Yeah, NO – Networking is not really working for me . . . and yet . . .

I recently re-relocated to the Tampa Bay area (grew up in St. Pete), I jumped into (literally and figuratively) Bay area networking. You know… those events where people gather and make small talk in hopes that it leads to large sales. 

Occasionally, I come across someone I’ve known for a while who says “Yeah, NO – I’m not getting anything OUT OF networking” and a juxtaposed two-shot of Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality enters my head . . . and the question begs “what are you putting INTO Networking?”

As a business nerd, I’m comfortable dealing with facts and figures and there’s no mistaking the impact of building business through “Word of Mouth” marketing.  Networking can be an effective tool in hearing more words – and seeing more mouths:     

  • 84% of American consumers completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends – it’s the highest ranked source for trustworthiness.
  • 74% identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision.
  • 91% of B2B buyers are influenced by word-of-mouth in making buying decisions.
  • Word-of-mouth improves traditional marketing effectiveness by up to 54%.
  • 64% of their survey respondents mostly or completely agree that word-of-mouth marketing is more effective than traditional marketing.
  • 50% indicated that they’ve incorporated word-of-mouth marketing into their traditional marketing campaigns.
  • But how do you get that Bullock “after” look? 

Here are a few tips:

Treat your business card as an asset versus a card-game

When you show up ready to pass out business cards like you’re a Las Vegas blackjack dealer, you’re creating an impression that anyone with a pulse is a prospect.  Having a thoughtful conversation AND making a connection warrants a business card. 

Using it as a “calling card” usually means there will be no callbacks. 

Use networking opportunities to practice speaking in “elevators”

Become so well-practiced (but not robotic) that you can focus your attention on the reaction and response people give you. (It’s not what you said – it’s what THEY heard).  In one group, several of us marvel that a woman speaking could talk a full two minutes in rapid staccato without taking a breath.  We were no longer listening but hearing her memorized monologue. 

Regular networking opportunities give you a chance to change up your initial impression by practicing in a “safer space” – if it is a regular group, you can ask for feedback on which approach resonates better with prospects.  What do they want to hear from you? 

“Read the room” before the room reads you

Sometimes the best connections (who have the best referrals) are the people standing on the sidelines.  The regulars know each other and have moved beyond business to chat about personal life.  It certainly makes it hard to talk about business when the first question is “How’s the family?”  Seek out people who are alone – welcome them – and ask them questions about their business:  who’s their target market, who’s a good referral, why do people buy from them.

Know your own target market – there’s a difference between a warm body and a warm lead

“If you stand in it – or on it, I can sell it.”  “It” was real estate, and that’s the intro I got from a real estate agent. (I heard that there were more real estate agents in Pinellas County than anywhere in the nation – so she’s got LOTS of competition)

Because she didn’t specialize – or by inference – excel – in any segment, I was left with the impression that her approach was like cooking pasta “throw it against the wall” and see what sticks.  On a side note, I asked her if she was in sales and she looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  She focused on what she does and not who she serves.   

Sharing who your target market is (and who it isn’t) allows people to better define (and remember) who you are and what you do.    I’m not in digital marketing – but have lots of referrals who are – so when I attend networking events, I’m actually introduced as “Sheila – she doesn’t “do” digital but she’s hugely creative – and measures her success by YOUR sales” – That’s an okay – and clearly differentiating – introduction – by me.

Follow-up – Follow-up – Follow-up

Don’t put those business cards in a drawer and check in every 3 months to see who changed jobs or call them immediately looking for an introduction to the decision maker in their office (unless they volunteer it, of course):

Connect with them on Linkedin (again, stats say a personal note increases connection rates). 

Send a thank you note for their time

Think – and do – referrals! 

Connect THEIR dots – introduce people who might be good mutual resources – take the lead in making positive e-troductions, including “why” the two people should meet.  One person struggling to grow her business sent me her database and said “just use my name . . .” Ugh, NO – but it also explains why her business was struggling.  She didn’t value her database – nor me for that matter. 

Follow-up with a coffee / lunch – or just connect at the next networking event – you should be there anyway (are you going is a great incentive / encouragement)

Be alert to articles about their business or industry – share it with them – it shows that you 1) try to stay current with business and 2) they weren’t out-of-sight / out-of-mind

And it works: 

In my roughly 10 months of actively networking in Tampa Bay – I’ve met the highest caliber of professionals – and connected to some great organizations – made my fair share of sales. I may not look like the Bullock “after” – but I’m certainly in the running for Miss Congeniality :- ) !