You wouldn’t walk into a potential client’s office and pitch them without doing your research. The more you know about who they are, what they need, and how your company can provide a solution, the better poised you are to close the deal.
It’s the same idea with networking. If you want to be a successful networker, you need to do your research and figure out who you’re networking with, the issues they’re struggling with, and how you can provide them with some sort of support or solution.
For example, if you’re attending an industry conference, look at the attendee list and see if there are any companies there that you’d like to collaborate with. Then, figure out who is going to be representing the company at the event, connect with them on LinkedIn and come up with some talking points.
That way, when you do connect with them at the event, a) you’ll know what you want to say, and b) they’ll know you did your homework and prepared for the conversation—both of which can help you drive better outcomes from the opportunity.
Even though your goal with business networking is to grow your business, whether your efforts ultimately lead to growth all boils down to your ability to build meaningful relationships.
So instead of focusing on your end goal (whether that’s landing a new customer or getting a better deal with a vendor), focus on building those relationships.
When you’re networking in person, don’t go into the conversation thinking about what you can get from it; instead, take a genuine interest in the person you’re connecting with. Use the 80/20 rule—and spend the majority of your time listening to your new connection versus talking about yourself or your company. When it is your turn to talk, avoid aggressive sales pitches and instead, talk about your business from a place of passion and authenticity.
Approaching networking from this place won’t necessarily lead to instant results (e.g., you’re probably not going to sell anything or get a fellow business owner to agree to a joint marketing venture). But it will build trust and rapport, and lay the foundation for a long-lasting relationship (which is where the real results come from, anyway).
Learn the Art of the Follow-up
When you connect with someone, whether online or at an in-person event, you have the opportunity to lay the foundation for a business relationship. But in order for that relationship to develop, that one conversation isn’t going to be enough—you need to stay on their radar and continue to foster the connection.
When you meet someone at a networking event (online or offline), make sure to follow up with them in some way within 24 hours—and make sure to reference something specific about your interaction. Chances are, you’re not the only person they’ve connected with, so you may need to jog their memory of who you are and where, when, and how you connected.
For example, if you sit next to someone at a conference and start a conversation, follow up with a LinkedIn request letting them know it was great to talk to them. If you connected with a speaker at a virtual event, follow up with an email letting them know how much you enjoyed their presentation.
Then, look for ways to continue building the relationship. Did you network with a business owner who mentioned their company was struggling with a particular issue? Offer to get together for a meeting to share your insights and ideas for solutions. Did you meet a job-seeker you think could be a great fit for your company? Offer to review their resume and have them come in to meet your team.
The point is, using networking to connect with other people is great—but if you want your efforts to grow your business, you need to follow up with those connections and continue fostering those relationships.
Track Your Networking Leads
If you want to maximize your networking efforts, you need to understand what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s leading to the most and the highest quality leads.
Anytime you make a connection, you’ll want to collect as much data about the connection as you can, including:
Where you made the connection
What kind of connection it is (potential customer, potential employee, potential partnership, etc.)
When and how often you follow up
Any business outcome that comes from your efforts (e.g., after two follow-ups, did that potential employee schedule an interview—and ultimately accept an offer at your company?)
Tracking all of this data will help you get a better understanding of where to focus your networking efforts—and how to maximize them in the future. For example, you might find that a huge percentage of your new customers in a quarter came from a single trade show—which means that, moving forward, you want to make that trade show a priority.
Moving Forward With Business Networking
Business networking—both on and offline—is an essential part of helping you forge the valuable connections you need to take your business to the next level. And now that you know how to make the most of your efforts, all that’s left to do? Get out there and start networking!