Hey, sales professionals, conferences and networking events are back!
And instead of excitement from the team that can benefit the most, the number one knock I hear on conference networking as a sales activity is that it tends to result in something other than new business. And for many salespeople, this is true, but in almost every case, it is not the networking that doesn't work; it’s because the salesperson doesn't approach the process the right way. Plus, the added rusty behavior of not meeting people in these settings due to the pandemic highlights the need for training on getting the most out of our networking opportunities.
Most sales professionals don't network enough, and the ones that do typically approach it from a "show up and see what happens" approach. This usually results in limited interaction with the right people, awkward periods of needing someone to talk to, or butting into existing conversations (not cool). Ultimately, the whole experience is frustrating. Then, the sales rep blames the event or the organization for being "cliquish," unfriendly, or just plain bad. After one or two attempts to connect with a potential prospect, salespeople give up and hang out with their own team.
This is where your opportunity lies! Where other salespeople give up, it could be a gold mine for you IF you network the right way. Here are 5 ways to get the most out of a networking opportunity and increase sales.
1. Get involved, really involved
Only 3-5% of the members in any association/organization actually volunteer for something. Yet volunteering is the quickest and most effective way to get entrenched in an organization, meet the right people, build credibility, and get new sales. Ask the executive director or a board member how you can get involved in their organization. Your best bets are working the registration table, organizing networking events, serving on committees, and joining the board. Or, you can be like almost everyone else and attend the conference events and HOPE you meet some people who are important to growing your business.
2. Arrive early at events
Most of us tend to be "fashionably late" for events. If after-hour networking starts at 6pm, we'll get there at 6:30. The problem is that it is very hard to start conversations when everyone is already in conversations, and they all look like they know each other. So, you take a couple of laps around the room, grab a drink or an appetizer, and hope you find someone else that isn't talking to anyone. Instead, try this, show up 10-15 minutes before the event starts. Make it a point to seek out the executive director, board members, and other volunteers, and let them know whom you'd like to meet and why. Those initial conversations can often carry you through the entire event because they’ll make introductions for you!
3. Fight the urge to sell
Most people attend networking events to find new business, look for a new job, or just be social. I've yet to meet anyone that goes to a networking event to be sold to. Yet that's the approach for many sales professionals, and it's a big turnoff. Instead of trying to sell people, focus on why they are there and how you can help them.
Build relationships and credibility first; then the sales will come.
Have your questions ready for them, such as “What are you hoping to get out of this conference/event?” (That will provide some insight into their priorities). Or, “Is there anyone here you’d like to meet that I could perhaps introduce you to?”, (that’ll give you insight into the types of dialogue they’re interested in and immediately position you as someone they should know).
While you can't sell, have your short value statement practiced and ready, so people can quickly grasp how you can add value to them, their organization, or people they know.
4. Find the influencers
Every organization has them, the people that know everyone. Those are the people that you need to get to know very well. They can open doors for you, be a consistent referral source, advocate for you in and out of the organization, and typically are just great people (that's why everyone knows them). Please introduce yourself, find some things in common, and then ask to meet for coffee or lunch sometime and offer to help them with sharing your network.
5. Network after the event (12-week, 16-touch plans!)
It’s really what happens after the event that makes the difference. Networking takes planning, effort, and patience to pay off. The conference or live event is the initial touch, but if you do it the right way by creating a follow-up touch plan and sticking with it, networking can be your most lucrative source of new business by far.
If you or your team needs to build confidence in their communication, social selling, or prospecting plan, we can help. Butler Street offers online programs, workshops, and Instructor-led virtual and onsite training to communicate confidently and advance relationships with customers and potential customers. Contact us to get started.