you the opportunity to drop off all your stuff, maybe check your coat (or at least drape it over the back of your chair), and check to make sure all of your materials in place. Basically, you can get rid of everything except those tools you need to succeed in your networking.

Can you still network if you "only" show up on time (or, shudder, late)? Sure you can. But why put more burdens on yourself that you already have? Life is difficult enough sometimes without adding in challenges that are easy enough to avoid.

See you next time for reasons 4, 5, and 6.

Photo by Sun Ladder

Monday, December 1, 2014

3 Reasons for Systematic Networking

Are you ready to fly?
When I was a computer programmer, my life was all about systems. I mean, that's basically what a programmer does -- create systems so that the computer can take care of repetitive tasks without (much) human intervention. The thing about systems is, it helps people perform consistently at a higher level that they could without. Think about a pilot preparing to fly that plane you are on. You wouldn't want her to skip that checklist would you?

I've noticed the best networkers share that pilot's systematic approach when it comes to their networking. They have databases, scripts, and procedures, all to make their networking as effective and efficient as possible. So, what benefits could the rest of us receive from applying their systems-oriented approach to networking?

  1. Efficiency. They don't have to re-invent the wheel each time they practice networking. Imagine what your job would be like if each time you came to work, you had to figure out the whole job all over again. Do you think you would take a productivity hit?
  2. Consistency. Because they have a series of steps to follow and know what they are supposed to be doing with their networking at any given time, they are less likely to have gaps in their behavior. Success in networking is more about consistent effort rather than occasional intense activity.
  3. Improvement. Since they have a set practice, they are more likely to be successful in measuring their outcomes and tying them to their efforts. This allows them to work on those activities to improve their results. Inconsistent behavior is largely not measurable and, therefore impossible to improve.
So, what behaviors could you systematize? How about what you do with the business cards you collect? How you set up your one-to-ones? What you talk about during those morning coffees? How you ask for referrals? How you measure your networking activity?

The sky's the limit and with a few systems in place, you'll be ready to fly!

Photo by Greg Peters