© Sean Weafer 2016 All rights reserved
Your ‘personal or professional brand’ has been described as ‘what people say about you when you are not in the room’ – and what they say can work for you – or against you. Therefore, today business networking is not an option, it is a professional requirement.
It is widely accepted that the people who can leverage relationships are the ones who wield the real power in a world where information and access to decision makers is increasingly critical.
Proactive networking can provide us with profile, position, credibility, market knowledge and the many other benefits of being able to work comfortably and consciously within a room full of other professionals and clients.
However having to “work the room” can be an uncomfortable, fearful and even resentful feeling for many of us.
Like the negative stereotypical image of ‘the sales person’ we often associate ‘good networkers’ with brash, self-confident people, who can handle any rejection, muscle themselves in anywhere and take over a conversation to suit their own ends – people that are not nice to be around.
We would rather hug the wall, cradling our coffees or drinks until we have waited the allotted time and can mercifully escape from this room of people who all seem to know each other.
However professional networking is about strategy and fortunately everyone can learn the strategy.
The first thing is to understand that networking is not about “selling ourselves” or pitching our company’s offerings and second is to understand that it’s about asking permission.
Networking is not about us, it’s always about the other person and a good networker will spend time asking questions and actively listening to what the other person has to say.
Not only that – but they will have reached this stage by having first gotten the person’s permission to talk with them.
So here are just a few of the steps that get us speaking with not just anyone but the right person, the perfect prospect for my business.
- Learn the Psychology of Networking
Conferences and events aren’t just a morass of people. Next time we attend an event we should take time to study the room before we launch ourselves into the fray.
We’ll then see that people arrange themselves in three distinct ways.
- The Individual
- The Open Group and
- The Closed Group.
- The Individual will be just like us, on the edge looking for a way in.
They’re wondering if they’ll ever meet someone and how to go about it. These are a prime source of contacts – they really want to connect with someone. Anyone who says hello to these guys will be welcomed with open arms.
Remember that people come to networking events…to network!
To be accepted is the highest of human values. We are herd animals. So if we offer a chance to connect to the Individual then in most cases he or she is very likely to grasp it with open arms.
- The Open Group is a collection of individuals – they don’t really know each other so the group is arranged in such a way that there is always a space for another person to join at any time. This is our space; all we have to know is the secret of the introduction.
The best kind of Open Group to join is a mixed gender group – especially if we can make up the numbers. This is an opportunity to get many different contacts at one go.
- Lastly the Closed Group. This group is best avoided because they know each other, they are in deep conversation and are not “open for business”. They don’t want anybody else joining.
Clever networkers also know that by joining an Open Group they can close the group to others until such time as they have “worked” the group and then they simply open the group again and disengage.
- Make a Permission-Based Approach
So what is the magic formula that gets us ‘invited in’ to speak to all these people? Simple courtesy and asking for their permission.
On making the approach to an Individual or an Open Group, we first make eye contact and smile!
Then we ask …”Hi would you mind if I joined you?” or ‘May I join you?’… wait for a response (which will be positive), we then extend our hand to shake hands (another means by which humans install emotions) and join the person/group.
The key to engaging with anyone at an event is simply to request permission.
Ask – and you shall receive!
- Ask Questions and Actively Listen
We’ve all heard the wisdom that in order to be interesting to people we must first be interested in them.
The very best way to keep people on side is to engage with neutral and open questions. These are questions which do not imply that a negative judgement will be made on the answer and are therefore seen as non-threatening by someone else.
A great way to start a conversation might be “What’s your connection with the event” OR “How did you travel here?”
These neutral but universal questions engage a person in a non-threatening way thus allowing us to quickly establish rapport by relaxing that person in our company.
Keep the conversation focused on them.
Techniques such as the Small Talk Stack and others can help you learn to frame a conversation so that we are always engaged with the person yet at the same time gathering vital information for future contact.
This starts with:
- What’s your connection with the event or what work do they do?
- Have you travelled far to be here?
- Pastimes or interests (‘so what do you do when you’re not networking?’)
- General topics such as current affairs or perhaps matter relating to the profession or the industry.
This kind of conversational structure ensures that:
- We never run out of things to say and
- The person we are speaking with feels both engaged and valued – which helps build rapport and trust.
These questions evolve naturally from when the other person quite naturally asks us ‘what do you do?’ – but remember that the question in the mind of the other person is really ‘what can you do for me?’
So our answer must always have relevance and value.
By the way please don’t take this as an excuse to launch into a business presentation. This is the time for the elevator pitch – a short intro to what we do and how it could help them.
All of this is leading up to the point where business cards can be exchanged and permission (that word again) sought to make a contact call and ‘arrange a coffee’ – at a later date.
Such subsequent meetings then have the advantage of a “warm contact” made at the event followed by permission to call and normally meet with a greater chance of accomplishing your objective from the contact.
When they give us their business card and we have agreed a time to call – always note the time and date of the call on the card. This provides a ‘visual anchor’ for the prospect indicating that we intend to call at the agreed time.
This then starts to create a ‘double opt-in’ with a prospect. The first opt-in is where they have given you permission to call them to invite them to coffee.
The second ‘opt-in’ is where – making absolutely sure that we call them on the day and the time we promised – they agree to have coffee and set a date and time to meet.
With the double ‘opt-in’ the prospect is now perfectly aware that they are going to have a business conversation about their issues. They have invited us to engage, identify their critical challenges and then suggest a viable solution.
Low threat, permission-based networking – strategic, results-focused and successful.