Networking events are, for all comparative purposes, not that different from the dating scene.
A person goes around to people they don’t really know. When they get up the nerve, they walk up to someone and try to start a conversation with small talk. If it goes well and confidence is gained, the small talk makes way into the smooth talk business pitch.
If the pitch is well-timed and its recipient receptive, the end result will be, let’s just say, equivalent to a second date: The invitation, via slick business card, to call for an additional conversation that could lead to a mutually beneficial relationship.
Just as in dating, some are better at it than others. The one-liners flow as thick and sweet as honey to the natural but others would rather wait in the shadows in the hopes business will literally fall into their laps.
But in this cut-throat dating and business networking scene, some are naturals at the whole thing, while others need some pointers. Here are a few proven tips to make the most of time with potential clients or customers.
Always have a wingman. It’s as true in today’s business mixers then it has been FOREVER in the dating scene – albeit for different reasons. While a good wingman gets you out of a potentially embarrassing situation at a bar, he serves a slightly different purpose when it comes to networking events. If you are shy, a good networking wingman can help you get the conversation started so that you can take it over brilliantly once you get into your comfort zone. He serves as the set up guy –so you, the closer can get the job done.
Take a hint. Ugh. Many bar horror stories have lived in day-after Facebook infamy just because a person did not know when ‘no’ means ‘no.’ Instead of making a bad reputation for yourself and possibly your company, when it doesn’t quite seem to click when you’re setting up for the pitch, walk away. Go get a drink. Excuse yourself. Awkward situations are just as prevalent at networking events as they are during midnight margaritas at the local bar. Take the strike out and learn from it. Evaluate it later to see what might have went wrong – whether it was delivery or just a bad day – it’s better to walk away and live to pitch another day.
Travel in packs. We’ve already talked about the wingman, but there are several other reasons why it is best to travel to networking events with others from your company. Most events only last a few hours and there is no way one person can work the entire room. If your networking goal is to generate business and contacts, a group of like-minded professionals serving the same company goals can divide and conquer.
Be whomever you need to be to get the job done. In the dating realm this is frowned upon, but in business, not so much. Don’t worry. We’re not condoning lying.
It is likely that while at a networking event, you will be engaged in a conversation that may take a turn to an area of your business you aren’t fully equipped to discuss. What is being suggested is this: Know enough about your business so that you can speak intelligently on every aspect of it – even if it’s a different aspect than what you specialize in. General knowledge on the business as a whole is also valuable.
Within our company, we even carry the business cards of others within our organization who specialize in different areas – just so when we are in these situations, we can give the potential customer the right contact. And also, if you run out of your own cards, there is always someone else within your pack who has a few you can grab in a pinch.
Know your limits. It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in – social or business – a drunk is a drunk. When someone at a business function has a few too many, it hurts reputations in a way that sometimes is irrecoverable. Alcohol is present at a business networking event to lighten the mood and ease nerves. But it does not give a person the right to throw professionalism to the wind.
In networking circles, it only takes one really embarrassing situation to ruin a career. And in all situations, gossip travels fast.
Strike while the iron is hot. The cool ‘I’ll call her in a few days so she doesn’t know I’m overly interested’ play isn’t good in business. Out of sight is most certainly out of mind when it comes to business. And remember there are others out there who do what you or your business does.
Follow up with an email within a day and if warranted, a phone call within a few days. Also, add your new contacts to your personal LinkedIn profile and once they’ve connected, invite them to join your company’s page.
Get what you can out of the relationship. While you are at a networking event to sell your company’s goods and services, every single person you come can also be valuable to you in your personal career growth. It is important to remember every single time you interact with someone on a professional basis, you are building a relationship as a professional and as a person. Don’t burn bridges. You never know when you’ll need to cross one.
Play the field. There are networking events every single night of the week. Attend many and attend often until you find the organizations who organize the best, most beneficial ones for you, your business and your industry. This will allow you to make the most of your networking time and also will allow you to cultivate the best, most beneficial relationships.
Don’t ignore the wallflower. The person many overlook at a networking event (or a bar) could be the most unknown influential person in the room and if they’re not, showing kindness to someone who is not exactly comfortable in social settings could end up being quite lucrative.
Whether this ends up being a client or a person you can mentor, kindness and friendship are never frowned upon and it’s great to have karma on your side.
Everyone has their own brand of ‘game’ when it comes to the dating scene and business networking. But for those who are still developing their style or need to remember what true networking is all about – the importance of building professional relationships that can turn into clients – a quick refresher is always in order. After all, no one wants to be on the wrong side of one of those big, bad bouncers.