Effective networking either comes naturally or doesn’t. And it’s difficult to learn if you’re in the latter camp, not to mention potentially terrifying. But it’s worth the time and effort as it won’t just help you meet prospects and increase your new business pipeline. It will help you form better relationships with those you work with every day which will in turn enable you to be better at what you do.
For marketers, I see networking as having two distinct, but equally important branches. One is networking to meet new people, grow the business, and find talented people to join your team. The second is networking within your client pool or your own organization, depending on if you’re in house or agency side. This is just as important as it helps ensure you have your finger on the pulse of what is actually happening within the business each day.
Starting with networking to meet new people, here are some tips I’ve found to get me past the initial hello.
- Plan ahead. There’s nothing like standing in front of someone you’d really like to build a relationship with as silence stretches between you. Go to any event with a couple of topics that will move you past ‘hello’ over the course of five to ten minutes. Weather and sports are good starting points. Or if you’re at an industry event, know what big news happened that day. Five minutes reading the paper that morning can set you up for 30 minutes of networking conversation. But remember to avoid any topic you wouldn’t talk to your grandmother about at dinner, including politics or religion.
- Be engaged. Nothing engages people faster than feeling like you are interested in what they have to say. ‘What did you think of that last panel?’ or ‘Have you been to these events before?’ are great starting points.
- Collect business cards, electronic or otherwise. And make notes, albeit not while you’re standing in front of someone. Find a quiet spot later and jot down anything relevant they said so you can follow up with them. If memory isn’t your strong suit, this also helps keep people straight if you’re meeting lots of new faces.
- Face your fears. It’s okay to walk up to a group of strangers and join a conversation. But don’t just stand there until someone acknowledges you. Join the group and introduce yourself to your neighbor in the first 30 seconds. ‘Hi, I’m Clare. I haven’t been too one of these events before, any pointers?’ is a good example of how to get the conversation going.
- Have an exit strategy. Networking is partly about working a room. So talking to one person all night isn’t the best idea, even if they are the most interesting person on the planet. Think of a few pre-determined ways to excuse yourself from a conversation politely and you’ll be grateful.
- And always follow up and nurture relationships, as you never know when a contact turns into a lead or a stellar new employee. Even if five out of six people you meet aren’t prospects or candidates now, they know people who know people. And sometimes it’s the long game that delivers the goods.