Many sales pros and business owners tell me “networking” is how they fill their pipeline with leads and opportunities. I rarely believe them. Networking can lead to opportunities, but more often than not, “networking” simply fills up their calendar and gives them the feeling that they’re accomplishing something. They feel “busy” and believe “busy” is a good use of their time.
If you’re relying on networking to increase your sales results, you’re just burning money and wasting your time.
My experience has shown me that networking is a “hope” to increase sales so you don’t have to actually perform those selling activities (prospecting, calling,asking for referrals, nurturing, et cetera). Most networking is ineffective as there’s no pre-game plan and effective post-game follow through. Most events are filled with the wrong people. They’re not your target audience, they’re sales reps looking for their next customers just like you are.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to events or try to meet new people face to face. You should examine your results from networking. Are you really gaining leads that turn into revenue? Think about the last deal you closed or your last new customer you signed on. Where did they come from? How did you make the first connection?
Or check it in reverse. When was the last time you met your ideal client at an event? Last month? Last year? Never? If you’re not sure or doubt my theory here, take this quick yes/no quiz to understand. See if you answer “YES” to one or more of the following:
Top 5 signs you’re wasting time and burning money on networking
1) You don’t know who’s going to be there.
2) You see the same people at every event.
3) You’re not getting any response when you follow up.
4) You don’t walk away with at least 5 solid connections from your target audience.
5) You only talk to people you already know.
More than one yes? Take a $100 bill out of your wallet. Now light it on fire. That’s about the equivalent of going to a lunch event where you hope you’ll meet your next best future client. You’ve wasted both time and money.
The reality is networking is much less effective than it used to be. We have more ways to “virtually” learn and engage with experts and also our sense of community now includes much more online and social networking. The elephant in the room is many of our ideal customers have so much on their plates, they’re essentially chained to their desks and don’t have the time or desire to “network” at events.
I do believe you should build a network. Your network can improve your net-worth. However, how you go about doing it should be intentional and a critical part of your selling activities – not in lieu of them.
Here’s how you create a turnaround for those networking blunders.
Top 5 ways to make Networking more effective:
1) Know who will be at an event before you go. Who is the speaker? Who will they draw as an audience? Who attended last time? What is the purpose of this group or organization? Does it align with your buyers’ goals and values? Call the organizer and ask for some examples of people, titles, or companies that have already signed up. Yes, they can tell you some of those details – don’t be shy. It’s YOUR time! Don’t accidentally spend it with the wrong people at the wrong event for you. If this is the right event, see if there is a way to connect with people ahead of time. OR – use this as a touch point and reach out to prospects to see if they’re attending or if they’d like to attend as your guest.
2) Skip the same-old-same-old. If you’re seeing the same people everywhere, that’s not a good sign that it’s the right event for you. Skip it and move on. Let them continue to talk to each other in circles while you go and find your customers online and connect with them virtually or over the phone.
3) Prepare. Most people “wing it” and give mediocre first impressions. If you KNOW you could meet someone really important, why wouldn’t you prepare for what you’ll say and how you’ll be memorable? If you know WHO will be there, what would be a conversation catalyst to get them to open up? Create a flexible Talk Track for your audience. Practice it and prepare to intentionally build relationships.
4) Challenge yourself. Don’t talk to people you already know. Sounds obvious, but when I’ve observed my sellers at events, they make a beeline for friendly faces and many times huddle up in conversations with people they already know and sit at tables with friends or colleagues. This does nothing to advance your sales efforts. Make a plan of WHO you want to meet and how you’re going to find them. Have a target goal for how many meaningful connections you can make. At a lunch event, 3 – 5 is a good target. It’s not a quantity over quality business card collection game. If you don’t have a target to challenge yourself, you’ll probably end up playing it safe.
5) Follow up. Don’t fall short here either. If you’ve made a great connection with someone at an event, be clear about what your next step will be: “I’ll call you Monday to set up a meeting.” Or “Let’s connect on LinkedIn.” Or “Let me introduce you to our engineer who might have some ideas for you.” Don’t let your audience guess – if, how, or when you’ll follow up with them. Be specific and follow through. Go back to your office and put them into your CRM with follow up activities to nurture the relationship. One email with the usual “nice to meet you” platitudes is NOT enough to keep a relationship going. Stoke the fires and add fuel.
Let’s be clear: Networking alone won’t increase your sales. It cannot replace your sales efforts. Networking – when done well – with preparation, intention, and follow up practices, can effectively compliment your sales efforts.
If you’re not willing to put in the effort on the front and back end, you’re not going to get the results you desire and are just wasting your time being “busy.”
Until next time, stop hoping, start SELLING!
Shawn is the Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of The Selling Agency – a strategy firm that builds Competitive Advantages for Small, Mid-Sized Businesses and hungry Sales Teams that need to increase revenue and profitability. Her firm coaches sales teams and trains clients in mature, highly competitive, highly commoditized industries – deeply differentiate their offers and go-to-market strategy to profoundly connect with their customers.