Everyone can learn to network. Salespeople and entrepreneurs need to become expert at it.

Do you network effectively in a crowd? Do the time and money you spend attending association meetings and events turn into revenue?

Networking is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to increase sales. But just showing up doesn’t cut it.

Frequently I walk into “networking” events and see the following; people register, walk into the meeting room, find their friends or coworkers, sit down, and start eating. They chat with the people they know and then listen to the speaker while they finish their meal. When the speaker finishes, the raffle prizes are given and people leave.

Those are not really networking events, although they are sometimes advertised that way. Meet and eats are extremely common; professional organizations and service organizations have them monthly and weekly. The purpose is to get the members together to get to know each other, conduct the business of the group, and hear an informational speaker.

The “get to know each other” part is the part that needs work. Some people attend these meet and eats for years and never get to know the other members. They don’t build relationships that could lead to referrals and direct business.

So here is the way to make the most of these meet and eats. They usually have registration 30 minutes before the meeting starts. I highly recommend you arrive then and use that time to meet as many people as you can.

Choose the organizations you attend based on the objectives you have and the results you get. If you are not comfortable meeting new people, then find someone who will introduce you or follow the 10 steps below.

Figure out the best places to meet your ideal prospects.

This may mean experimenting a bit and thinking “outside the box.” Your best prospects are not always where you think they are.

If you make a list of the networking events you attend on a regular basis, you can analyze how much business you have gotten from each and determine if you should continue attending.

Even if you are attending for charitable purposes, the relationships you build can result in referrals or direct business. A newspaper or business journal will be helpful to find listings of local networking events.

You can also research organizations on the internet and find local chapters.

Here are a few organizations to consider:

  • American Marketing Association (AMA)
  • Business Women’s Association (ABWA)
  • Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW)
  • eWomen Network
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Human Resource Associations (SHRM)
  • State and Regional Economic Development Authorities
  • Institute of Management Consultants (IMC)
  • Women in Technology (WITI)
  • Society of Women Engineers (SWE)
  • National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisor (NAIFA)
  • Lion’s Clubs
  • Rotary Clubs
  • Soroptimists
  • Zonta International

There are many wonderful business and service organizations for almost any profession you
might be in. Don’t just attend your professional organization, visit the others as well. The
people who attend those are potential clients, referral sources and maybe new friends.

Set goals for each networking event.

What do you want to accomplish at the event?  What would you like to come away with? Don’t leave without meeting your objective. If your objective is to meet 10 new people, then don’t leave without meeting them.

Dress for success.

Wear something comfortable that makes you feel like a million bucks. A nice logo shirt with nice slacks or a skirt is appropriate most of the time. A dress or suit may be appropriate for some events. Don’t overlook this important detail.

Always wear your company name tag. If you look great, you will feel great and be more comfortable meeting new people. Ladies, you may want to wear something with pockets so you can keep your business cards and a pen handy. You don’t want to waste valuable networking time digging in your purse.

Attend new events with a member who will introduce you.

If you don’t know any members, call the president of the organization and let her know that you’d like to attend as someone’s guest. Call that person in advance and ask her to introduce you to the members at the event. Is there someone who will be attending that you have been trying to meet? Ask specifically to be introduced to that person.

If you’ve been there before, make it a point to meet all of the people in the room that you don’t know.

Don’t just talk to your friends and coworkers. Say “Hi” and keep moving.

Bringing a guest is a good excuse to work the room. Be sure to introduce them to as many people as possible without rushing.

If you are finding it hard to break away from those you know, you can say something like, “I don’t mean to rush off, but I want to introduce my guest to a few more people before the speaker starts,” or “Great talking to you, there are a few other people I need to see today. Enjoy the event.”

Have plenty of business cards with you.

Should I have to mention this? The answer is yes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at networking events and asked someone for their card and can’t believe my ears when they say, “I didn’t bring any,” or “I am out.”

Always have plenty of cards handy. Keep extras in your car, briefcase, purse, pockets and anywhere else you can think of. Have a pen handy to write notes on the cards you collect.

When you approach someone, make conversation by asking questions about them and their business.

Don’t pitch your business. Don’t even mention your business unless you are asked.

Ask good questions and listen. Find something you have in common. If you are shy or not sure how to start a conversation, you can always ask some of the following questions to get you started.

“Have you attended these meetings before?”

“I am new to this group, what do you like about belonging?”

“How long have you been a member? What are some of the benefits you utilize?”

“Tell me about your business. What do you enjoy most about it?”

“Are you from here? Have you lived here long?”

Be prepared with a great answer to “What do you do?”

If asked, give your 30-second answer and then talk about the results your customers receive in the form of a short success story. Rehearse, not so that it sounds scripted, so that it sounds great.

Stating the name of your company and your title is not enough. You need to say something that helps people understand what you do and engage them. Instead of “Hi, I am Ben from ABC Bank, I am a business banker” say something like, “ Hi, I am Ben from ABC Bank, I make it easy for small businesses to do their banking.”

Here is an example of a short success story:

“I recently worked with a company that had a great product but couldn’t get the sales they needed to make a profit. After interviewing their salespeople I put together a training course that gave their salespeople the skills they needed and within 3 weeks their sales increased by 20%.”

Ask for the type of business you want and be specific.

At the end of your success story, if you still have a captive audience, be sure to tell them the type of business you are looking for: “I am looking for small and midsize companies that want to increase their sales and have a budget for sales training. Do you know the CEOs of any companies like that? I would love the opportunity to talk with them and learn about what they are trying to accomplish.”

If they have referrals for you right there, be prepared to write them down and ask for a direct introduction in person or by phone or email. If not, let them know that you will get back to them at a later date to see if they have run across any. Then ask them what kind of referrals they would like if you haven’t already.

Follow up.

Networking is useless if you don’t do any follow-up. After the event, immediately enter the business cards you collected into your database. Be sure to add any notes you made on the cards during the event.

I always add the name of the event and the date so I can remember where I met them. If I send an email or a card, I make a note of that also. If you say, “Let’s get together for coffee or lunch,” then make that happen. It shouldn’t be something you just say to make conversation.

You can call or email after the event to set it up. Within 48 hours, be sure to send a “nice to meet you” note by mail or e-mail and anything else you promised to send. If they are not a potential customer, ask them to introduce you to those they know who may be, and refer people to them that might be their potential clients.

If they are a potential customer, learn as much as you can about their business and possible ways you might help them.

Figure out a way to keep in contact on a regular basis. Watch the media for the people you are interested in. If you see an article about them, clip it and send it to them with a note about doing business together. If you read an article that would interest them, send it.

Don’t let business cards collect dust on your desk. Go through them immediately after the event, and if you don’t enter them in your database, throw them out. Yes, it is okay to throw out a business card.

What I usually do is band all the cards from a specific event together with a note on them with the name of the event and the date. If I haven’t touched them in a month or two, I toss them.

Everyone can learn to network. Salespeople and entrepreneurs need to become expert at it.
Try to get everyone in your company to network. A great way to get started is to have the salespeople bring an employee with them to every networking event they attend.

Be sure you have a networking strategy. Choose carefully the events you attend and follow the 10 steps above to turn all the time, money, and effort spent at networking events into business.

About the author

Alice Heiman

Alice developed her expertise in sales while at Miller Heiman, Inc before striking out…

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