I spend a lot of time out networking. I have three or four networking groups that I try to go to consistently. I'm working to build relationships and to create community... I know that's not a surprise for those of you who know me.
What most of you probably don't know is that while I enjoy people, the traditional concept of networking to make a "sale" terrifies me. I am not a sales person. Yes, I know that to successfully operate my business, I need to makes sales. However, the concept of "selling" my services just feels wrong.
So over the last couple years, I've worked to shift how I approach networking. Now when I go to a networking event, I see it more as an opportunity to plant the seed of a relationship which I can then nourish and grow over time. That's a much better fit! I love people; I like making new friends; and I'm not interested in the short, quick one time sale (because in my industry it's all about repeat clients and referrals).
Today, I had the opportunity to share my approach with 20 local Chamber of Commerce Members. It was neat watching them as I discouraged them for introducing themselves with the traditional elevator speech and instead asked them to be curious, ask questions, listen attentively, and let the conversation grow naturally.
We talked about going to any networking event with plan in place that outlined who we might want to connect with, why we wanted to make that connection, where we would find them (at what events), how we were going to approach them, and what a prepared list of questions that would help us engage them in conversation. You could almost see people relax as they realized the value of this slight shift in approach.
A new networking relationship is like any other new relationship; it's important to invest in learning about each other by asking open ended questions. Many of which are not about what business they are in. Rather the focus might be on what do you enjoy most? What is your biggest challenge? The goal of the conversation is to learn more about your new "friend's" needs and wants so that you can support them on their entrepreneurial journey. Keep the focus on them.
Again, you could almost hear the sigh of relief... "you mean i don't have to sell my products and services at the first meeting?" I was quick to reassure the group, that no, you don't. That comes later... in some cases, much later.
In fact, it's better to see the first networking introduction as an opportunity to learn about your new contact, to establish a foundation for friendship upon which you can build. Then, continue to nurture the relationship over time; one email, phone call, or article at a time. Be consistent. Be patient. Have fun.
I know that for me, that the shift in approach has made it significantly easier to build the relationships and connect with clients. Ultimately, as the relationship grows, the conversation naturally slides over to them asking me... What is it you do? How can I help you? and that is when I can tell them about my programs and services.
And this point, I know them well enough to be able to craft an invitation to work with HIP that reflects their unique needs and pain points in business. I'm not selling them anything; instead I'm offering them solutions that will help them move forward in their business.
By taking the long-term approach I'm building a network of people who know who I am, what I value, and who believe in the work that I do... and are happy to not only invest in my services, but also to make referrals and provide testimonials.
Check out the Powerpoint from today and the handouts from today's presentation here. Let me know what you think. Is this a more comfortable approach for you to take? What questions have you used that jumpstart the conversations and begin to build relationships? I'd love to learn about what you are doing...