Even though face-to-face networking is made more difficult during the pandemic, connecting with people including leads, prospects and customers is more important than ever.
With a history of running both consumer and business events, it’s no surprise that Eyob, CEO of The Experience Index an excellent networker. Today he shares his top tips to help you get more out of business networking regardless of if the event is in person, over the phone or via zoom.
Understanding the purpose of networking
The first and most important thing to understand about networking is that it’s not prospecting. You don’t want to be the person going round the room spruiking their business to people they met 30 seconds before.
Instead, think of business networking as a way to connect with new businesses. Those new businesses could become a positive part of your network in various different ways:
- They could become a prospect or client
- They can help you grow your network in a specific industry
- They might be able to help you develop new areas of your business
- They could become suppliers to you and your business
- They could become a partner who can help you with your business
- They could become a referral partner
- Their network may include people who are not just potential clients, but who can help you grow your business in all the other ways listed above
By taking a wide view of networking, you open up more opportunities to build all kinds of stakeholder relationships. It’s so much more valuable than simply prospecting.
Preparing for a business networking event
Going to networking events is not enough on its own. If you want to get the most out of them, it makes sense to prepare in advance. For example:
- If the event is run by a specific company or organisation, look into their background before the event.
- You can even try to find out about the actual person organising the event. If you know about them, they’re much more likely to think about you and introduce you to the people you most want to meet.
- Some events send out a list of attendees in advance of the event. If you get a list like that, study it carefully. Pick 2 to 3 people you’d like to meet. Not people to sell to, people to meet.
- If there’s no list, you can always contact the organiser before the event and ask which industries or people will be in the room. Once again, they’re more likely to introduce you if they know who you want to meet.
- Make sure you have business cards. I know there are alternatives these days – some people connect on LinkedIn, or exchange phone numbers. But it never hurts to have business cards with you in case someone asks.
Overcoming networking nerves
Three tips if you’re nervous about networking:
- Preparation is even more important
Do all the steps outlined above. Research the business running the event. Find out who’s in the room. Have some targets to meet. Go one step further. Come with a list of questions in your mind. That makes it easier to start conversations.
- Keep perspective
Remember what we said at the beginning of this article? Your aim is simply to connect with other businesses. There’s no need to make a sale on the spot, or even find anyone who’s interested in buying right now. You want to meet 2 to 3 people and find out about their businesses. You don’t want to make it 5 or 10 people. That’s too many. That’s a party, not networking!
- Keep it simple
When you’re nervous, you sometimes try to impress. You might not have enough confidence in yourself to be natural and relaxed. You might try to talk about something you don’t know that much about.
All too often the other person can tell. Suddenly you’re not that impressive after all. And you’re probably spending too much time thinking about how you appear to the other person, and not concentrating enough on them and their story. You just end up feeling bad and nervous.
The first business networking conversation
First, remember you’re only aiming to meet 2 or 3 people at any one event. But when we say ‘meet’, we mean a real extended conversation. Not just saying hello. Try to have 2 to 3 conversations of around 15 to 30 minutes each. The goal, for each of those conversations, is to find out about the other person’s business first. It’s not all about you. It’s all about them. (That may help with networking nervousness too!)
Obviously, you introduce yourself, but then it’s time to ask questions like:
- How long have you been running your business?
- What are the solutions that you provide?
- Who are your customers?
- What do they like most about you?
Another approach is to make a guess about their business and ask them whether you’re right or not.
‘I’ve always assumed that… Is that true?’
‘I’ve always wondered how… Can you tell me?
‘Is it true that….?
All of these are invitations for them to talk about their business.
What to do when a networking event isn’t working for you
You go into a room and no one acknowledges you. No one wants to try and connect with you. The people there may already be in their own ‘clique’, their own little circle. And they don't want to let you in.
Perhaps you’re new to your industry, or you’ve recently joined an association, or you've moved interstate. You might just be having a bad experience. What can you do to try to overcome that?
First, look around for someone who’s by themselves. Approach that person who isn’t connected with anyone yet. Second, if there's no option for that, you can go to the organiser and ask to be introduced to someone. The organiser wants everyone to have a good time, so it’s their role to connect you with someone.
Occasionally, the organiser is part of the clique too. You may need to accept that the evening didn't work out, pack your bags and go. Sometimes it's not you. Sometimes it's the event. Don't hesitate when you need to get out of the room.
Following up after the actual networking event
You've met someone for the first time, made a potential business connection. You’ve exchanged details. What's the best follow up process to deepen that relationship. How do you make your business networking actually lead to something?
