Let me share one of my networking stories with you.
My wife (who is also my business partner), and I moved to Omaha from Seattle in 2017 with our son. We own a marketing company and had the flexibility to move wherever we wanted.
The only people we knew when we made the decision to move to Omaha was my brother-in-law. While we planned and prepared our move, we connected with the local chamber of commerce, and they became instrumental in helping us get connected.
We flew from Seattle to Omaha and back in preparation for the move on several occasions to figure out what area and neighborhood to move to and eventually secure our home. During those trips to Omaha, we made sure to participate in our chamber’s events and started to get to know local businesses and their leaders in the area. We made some good connections who wanted us to look them up when we finally relocated.
Once we had relocated, we already knew several people more than we would have otherwise. We joined a chamber tips group and attended the business after hours event just a couple of weeks after transferring our last moving box from the truck to our house.
It was at that business after-hours event that we met a man named Dan who had a group that met independently from the chamber. From Dan’s group we had a one-on-one with a local security sales pro who, after learning a bit about our story and what our company did, wanted us to meet his father, who was the regional sales VP of a tech company.
His father ran yet another network group and, after meeting with us, invited us to join that group as well. Between these two groups, which were outside of the chamber, we made some of our most valuable business connections, and developed friendships that stretch beyond our businesses.
The point in telling you this is to highlight an example of how networking is supposed to work. If you’re business networking, you want it to turn into sales leads and opportunities. If you do it right, it certainly will.
Networking is something you must work at. It doesn’t often happen overnight and it takes a little time to make the connections that will yield name recognition and leads. It takes time to have one-on-one meetings and it takes time to establish yourself in a network or group. Especially when you’re starting out.
Think of each city or territory as a small town. Because, in many ways, it is. Especially for those who are well networked. You’ll find the degree of separation between people is much narrower than you’d think. Once you become known in one network group, you’re bound to have people, or people who know the same people, overlap at other network groups and then entrenching yourself becomes easier.
To harness the power of networking, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Be in it for the long-haul. Networking takes time. This kind of opportunity generation doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t expect it to. Those that have this expectation rarely last more than a handful of group meetings.
- Don’t expect business to come your way immediately. When you’re new to a group, there’s a fair chance you’ve replaced someone in your field, or a similar field. Regardless, getting to know you might take time. Expecting business opportunities immediately will only set you up for disappointment. Give it time. Commit to the group. Eventually, they’ll commit to you.
- Be genuine. The people in network groups generally love to get to know other people. Approach it the same way. When you meet with network members, see it as an opportunity to learn about why someone loves doing what they do, and why they love the company they represent. They’ll want to know the same about you.
- Don’t avoid one-on-ones. Even if you’ll likely never do business with the person you’re meeting with, there is a good chance they’ll know of someone who will need your services, or you’ll know someone who will need theirs. After your one-on-one, make sure and say thank you for the meeting. You never know where this may lead. Some of our best opportunities have come through people who aren’t a fit for our services but know of someone who would be an ideal client.
- Follow up with people in your network group you’ve met, especially if you find you have a mutual business connection. Again, this doesn’t mean you’ll ever do business with this person, but it does increase the odds that you’ll be at the forefront of their mind when someone has a need that you have a solution for. Reciprocate this as well – you’ll be developing a network of professionals you can refer friends and colleagues to. Or your own clients.
Business leaders like to have “their people” whom they can refer when someone in their circle has a need. It raises their status in their sphere of influence to know professionals they can rely on. Your goal in networking is to eventually get on their personal referral list.
Similarly, when you have your own list of people in your back pocket, your business value increases. You not only maintain great business relationships with those in your network when you refer them, you also become an influencer in your area. As you become a trusted and respected resource, not just with your business offerings, but reliable solutions you know others can provide, you become more than a manager of your sales region or territory. At this point, you truly have ownership of it.
How much more valuable will you be to your clients if they have a serious need that falls outside of your offerings and you happen to know of the very person or company that can solve their problem? This can move you from being just their sales rep to being their trusted resource.
Networking is powerful. It will yield you unbelievable connections and relationships with people and businesses you wouldn’t get access to otherwise if you are willing to take the time to develop it.
When you are well networked, you’ll become one of “the people to know” in your area.