Business Networking to Grow Your Business.

This week’s blog comes from a suggestion made by Harold Wilkerson, a student of mine in my Entrepreneurship class at Fordham University. For some reason that I don’t understand, small business owners don’t take a strategic approach to business networking as a source for new client acquisition.

Networking is THE single best source for the most immediate access to qualified leads, assuming of course you take a strategic approach to your networking.  Following are excellent strategies that you can implement IMMEDIATELY to maximize your networking results. In the first few seconds that you meet someone, you have to tell them what you do in such a passionate and compelling manner that they say: “Wow! Tell me more!
For example, my opening is: “I help entrepreneurs and business owners achieve their life ambition of planning, launching and growing a successful business.”  After the introductions, you only have a few minutes to explain what you and your business does in such a convincing way that they want to schedule a time to meet with you afterwards. You’ve got to make every minute count!  The best advice I can give is to develop a strategic networking plan!   Describe your ideal target segment in detail, and identify where they network.
Find the top industry associations/groups of professionals that represent your target segment. Create a 90-day calendar of events that they attend. Make sure that you register to attend as many of their events as you possibly can. Meanwhile, you can and should join as many of their peer groups on LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows you to join up to 50 groups. When you sign up to attend networking events (especially using MeetUp) you will receive invites from those groups. Their invitations include notifications of other members that register to attend. Research the group members that respond they are attending on LinkedIn to see if they are a potential customer for you.
Next, send the folks that seem like a match for you a note through LinkedIn saying you look forward to meeting with them at the event. You should also invite them to join you on LinkedIn. This will help you facilitate a more personal introduction when you meet them at the event, while also building your professional network online (as well as your online brand.) If they are receptive to you (meaning they accept your invitation and/or send you a note saying they look forward to meeting with you) then follow them on Twitter. Always tweet about the events you’re going to attend, and be sure to post status updates both before and after you attend events in LinkedIn and on your FaceBook pages. Be sure to thank the meeting facilitators/hosts.

Have a scripted sales pitch all ready to go for each event. Send people that you speak with at events an immediate follow up with reminders of your conversation. Spend NO MORE THAN 10 minutes with every person you meet. Anything longer than that is wasted time. You should be scheduling a time to meet with them afterwards so you can make a maximum number of contacts while you’re at the event. When you are speaking to people you should be spending most of the time LISTENING. Ask them probing and thoughtful questions like: “Why are you here this evening?” or “What are you looking to get out of this event?
It’s always a good idea to ask questions like: “What are your top challenges that your firm is facing right now?” that will help you to identify their top business challenges and reveal ways that you can provide a solutions to the challenges they face. This is the single fastest way to make an emotional connection with a potential client. And we all know that people ALWAYS make purchase decisions on emotional levels and use data/facts to rationalize/support their (emotional) decisions. People buy from people they like being around. Check out what Ivan Misner, Founder of BNI has to say about networking in this video: “Ten Commandments for successful Networking.”
Get their contact details into your contact management system immediately. Call the highest priority pre-qualified leads back within 24 hours. Add them to your Google Circles.

If they shared with you any special needs or challenges they face, it will make a very positive impression with them if you share relevant information, resources that provides answers to any questions they had. It’s also a nice touch to introduce them to people in your professional network who might be able to assist them based on anything they revealed to you when you spoke with them at the networking event. The bottom line is, networking works best consistently getting exposure for yourself, your firm and your products and services to the right target audience is a VERY powerful strategic way to fill your sales pipeline. Need more help with prospecting? Get my e-book on “Prospecting for Customer Gold” at Happy Memorial Day!