Networking. It is one of the main tools in a marketing toolbox. So, you find the events that potential clients attend, you put your name on the attendee list, and you go. Then what? If you are good at working a room, you introduce yourself to as many people as you can as you make your way through the crowd, where you often run into competitors and few real prospects. If you aren’t extroverted, outgoing, and good at working the room, these events can be painful. Often you can find someone you know and perhaps he/she can make some introductions. Hopefully you remembered to bring an ample number of pristine business cards and you exchange them with the attendees. Then what? My next step is always to follow up with a letter or email and send information to the contact. But, after that, what happens? Sometimes a follow up meeting or lunch can be arranged – if you are diligent and proactive to getting these scheduled. But, often, your networking feels like much effort for little return. And, there is the cost. The cost to attend the function can easily be $25 to $50, plus the hours it takes to attend. The reality is that these functions are important to do, but rarely lead to direct business unless you get lucky on your timing and happen to find someone who needs what you do at the right time. To get more from your networking efforts, use them as learning experiences. Seek competitive intelligence. Look at how others are marketing and at their marketing materials so that you can look at ways to set yourself apart from competitors. Learn more about the industry, including the vendors and consultants to the industry, and generally how the world goes round for your prospects. The more industry knowledge you gain, the better you will be able to market to your clients and speak their language while finding ways to solve their problems. So, look beyond the obvious marketing approach when attending networking events and use them to educate yourself to make your follow up efforts more productive.
Between the two of us, my spouse/business partner is the networker. I am just not good at networking and I guess I never will be. On the rare occasions when I have to attend a networking event, I spend most of my time at the event hoping no one will talk to me. I dislike making small talk, wearing a name badge, and in general, participating in polite discourse, all on the name of hoping someone will hire my company/me to work on an important case. I don’t have much to say about this topic, but I will note that, if you have someone who is better at networking than someone else in the company, send the person who excels at this skill. It will not help your company in the least to force someone like me to attend a networking event; in fact, it could do more harm than good. This is another example of assigning tasks and adopting roles that are good personality fits for each individual, rather than trying to force the proverbial square peg into the round hole.