Attending networking events is a great way to meet potential customers, but how you go about it has changed. In fact, some networking techniques that were popular just a few years ago will get you nowhere at today’s networking functions. Here are three networking mistakes you should avoid.
For years we have been hearing about a widespread “sea change” in the business world. Certainly technology developments have made some of our former networking moves obsolete. You wouldn’t hand out 8 track tapes at a Chamber of Commerce reception, for example. Likewise, some of our spoken messages don’t attract new acquaintances as they once did. Worse, they drive people away. Let’s look at three of those outmoded approaches.
Within a few seconds of a conversation, you can tell that the person who has just introduced himself is a scorekeeper. Here are his initial comments, and your responses:
“Nice to meet you. Let’s swap business cards. Here’s mine.”
“Well sure, I guess so. I can tell you get right to the point. Will you request a card from everybody you meet tonight?”
“Oh, yeah. And I hope to reach my quota.”
“Yep, way I look at it there are a hundred people here. We’ll be here two hours. I’ve set my quota at fifty cards. Ought to collect at least that many if I don’t linger too long with anybody I meet.”
“Then I guess you have a desk full of business cards in your office.”
“Right, getting close to a thousand. Man, my business will start booming any day now.”
Years ago this networking style seemed sensible. The more names in your “pipeline,” the more people you could call, the more appointments you could get, and the more clients you could welcome.
However, networking experts are advising against this strategy now. They recommend that we abandon our numerical quests. Rather than compiling a huge list of supposed prospects, become closely acquainted with 20-25 business leaders who will learn what you do, advise you, refer you, and even hire you. Keep these people informed about your new ideas and directions. Send them articles that relate to their personal and corporate needs. Recommend the best books you have read lately. Interview them on video, to spotlight their expertise. And while you are fostering these valuable relationships, the scorekeepers will be driving prospects away with their incessant desire to “press the flesh” of the masses.
The deal closer goes beyond mere name collecting. She wants you—and everyone else she meets at this event—to sign on the dotted line now. Well, what about relationship building, cultivation, and establishing credibility? To her, they just waste time. She came here this evening to get more customers. Here’s her typical conversation:
“Nice to meet you. You know, it’s getting near vacation time. Have you planned yours yet?”
“No, we have been rather busy, and…ac”
“Oh, you’re in luck. Good thing you haven’t signed up for any place yet, because I’ve got just the place you and your family will enjoy. Take a look at this brochure.”
“I appreciate your wanting to help. I’ll share this with my wife. We’ll get back to you.”
“No sir, that’s not a smart move. The special seasonal rates end in a few days. You have to make your flight and hotel reservations immediately. Now, here’s my pen—and that line is where you give us your name and credit card information.”
“Sorry, I can’t do that now. Excuse me, there’s a friend across the room I need to say hello to.”
Chances are strong that the deal closer will fail with everybody she talks to tonight. Meanwhile, savvy sales professionals all around her are treating new acquaintances this way: asking them about their products, services, hobbies, families, and opinions on major news stories. They are establishing rapport, which they will expand in future conversations over coffee, lunches, and meetings in conference rooms.
The dull describer means well. He is not as tactless or abrupt as the scorekeeper or deal closer, he just does not know how to make his service sound attractive or valuable. In other words, his popularly labeled “elevator speech” takes him to the basement, not to the top floor.
When asked what he does, he might respond:
“I’m with Central States Dental Practice.”
So, what does that tell us? In our most negative thinking, we picture him sticking needles into our gums, drilling on decayed teeth, performing a root canal, or at worst pulling one or more teeth. We might not want to talk with this guy very long.
His description could become less dull this way:
“I’m an orthodontist.”
Instantly, his image has improved. Because we are adults, we won’t be sitting in his chair. Children will do that. Yet parents are going to be in for a big hit on their budget over a number of months. So far, we see little reason to talk any further.
There’s good news for the dull describer, though. By altering his description, he can overcome the image of being merely painful and expensive. Here’s how:
“I help children start smiling like they never wanted to smile before, because my treatment gives them teeth they are proud to show to everybody.”
You answer: “That’s really exciting. My youngest daughter needs what you offer. Can we arrange for her to see you next week?”
As you look back over these three distasteful and destructive ways to describe yourself at a networking event, make the changes you consider necessary. Forget about amassing numbers, and identify business leaders you need to establish bonds with. Forget about making sales-on-the-spot, and present yourself as a keen listener. Reshape your elevator speech to clarify how your service benefits your clients now and long-range. Not only will your networking become noticeably more effective, you will enjoy the process more than you ever have.