The first thing is simply to follow up. So many people leave networking events and don't follow up at all. Start by sending a simple email. Say how great it was to meet them. Ask if they have time for lunch or a coffee. Say you’d like to catch up again and find out more about each other’s businesses. At this stage, remember you are still just trying to expand your network.
If the other party is direct in terms of what they're looking for and wants to buy, you can start talking about your business. But don’t sell, sell, sell. And remember to be honest. There's so much information out there these days. People will look you up and find out all about you. Nothing is hidden anymore.
Remember that in reverse too. Do your own research. Don’t turn up at a second meeting and say, ‘Tell me about yourself ’. Instead say, ‘I saw this on your LinkedIn profile,’ or ‘I was looking at your website and I wondered about…’
Once again, it’s about research. It’s crucial to know more about the company. Are their values aligned to you? Is their service really relevant? It’s about preparation before you go to that meeting.
Networking online versus networking face-to-face
COVID changed the face of networking. Have Zoom and online events made business networking easier or harder?
Overall, it’s easier, especially for introverts who find it very hard to be in a room and communicate with people face to face. It’s not so emotionally exhausting, and it’s easier to exit from a group or to take a break.
There are all sorts of practical benefits to online business networking too. The cost of transport to get to events simply disappears. That’s a huge saving for many businesses. The amount of time events take is reduced too. That gives you much more freedom to spend time with family and friends, to recharge your batteries.
It’s easier to make wider connections across all geographies. So there’s more exchange of ideas and experience. Remember, back before COVID, international keynote speakers often linked in virtually any way. It’s just an extension of that.
You can use the breaks between sessions of a formal event more effectively. You’re in your office, with everything set up. It’s far easier than trying to send emails from your phone with dodgy reception or running out of power points for your laptop at an industry conference.
The events are also more efficient and effective. Presenters know people get tired on Zoom, so they get straight to the point with no fluff. That’s why the Growth Gen Live Virtual Summit presentations are only 30 minutes. At live events, they’d be 40 minutes or even one hour long.
Online meetings via technology like Zoom make it possible to do a one day conference in half a day! All the time and hassle of travel and registration and shuffling from one room to another is gone. There’s certainly a mindset about online business networking too, though. And for the new kids, the generation coming up, online networking will be the norm.
Some other tips for effective online business networking:
- On Zoom and some other platforms, even if you’re in a group it’s possible to have a one-on-one chat with another participant. That’s one way online is more powerful than offline.
- Online is ideal for one-to-one meetings as well as group meetings. Especially in the early stages of a relationship, when you are still working out if there is synergy, it’s great not to spend time driving and parking.
For more evidence of how well online networking works, you only have to look at what organisations are doing now COVID restrictions have eased. Many are going for a hybrid model, with some meetings online and some in person. It doesn’t have to be an either-or decision. You can get the benefits of virtual events but still, keep some real-life contact.
We’ve also learned a lot about how to network online effectively. Options for breakout rooms and smaller groups. Interactive formats. Polls. Q&A boards. Panels. And of course, it’s really easy to record events or sessions for future reference. Everything is digital anyway!
The Growth Generation Board as an example
This is a great time to mention the GG Boards, which highlight some key points about good business networking.
The GG Board model is about listening to other businesses in different industries. It taps into something which small to medium businesses are good at – going outside their own industry. Big businesses often get caught up in industry events and forget to look more widely.
Everyone shares their experience, challenges and opportunities from their sector, so it’s all about learning. Those principles will probably apply to your business too. You can get great ideas to use in your business so you can improve.
In many ways, the GG Board is the exact opposite of prospecting. Attendees attend as equals, to help each other and share experiences. Plus, it's built on trust. You don’t just go to one meeting. (You can, to see what it’s like, but you don’t get the full benefit that way. The GG Board program is all about trust and deepening relationships. You reach a point where your Board members know and trust you. You’ve never sold directly to them, but now they're out there extending your business network and probably selling for you as well.
It’s clear that business networking – online and offline – is here to stay. To get the maximum benefit, here are a few top tips and golden rules:
- Aim to make connections, not sales
- Prepare and do research in advance
- Follow up afterwards
- Be genuine. Be yourself.
- Network online and offline. Just make sure you network!
Why not put it all into practice at our next Growth Gen Summit? Go to https://www.growthgen.com.au.
Written by BizPay
BizPay is a seamless technology platform that solves cash flow challenges associated with paying business invoices. The company was founded to help businesses grow better by enabling them to use top suppliers and professional service providers. Frictionless, transparent and affordable, innovative payment products allow businesses: to split bills into 4 easy instalments and/or receive full invoice payment in 24 hours to grow their businesses without being constrained by cash flow.