For effective business networking I recommend the quality over quantity method of networking. Some would say that networking is a numbers game, the more that you meet the higher the chances of your meeting someone that can benefit you. Take for example that you are meeting someone for the first time and if the setting and conditions permit, they deliver their elevator pitch and you return with yours. Then comes the awkward moment, what to say next. You can either carry on conversing about something of no consequence “Nice day, eh?” until one of you tires of it or you can explore common interests. Assuming that you have a common interest I would suggest that you take the lead in the conversation in getting the other to expand upon the commonality or something that they had previously said.
Many networkers make the mistake of trying to sell their product or themselves at this juncture. Your goal should be to arrange to meet them at another time, perhaps for coffee, to discuss those common areas further. Even though many of us are electronically connected to our offices by our smart phones and can likely check to see if we are available at a certain date and time to make a coffee date, we likely won’t. When you suggest meeting for coffee, later, if the person is willing to set up a date and time, on the spot, I would go with it. Location can always be determined later by e-mail.
If they aren’t willing to set a time and date, I would refer to their business card and say something to the effect of “Can I reach you at this e-mail? I’ll contact you next week and see if we can set up a time to get together for a quick coffee.” Unfortunately, for many networkers, this is as far as they go. They don’t do the follow-up. Life gets busy, there is always one more thing to do with your business and before you know it you have lost the window of opportunity. There is a strong possibility that the individual that you were networking with also has a list of people they are following up with and other commitments. It is far too easy to get left by the wayside if you don’t take action to stand out from the others.
At a recent morning meeting of the Okanagan Business Referral Group (OBRG Referral Group, Thursday) we discussed the issue of follow up. Mike Hassard, Independent Representative of Primerica, related that in his experience, if you actually follow-up with a lead, it puts you way ahead of those that don’t. He makes a practice of following up with a networking connection within three days of the original meeting and says that it is amazing how many people have said “You know, you are one of the few that actually follows up.” Yes, following up can help you stand out from the competition.
The coffee get together is the opportunity for each of you to share your business details and determine if there is enough reason to continue at another time to develop your relationship further and ideally to do business together.
You might ask “I’ve contacted them three times by e-mail and even left a couple voice mails but they haven’t gotten back to me. What do I do next?” There could be a legitimate reason for them not getting back to you. Life happens! But they could be acting non-assertively and are actively avoiding you. I would have to respond with “If that was true, is that someone that you really want to network with or to do business with?” If you are to continue it could easily label you as a stalker.
One suggestion may be to add them to your tickler file. A couple weeks down the road, ignoring the fact that they haven’t acknowledged you yet, you would be justified in sending them a message something like “I just noticed that we didn’t get together a few weeks ago like we said we would. Where did the time go? It seems to be picking up speed. Last time we met we were discussing our common interests of …Are you still interested in getting together?” If you still don’t receive a response, I would put them in the “inactive” file.
When it comes to networking, to stand out from your competition, remember to follow-up.