First of all, why go to networking events? If it’s to meet new contacts, possible suppliers, engage with other business people and find out what is going on in the local community then all well and good. If it’s to generate new leads then how is it working out for you so far?
Don’t get us wrong, there are a lot of businesses that do well out of networking, either immediately or over a longer period. There are some industries where this can work particularly well, i.e. estate agencies – most people will buy, rent or sell at least one house/flat in their lifetime, or know someone else who will, and who better to manage the process than somebody you trust, having built a relationship with them over a period of time.
But if, like the average small or micro-business, you are spending hours at every networking event going, handing out tens or hundreds of business cards and not getting a single enquiry, let alone a sale, then it might be time to rethink your strategy…
Don’t focus on handing out your cards to all and sundry!
Picture the scene, you have had your business cards carefully designed and printed and go along to an event, happily handing out your cards to everyone, after all, the more people that have your card, the more potential leads, the more sales right?
Take a minute and really thank about the brands you buy… why do you buy from them?
People buy on trust, not because they have received your business card after meeting you once.
Think about it, you went to the networking event to sell, not to buy, so chances are so did the other people there! Already the model is flawed.
Have a networking strategy to improve the quality of your results
Now, this comes with a disclaimer, following the below principles will mean you give out a lot less business cards but they will be going to the right people!
Having a well thought out strategy may lower your numbers of ‘potential’ leads, but should improve your conversions, after all, would you rather give out 100 cards and not make a single sale, or give out 5 cards and make 1 sale?
Here’s what you can do to increase your chances of success…
1. Define your target market in as much detail as possible
Nobody knows your audience better than you.
Who is your ideal customer? What do they look like, what size are they, what budget to they have for your product/service, how do they make their purchasing decisions? etc.
2. Now, think about where they are
When you answer the above questions you start to build a picture of your buyers (your buyer persona) and this can help you identify where they are likely to be. If your target buyers are highly specialised, niche software developers then are they likely to attend a small/micro-business networking event? Or actually, would they more likely spend their time at IT Expos, industry events etc. Do your buyers export? If so, will they be more likely to attend local authority events offering guidance and local authority support for exporting? Establish your key words then do a search for likely events online – this can be on your local government business support portal, the Institute of Directors or Chamber of Commerce who often open their events to non-members, or simply search EventBrite for events in your chosen area.
3. Put yourself where your audience is
When you identify where your potential audience is – go there yourself! Register as a delegate and mingle with the other delegates in the coffee breaks, exhibit yourself, have a stand or banner or request a presentation slot. So long as you are in the right place, you should be networking with the right people, in whatever form that takes.
4. Focus on quality not quantity
Don’t be too concerned about handing out hundreds of business cards, or of collecting as many cards as you can. Focus instead on having fewer good quality conversations with other delegates.
5. Focus on the potential buyer
Another common mistake business owners make at networking events is to focus on their product/service and tell the other person/people how wonderful it is. Flip this over and ask yourself, how often do you switch off when the other person is trying to sell you their product/service, politely nodding and murmuring in agreement in the right places, anxious to go and give out more of your cards?
So do the opposite, ask about their business – not what they are selling, but about what market they operate in, what challenges they face, what sort of clients they work with etc. People love to talk about themselves and by allowing them to do so you gain so much intel into their world.
6. Don’t talk about you
Unless they ask, in which case by all means answer their question, but keep it brief, don’t go into sales mode! If they ask more questions, answer factually and make it a genuine business conversation, not a sales pitch. The more questions they ask, the more interested they are.
7. Take it away
If the conversation progresses, and the other person is genuinely interested, then wait for the golden words ‘let’s arrange to meet up and discuss further’ or suggest them yourself. This allows you to go away and research them further – check their website, LinkedIn profile and social media posts. Get as much information as you can and think about how your product/service can benefit them before you meet them again.
8. Have a goal in mind
When you go to events, have a goal for how many contacts you want to make. Keep it realistic and use the success of previous events as a guide. It may be as low as 6 cards, 3 follow on meetings & 1 sale; the numbers will depend on your industry/business. Remember, always focus on high quality leads that are likely to convert.
9. Test, measure, refine
After each event, make a note of how many cards/leads you obtained, and the quality of them – you could rate them as cold, warm and hot based on their likelihood of converting into a client. Then start to refine your efforts. If certain events are generating better quality results, do more of them, if others are not, do less of them. Try new events and measure your results.
Doing a bit of preparation and having a strategy (even if it is only in your head) in mind rather than aimlessly attending every networking event you come across should not only improve the quality of the leads you generate, but should improve your conversions into new clients. Remember, sales cycles are different for every business so if yours takes longer, don’t be disheartened, use the knowledge to refine your activities accordingly to increase your chances of success.