How to develop a networking strategy to generate more sales leads
Are you one of these people who go to networking events, give out lots of business cards and don’t come away with any leads? It might be because networking is not your strong point or you haven’t found the right networking event for your business. There are a number of things you can do to increase your success rate to generate leads.
Networking can be time consuming and the last thing in the world you want to do is waste your time doing the wrong things. Before you go to anymore networking events, develop a networking strategy first.
1. Align networking activities to your business goals and objectives
Generating leads through face-to-face networking activities should form part of your overall marketing strategy. Networking is a cost-effective way of making connections and getting referral business. You need to define your target market and one of the ways to let your target market know who you are and what you do, is to build a network either face-to-face or online. This means aligning yourself to networking activities that are most likely to generate the leads you are looking for.
2. Align networking activities to your target customers
Networking activities don’t always have to be formal events, they can be any activities that generate contacts. Contacts don’t always have to be a contact that turns into a lead or a customer. They can also be people who don’t have a need for your products and services, but they can refer you to others who are likely prospects. In other words, where do potential customers hang out or who do they hang out with. Consider what formal and informal networking groups they belong to and if they belong to any industry groups.
3. Seek relevant places to network
There are many different ways to network. Most people tend to think of formal networking events and websites as the only places to network with others. Networking can be done virtually anywhere, anytime and with anyone. You don’t have to attend formal networking groups to make new connections. Make a list of people, other businesses, companies and organizations to identify the most relevant people or organizations to be networking with. They need to fit with your geographic location or you will need to expand your activities to networking groups online. Reflect what they will bring to the table in terms of expertise and diversity.
4. Decide what networking groups to join
Look at aligning yourself with events put on by industry associations, special interest groups and business networking groups such as the local Chamber of Commerce. Before you commit to any particular networking group, it’s wise to assess if they are right for you first. Quality is better than quantity. You want to know more about the make-up of the membership and if the people attending are in your target market. You also want to find out about joining fees, frequency of events and if they send out regular newsletters and have a calendar of events. You want to be able to tap into these resources.
Shortlist the groups you are interested in and chose the groups you believe will best fit your networking goals and objectives. Before joining a networking group and paying fees, you can usually attend one or two events first before making up your mind if it’s right for you. It gives you a chance to assess the organizers and determine if they are supportive and competent. Find out if they also provide seminars, conferences, mentoring, training or just social events.
5. Plan to succeed by organizing yourself
If you go to a networking event with no goal in mind, chances are that’s exactly what you will achieve – nothing. If you attend a networking event with the goal of handing out as many business cards as you can, that’s exactly what you will achieve. Doesn’t mean anyone will call you back. With this approach, you won’t make quality connections with others.
Prior to attending any networking event, determine what your networking goals are. Perhaps it’s to make four new contacts, or learn something new. It might be to meet great people who will be beneficial to your business and equally you can be beneficial to their business. You might want to increase your confidence in approaching people you don’t know. It might simply be to greet everyone with a smile and not dismiss others as being unimportant.
6. Allocate a budget
Networking activities would usually fall into a marketing budget. If you plan to attend face-to-face networking events, allocate some of your marketing budget accordingly. However budgeting is not just about money, it’s also about budgeting your time. You want to spend your time on networking activities that give the best return on your time investment. This includes travel time to and from events and follow up activities afterwards.
7. Attend events regularly
No point in attending one event a year or the occasional online event, you won’t gain any traction. You must plan to attend events regularly so you get your name out there. Not doing this would be like going to the gym once – and expect to instantly become fitter.
Networking is more about creating a valuable and lasting business relationship with people of influence. The way to do this is to get to know people better and have people get to know you and building rapport. What you will find is that many of the same people attend these events. By attending networking events regularly, you start to build strong connections with others who do the same. These connections are important because even though not everyone you meet will be your target market, they will know someone who is.
8. Get involved
Once you have found your niche networking event, get involved. It’s a great way to increase your profile and stay visible as well as give back to others. Join the committee, help out with the organization, volunteer to help on the registration desk, collect feedback forms (yes you get to read them) or even arrange to be an MC. This experience is helpful in developing your own skill sets should you want to host your own event one day. You will learn what to do and what not to do especially from reading those feedback forms.
9. Develop an elevator pitch
An elevator pitch sometimes called an elevator speech is a 20-30 second commercial selling yourself, what you do, who you work with and the benefits your products and services provide your target market. Called an elevator pitch because you should be able to deliver this between floors of an elevator. You may need more than one elevator speech depending on your likely target audience at a particular event you are attending. You might create one that is opportunity based and another one that is problem based. You might want one that also includes your value proposition. Think about the likely attendees and adapt your elevator pitch to suit.
10. Prepare conversation starters
One of the reasons most people don’t like attending networking events is they feel they are no good at starting a conversation. To overcome this, invest in yourself by developing conversational skills and prepare some conversation starters.
You might read the newspaper in the morning to refresh yourself with something topical that might be of interest to others. You could also develop a “bank” of conversation starters from articles in blog posts or industry publications. You might even collect interesting articles and keep them in a folder to access prior to a networking event as a refresher. Look for conversation starters that are generic and that other people would be interested in. It’s advisable to steer away from controversial subjects like politics and religion. It’s also advisable, unless you are a natural at telling jokes, to steer away from jokes that might fall flat.
11. Practice introducing yourself
This may sound weird, but practice introducing yourself. You want to come across as being sincere and confident. Practice introducing yourself when you are asked the question “what do you do?” It’s amazing how many people new to networking get flustered or apologetic when asked that question. That’s where your elevator pitch needs to be refined so that you can deliver it concisely and within about 30 seconds. Practice in front of a mirror or introduce yourself to a friend and video yourself on your smart phone to see how you come across.
12. Create an impactful business card
Every time you give out your business card, it’s a reflection of you and your business. You want it to be memorable and make it easy for people to remember you. Along with the way you dress, the way you carry yourself and your handshake, your business cards make a first impression. Having an impactful business card is vital when attending networking events. If you can, have your card designed by a professional designer. The investment will be well worth it. Your name, phone number and email address needs to stand out so that it’s easy to read.
On a final note
Don’t leave business networking to chance. Develop a business networking strategy to get the most out of your time and effort that will lead to generating better leads and referrals.
In a Nutshell
- Align networking activities to your business goals
- Target activities that will reach your target market
- Seek relevant places to network
- Decide what networking events to join
- Organize yourself
- Allocate a budget
- Plan to attend events regularly
- Get involved
- Develop an elevator speech
- Prepare conversation starters
- Practice introducing yourself
- Create an impactful business card