In this day of electronic connectivity – cell phones (in all their variations), e-mail, the Web (“Internet”) – it’s easy to lose sight of a powerful yet dying phenomenon: the face-to-face meeting. Sure, staying in touch electronically is fine once the relationship has begun, but how do you meet that prospect initially?
Time was, networking functions were very common. Two previous employers were members of the local chamber of commerce. I and other employees often took advantage of the membership by showing up at the After 5 get-togethers. They were mostly social events for me, as I didn’t feel comfortable networking at the time. I always envied one former boss who would could work the room like a pro. He was well known, due to his position with that company, but still: why didn’t I feel as comfortable?
In recent years I’ve made a push to get more involved in networking functions. When I was president of the Rotary Club of New Berlin, I made a point to actively promote the club. But I’m a business owner, as well. I need to continue marketing for the company, and networking should be an important component of that.
Yes, even in these hyper-connected days, when – supposedly – people don’t need to talk in person, there is a great need for just that. Indeed, a business person I spoke with at a networking function mentioned that he relies on face-to-face meetings with his prospects. He realizes the power of that type of exchange. He “networks hard,” and uses the introductions he makes there to set the stage for personal presentations later.
How about you? How often do you participate in networking functions? Is your business a bit off? Could be you’ve slacked off in your marketing efforts, including networking. Make a point this year to network more. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results.
It’s important, though, to approach the event with the proper mindset. Sure, you’re out to meet prospects, and you hope to score some business. But today’s business climate is different. The philosophy today is one of mutual benefit: I gain by helping you if I can. Take the time to get to know the folks you meet at those events, including how you may be able to help them. Ask: What sort of customer are you looking for? What type of situation do look for in a prospect that your product or service can solve?
By asking the right questions and listening carefully, you are better able to potentially help another business person someday. Meantime, of course, you’ve enlightened that person on your firm’s strengths and needs. Perhaps you can find some common ground that night, and you agree to meet later. If not, you both come away knowing more about the other person and feeling positive about what was discussed.
Remember to e-mail a nice thank you afterward. The follow-up message is another facet of business that, sadly, has fallen by the wayside.
The social aspect of networking is great. Heck, I pigged out on the food just like a lot of other folks. But remember to make good use of the chance to build your network. You don’t find that many people like that under one roof very often.
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