You get up from your desk and prepare to attend a late afternoon networking event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, a wedding association or better yet The Knot. Quickly you gather up a stack of business cards, rehearse your elevator speech and set out on a mission to meet as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. This basic 101 approach to business development has been taught to many of us for years and has been the topic of countless books, the mantra of sales consultants and motivational speakers. Today, developing networking techniques that yield tangible results involve less of quantity and more of quality. Meaning, just as you take the patience and time to plan an event for a client, you need to take the same path in planning your networking and business development. Having had the benefit of going through numerous sales training programs, a shelf full of sales books and learning for others, I am telling you – your style and appearance determines your success.
Be Selective. As you enter a room, the very first thought that should cross your mind is how many people can I introduce myself to in a short period of time. Like a presidential candidate, you start making your way across the room shaking hands and handing out cards. Or do you appear to others as if you are lost at sea and not really sure what you are doing at this event? If the interaction is 30 seconds or less, the person has completely forgotten who you are once you walked away. Even if they slip the business card into their pocket, when they get back to the office, they have no idea who you are and toss it in the circular file.
So, what should you do: Pick 3-4 attendees that you are looking to engage in a meaningful conversation. You may not always know in advance who they are, but upon entering the event take some time to view the room and make some observations. Instinct will kick in and quickly your gut will tell you who those people are.
Be Knowledgeable. A networking event is more than just meeting people it’s an opportunity to share ideas and trends about the industry that is represented. As you sip your morning coffee that day, take some time to review current news articles and industry reports. Once you make an introduction to the key 3 or 4 people you are targeting, adding value to the conversation will make you stand out and will prevent that business card from ending up in the circular file after the event. Reference what you have read and offer to share what information you have found with those that you have met. This adds credibility and will be an opening to continue dialogue beyond the event.
Be Proactive. Once you have left the event, continue the conversation by following up with an email and highlight a point in the conversation that will reinforce why this person should continue to engage with you. Extend an invitation to meet again and offer an incentive for wanting to meet. That incentive should not be a gift but the fact you can exchange knowledge or information about the industry and why together, both of you can find success in knowing each other. A word of caution, we quickly jump into the mode of asking for referrals or business, however, this is a continuation of building trust and value between you and the other business owner.
How does this relate to Style and Appearance? By not coming into a networking event like a bull in a china shop, spraying the room with business cards and handshakes, you create a professional appearance. Your style of networking will quickly gain the trust and respect of those you really want to do business with. I have personally found this technique to work to my benefit. It has allowed me to build a cohesive, solid network of peers and centers of influence over the years, resulting in a consistent pipeline of new business.