You’ve heard it before.
The best business leads come from referrals. The prospect already believes you can help them. Word-of-mouth from a trusted friend gives you instant credibility. The ideal selling situation, right?
So you take time out from a million other things you should be doing to go to a networking event.
But you leave empty handed.
Driving back to your office you get a nagging feeling you just wasted three hours. Sure, you schmoozed a lot of people. You passed out a bunch of business cards. But no solid leads.
Maybe networking doesn’t work for your business, you conclude.
Don’t give up just yet! Before you throw in the towel, take a look at your networking strategy. You did go in with a strategy, didn’t you?
If you’re like most people getting started, odds are you didn’t. Let’s change that now by looking at two secrets savvy networkers know about getting the most out of business networking.
How a networking strategy gets you new business
When you plan in advance, it’s surprising how often circumstances will fit into your plan. That’s why it’s so important to have a networking strategy before you begin. It helps create circumstances that lead to customer referrals.
Getting started with a networking plan boils down to two basic components: people and places. Savvy networkers are strategic about targeting who they want to meet and where to find them. That enables them to focus their efforts on making the right connections.
The first step is to clearly identify who you’re targeting.
Sounds obvious, I know. But because it’s so simple, it’s easy to gloss over. The key is to get specific in defining your best prospect. Start with profiling your best customers. For example:
- What industry are they in?
- How long have they been in business?
- What size is their company?
- Where are they located?
- What is their job function and responsibility?
- What problems do they need to solve?
This level of detail gives people in your network a clear picture of who you want to connect with. You can have more productive referral conversations with them: “Who you know in a [role] position in a [size] company in the [industry] who needs help with [problem]?”
The second step in your networking strategy is to identify which groups are best suited for meeting your ideal prospects. What are your options?
In Networking like a Pro, Ivan Misner identifies four types of networking groups. Here is a brief description of each.
- Casual-contact networks
The local Chamber of Commerce is an example of this kind of network. They are open to a variety of professions and typically meet six-to-ten times a year. Meetings usually consist of a featured guest speaker and informal networking with local business leaders.
- Knowledge networks
The most common type of knowledge network is a professional association geared to a specific industry. Membership is heavily concentrated on business services focused on exchanging information and ideas related to the industry.
- Online networks
LinkedIn, XING, Ecademy and even Facebook are examples of online platforms used for business networking. They enable you to engage with large groups of people at low cost and effort.
- Strong-contact network
Most strong-contact groups are focused on building deep connections and exchanging referrals among members. The groups limit membership to one person per profession or specialty.
There are no short cuts to building a referral network. It takes time to establish credibility and trust with your connections. But building a networking strategy on these two pillars will spare you a lot of frustration and wasted time.
What networking strategies have you found effective?