If you want to get new customers from business networking events, you might want to adjust your strategy just a little. If you do, like most small businesses, and try to force a “networking opportunity,” you might just be shooting yourself in the foot. However, a networking group or local chamber of commerce can be a great place to find your next big potential client. But only if you (1) spend time building relationships and (2) network with the right people.
We are taught to create this word-of-mouth advertising by “going out and networking” within the business community. So we go to business network happy hours or professional networking events. Of course, the unstated goal when we attend these meetings is to meet new people and make new connections so that these people and connections will buy from us. If you think about it, though, why is everyone else attending?
Yup, that is correct. They are all their to try to sell or promote themselves to you as well. So a majority of the people in the room came primarily to sell to other people in the room.
See the problem?
For instance, very few chamber members go to Chamber of Commerce meetings to buy things. The odds seem to be stacked against the attendees from the beginning. So, it is no wonder why most of most leave these networking functions thinking that we just wasted their time.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. By making just a few simple changes to your approach, you can become a center of influence in any room. You can generate new opportunities for business growth by making valuable connections with other top professionals. In effect, we can use these meetings as a way to generate significant word-of-mouth advertising.
Part 1: How to Get New Customers from Business Networking Events.
If you “network” like everyone else, you will likely just become a bitter and frustrated business professional. Remember that most people “network” to try to sell their stuff to other people. And, most people hate to “be sold to.” This creates a challenge unless you understand the true value of business networking events.
The goal is not to sell. Instead, your goal is to create and expand your “sphere of influence.” Once you create that mental shift, the way to expand your sphere of influence is to get other people to know, like, and trust you. Then finally, help other people in your sphere of influence get what they want, and your influence (and customer base) will grow.
Lets break each of these steps down into actionable processes.
Networking Is Not Selling. Instead, Networking Is an Opportunity to Increase Your Sphere of Influence.
One of the first things that we have to realize, though, is what ‘networking’ actually is and what it is not.
Word-of-mouth advertising is a great way to advertise your company. (It is also one of the cheapest ways to market your company.) But how do we generate this elusive type of advertising?
Networking IS NOT selling. (If you are in an MLM or direct-selling system, pay close attention here!) If we know 99% of the people at a networking function are there to promote their own product or service (not buy from us,) and we try to sell our product or service to them, we are likely to frustrate (and bore) ourselves and the people we are talking with.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is that once we get even a hint of interest from the person we are talking to, the salesperson FANGS (MLM fangs) come out. We practically beat our new acquaintance over the head with what we do, and how great we are, and why they should buy from us. All we are doing in a situation like this is pushing our prospect away.
Networking IS increasing our sphere of influence in order to promote our product or service to this sphere of influence at a future time. A friend of mine, Bob Burg wrote a book called Endless Referrals where he said that…
“People do business with and refer people to people they, know, like, and trust” (peer to peer networking.) — Bob Burg, Endless Referrals
So our goal during a networking function is not to sell, but to get more people to trust us. That way, they are more likely to buy from us in the future or refer people to us. One way to get people to know us, like us, and trust us more is to help them get what they want.
How to Get New Contacts to Know, Like, and Trust You.
People like other people who are interested in them. The most important topic to anyone you are speaking to is himself or herself. And since they are at the meeting to promote their product or service, then if we help them do that better, they are going to like and trust us more. The following questions are things that you can ask someone at a networking function that will get them to open up to you and tell you about themselves:
- What is your name? (Obviously a first question.)
- What do you do? (Still nothing out of the ordinary.)
- Do you travel much? What territory do you work in? (Any question about location.)
- What do you like most about what you do? (Keeps the conversation positive and gives you more insight about the person and his/her company.)
- What makes you or your company unique or different from your competition? (Let them brag.)
- What are some of your accomplishments or things you are proud of? (Let them brag more.)
- (Bob Burg’s Big Tip!) End by asking how you might recognize someone who would be a good prospect for the person.
These questions will help you really get to know the person and what he or she can do. As you ask these questions, be genuinely interested in the person’s answers. Your goal is to help find out what/who this person needs to be more successful.
For additional details about how to Influence and Persuade Others click here.
Now, Look for Others Within Your Sphere Who Might Be a Good Fit With Your New Contact.
With this type of information at your fingertips (and it is a good idea to write the information down-possible on the back of a business card,) as you network, eventually, you will come across someone who would be a good prospect for that person. The moment you introduce those two people, you become a center of influence in that room. Do this just a couple of times, and the word will spread very quickly about how YOU are the person that everyone needs to know.
What makes this process so successful is the third party endorsement. The person who you are helping to promote his or her product or service is no longer struggling to find a warm prospect, now they are receiving a third-party endorsement from you. That gives that person tremendous credibility to the prospect. You are helping both parties. These people tend to remember this type of help, and they return the favor ten-fold.
Part 2: Where to Get New Customers from Business Networking Events–What Kind of Events Should I Attend?
The second — and I think the really most important — part of business networking is knowing where to find new customers. Keep in mind that different types of customers attend business networking events. (And some of your best customers won’t ever attend any business networking events at all.) In order to figure out where to network — where to start expanding your sphere of influence, you have to analyze who your customer is.
Here is an example. When I first started my consulting business, I specialized in leadership development. My background was in helping new managers lead their teams more effectively. I had a lot of experience doing that. However, when I started my new company, I had no customers. So, I did what everyone else did. I joined the local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce. I went to all the small business breakfasts. When I went to these meetings, I brought plenty of business cards. I also used the “How to Expand Your Sphere of Influence” tips that I covered earlier. In fact, I spent ten or more hours every week helping other small business owners grow their businesses.
