Part One of this series started by addressing the great importance of networking as part of your marketing plan. Without mastering networking skills, you will be forced to base your business on cold calling. A business plan based upon cold calling puts you on a treadmill every day. Each time you close a deal you are wondering where your next transaction is coming from. This is a major reason why many sales people suffer from “burn-out.”
On the other hand, networking is the reason others succeed in the long-run. Their business plan is built with a foundation of relationships. Every deal and contact builds another part of the structure. Each transaction has you moving “forward and upward.” You could not think of two business models that are more diametrically opposed.
Most people who train and/or manage are great at networking. Unfortunately, they assume it is a skill that comes naturally for everyone. It is not. In this article we continue with ideas that will help those who are not as fortunate gain the skills they will need to succeed.
Sharpen your questioning skills. If you are going to make a determination whether this contact will be mutually beneficial, you must be able to elicit important information. Your prospect does not come with written instructions. They probably don’t even know how to give you the information you need. You must learn how to dig and probe in a non-threatening way. That means the skilled use of questions. These questions must be open (not subject to yes or no answers), focus upon them and foster relationship building. They should not be pushy and put the person on the defensive. Get them comfortable. Otherwise you have no chance of the relationship going forward. An example of such a question? Ask them what their greatest challenge is in their business today.
Use the important opening question. An exception to the “open question” rule, asking someone what they do for a living, is a must. This shows you are interested in them. And it also invokes the law of reciprocity. If they have any social skills at all, they will ask you the same. So, instead of saying, hi, I am _____ and I am a _______, you get to impart the information naturally.
Make your answer unique. Since you know people are going to ask what you do for a living, try something besides a run-of-the mill answer. If you say real estate agent, loan officer, insurance agent, accountant, etc., they are thinking…So what? I know plenty of them. What is it that makes you unique? A very important question!
Have goals for your networking. You will be more successful if you define your goals before you network. You must understand that there are many goals that can be achieved. If you are too focused upon getting the “deal,” you will miss major opportunities. Perhaps this person is a key to meeting someone else. Perhaps a follow-up meeting is the key. If you don’t know where you are going, you are not likely to arrive in the right place.
Follow-up. Too many times we make a contact that seems to have much potential. But, it dies there because we don’t follow-up. That is why we suggest following up with cards and limiting your contacts. You also must make sure you have automated systems that will help you follow up. If you do not use contact management software, chances are you will be networking half-way and you will be wasting your energy. Sticky note systems do not work for successful business models.
Watch for that false sense of security. Many of us are drawn to the friendliest faces that promise everything to everyone. The problem is that everyone else is also drawn to these people. The chances of you getting value is minimal. Look to go in the other direction to where others are not heading. Those who are harder to get to know can make the most loyal partners in the long run.
The last point is to practice. If you are presently networking and not getting results, each time you network you are practicing bad habits. And making those habits tougher to break. To get better you must practice new techniques. Try interviewing those who are skilled. Go out and observe them. And role-play. Success is not an accident! Success is also not likely without the correct business model—such as one based upon networking.