He once told me that he had difficulty closing sales because of how young he looks, and felt embarrassed to put the title of “director” on his name card. He felt that no one would take him seriously. I asked him if he would attend business networking sessions again, and his reply was no. I shall ask him again in a couple of months.
I was introduced recently to another young entrepreneur, also in his early 20s, at a much larger scale networking event. When the event started, everyone was given the opportunity to move around, introduce themselves and find out something unique about the persons they interact with. This young entrepreneur completely freaked out and sneaked off by the side door. He never returned.
So here comes the third young aspiring entrepreneur - “Lisa” (not her real name), in her early 20s like the two gentlemen mentioned above. She was all prepped up and had her speech ready. She received wonderful feedback from two other business owners. They praised her for her courage in going into business and her sincerity in networking. Not too bad a start for someone like her attending such a large-scale event for the very first time!
One of the key effective marketing strategies, especially for B2Bs, is networking. Networking is all about effective relationship building. Think about this: why would anyone part with a million dollars and give it to you without knowing if you are reliable or can be trusted?
That being said, having observed the 2 young male entrepreneurs, there are many more out there who turn blue in sessions like these, because they do not know how to carry and present themselves professionally in front of others, let alone know what to say and what to ask.
Networking is an art, and for most of us, it requires practice. Just like Lisa who did some homework prior to attending the session, prepared her speech, dressed appropriately and presented herself very well. Nevermind how ‘raw’ and ‘green’ she sounded but her sincerity was enough to win over a few people.
Lets look at your past 3 months of networking activities which you attended, and ask how many of them have contributed in terms of :
• ‘providing you key information that is beneficial’
• ‘providing or exchange of referral opportunities’
• and most importantly ‘a sale contributing revenue to your business’
I conducted this same exercise with a handful of business owners, and alarmingly, only 1 or 2 out of 10 fulfilled any of the above checklist.
So here are a few key tips should you plan to go to a business networking event:
1) Set your RAS – Reticular Activating System - of how many people you want to speak with and what your objectives are.
2) Prepare your speech, one that can be clearly understood in less than a minute.
3) Come prepared with a few leading questions that give you the opportunity to find out more information which serves your objectives.
4) Ask the right questions.
5) Think Win/Win, how it can be mutually beneficial.
6) Be sincere and remember to smile.
If you are looking to improve your skills in networking, I would suggest BNI as a good start and training ground. BNI, a global establishment, provides a very systematic structure and training to help entrepreneurs get more referrals, generate more leads and to network effectively.
My parting shot:
When a window of opportunity arises, do you wait and see or will you take action first?
Get out of your comfort zone today, and grab the opportunity of meeting the next contact in a business event – one who can potentially give you a multi-million dollar deal or a learning experience that is priceless.
Go for it!