After a couple of years, I noticed that all that time was wasted. Granted, I got a random customer every now and then. But when I compared the revenue that I collected compared to the time spent, I was making less than minimum wage for all that time. My big problem was that none of the people I was interacting with had teams of managers. They were all small business owners. I needed to network in locations that had a higher concentration of my potential customers.
If You Sell “Business to Consumer,” Local Groups Who Organize In-Person Events Can Help You Create Meaningful Connections.
If you sell products or services to the general public within a local geographic region, almost any business networking group can help you. This type of sale is called “Business to Consumer.” For this type of customer, the goal is to focus on the quantity of new contacts versus quality. In the “Know, Like, and Trust” scenario, this type of networking focuses on the “Know” part with a secondary focus on the “Like” part. The “Trust” will come from the interaction with the customers that you generate from the business networking.
- A local deli might join the High School “Booster Club.” This owner could then donate sandwiches that the Booster Club could sell at football games. Sure, there is some cost in this type of networking. But the owner gets quality exposure to hundreds of new customers who now know that the deli is a promoter of the local community.
- A local sporting goods store manager might volunteer to help at the “Little League” ballpark. Most of the team coaches are parents who buy sports equipment every year. Over time, this manager can build strong relationships throughout the group. For instance, one of the kids may need a pinching coach. Since the store manager comes into contact with local coaches, he may recommend one. Now both that coach and the kid’s parents see this manager as an influential person.
- A local chiropractor could work the room at a local Jiu-Jitsu tournament. By using the questions I covered earlier, the chiropractor could develop relationships that could lead to long-term business for the practice.
To make this type of business networking work, you have to help the new people being added to your network solve a problem. Then, when you get them into your store, your service has to be exceptional.
Ideas for Business Networking If You Sell “Business to Small Business.”
Companies that sell “Business to Small Business” can build new relationships by networking with local social organizations or Chambers. You want to become a part of groups that meet on a weekly or monthly basis. This type of group includes Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, etc.
Back when I went to the weekly and monthly events at the local Chamber meetings, this type of company had the most success marketing their services. Since I owned a new business, I bought insurance from a guy I knew from these meetings. My first financial planner was someone that I trusted after spending hours with her at the business networking events. When my wife and I started making more money and had our second child, we needed a bigger house. We reached out to a woman we knew already.
What made each of these business relationships a valuable resource for these entrepreneurs is the type of sale that they need. Clients of financial planners need to have high trust in their financial planner. This type of relationship development takes more time, so it is most effective for companies who either (1) get high profit from a single sale or (2) get continued income from a long-term business relationship. But once that trust level is high, the client is very loyal. So, business networking events at Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, or Small Business Breakfasts can be a perfect opportunity to network with this type of buyer.
By the way, if your customers are members of these organizations, you may have a great opportunity to network with entire groups quickly. Many of these groups need weekly guest speakers. Volunteer to give a short speech during the meeting and, in a short amount of time, you can build a lot of trust.
If You Sell “Business to Business,” You Have to Build Your Sphere of Influence Where Your Customers Gather.
This last group is more difficult and may require more creativity. The first step is to find out where your potential customers gather and what problems they experience. Once you have the answers to these questions, you want to network in the places they gather and promote solutions to their problems.
- Local Trade Associations: Become a member of your industry’s local trade association. Many allow vendors to sponsor meetings. Some even allow vendors to become officers in the association. This takes time, but the relationships you develop can lead to great income.
- Become a Table Vendor at Tradeshows or Monthly Meetings: A booth or a vendor table/sponsor table at a tradeshow or monthly association meeting can open the door to increasing your network reach. For instance, many associations allow vendors to sponsor a meeting. They will put your logo on boards at the meeting and often allow you to speak for a few minutes during the meeting. Remember, though, don’t sell. The goal is to network and build relationships.
- Develop Relationship with Other Companies: I have a friend who sold insurance. He created three-ring binders that realtors could give to their customers. The first few pages in the binders had contact information for gas, electric, cable companies, etc. The rest of the binder just had business cards. The Realtor’s card was first. The next card was the insurance guy. Then, he inserted business cards of trusted people a new homeowner may need to contact. He had an exterminator, a plumber, an electrician, a sprinkler company, an HVAC guy, etc.
For this type of networking, you have to get creative. So these are just a few examples. But if you want some creative ideas, just call our office at 800-872-7830. We have a team of consultants who can help.
The Bigger Your Sphere of Influence Grows, the Easier It Is to Get Customers from Business Networking Groups.
So, if you want to get customers when you network in social clubs, trade associations, or among fellow professionals, follow these steps:
- Don’t sell when you first meet people. (Get rid of the salesperson fangs.)
- Get your new contacts to know, like, and trust you.
- Help the members of your sphere of influence connect with each other.
- Network within groups where your customers gather.
- And remember that if you help the members of your network solve problems, they will know, like, and trust you even more.
Keep these things in mind and you will become the Sphere of Influence in any room!
- For additional posts on how to find new customers, see the following:
- Small Business Lead Generation: Why Cold Calling Doesn’t Work.
- Mastering Pay-Per-Click Advertising in the Modern World.
- Closing the Big Sale.
- The #1 Sales Secret that Will Increase Sales in Seconds (Literally.).