When I first left my regular, full time job and started to sell, the first thing I learned was how to network. I wish I networked before. Having a good network of contacts would have been a valuable asset in some of my job duties.
I joined a networking group that met right around the corner of my house. My reasons to network were to meet and learn from other sales professionals, hopefully be able to sell to some of them and to socialize. I learned quite a bit in those first few years:
1. Networking is not selling: While someone you meet networking may want to buy what you have to sell, most people you meet will be good referral contacts. A majority of the networking events out there are to do just that: Network, Not Sell. So, when you introduce yourself to someone you meet, learn some things about that person. Don’t try to give that new contact your entire sales pitch.
2. Network where it will work: Not all networking events are equal. Learn about the various networking organizations out there, visit first before joining and see who their members are. If you are going to a networking event that has a lot of salespeople present, but you want to meet stay-at-home-moms because you sell Mary Kay, then perhaps you should be networking at a mom’s group. If your focus is on health and beauty, don’t attend an information technology event.
3. It’s you, not me: When meeting a new contact, pay attention to what they tell you. It’s all about them, not you. Taking the time to care will give that person a genuine interest in you too. It’s a two way street.
4. Target Networking: You don’t have to go to a planned networking event to meet the right people. A great way to network with targeted contacts is by finding them on Linkedin. Using the advanced people search feature, you’re able to find local contacts in specific industries or job roles to meet with. Send those people an Inmail, let them know you’d like to network and schedule a coffee or lunch.
5. Start your own: I started running my own networking groups. As I decided who I wanted to network with, I created groups on Linkedin and used those groups to promote my own events. Some of the groups I run include Orange County Human Resources Group, A Golf & Business Networking Group, Orange County Women Entrepreneurs & Executives to name a few. Starting the group is a great way to promote it, but putting together a live event so you may network face to face with your group members is key to successfully building a true relationship.
Whatever you choose to do, do some networking. And, nurture your contacts carefully. Just meeting and greeting a person at a noisy and busy event isn’t enough, schedule direct meetings; coffee, golf, etc. and get to know them and their business better.