How do you view networking opportunities? Is it a chance for you to get out there and find some potential sales? Is it an opportunity to meet potential clients? Are you often distraught to find that your networking situation didn’t turn out the way you imagined?
Perhaps you’re not looking at networking in the right light then. Assuming that you need a sales pitch to attend a networking event is not the way to enter the situation. In fact, you might consider tossing your sales pitch right out and tuning into a networking pitch. Seeing your networking event as nothing more than a chance to up your sales can become the downfall of any brand, so stop selling and start investing in contacts.
Network to make connections
The question you now have to ask yourself is what networking is really about? Consider yourself at a meet and greet event. Not everyone is going to want what you have or have what you’re looking for. But, they may have connections with some who might provide an opportunity for your brand. So, rather than selling your product or service to the individuals attending, you’re selling your brand.
The problem with using a networking opportunity to sell rather than build contacts is that the brand misses out on exactly what networking is all about- discovering and building. So the first thing you must remember is that networking is not about selling.
Networking should be the beginning of a relationship between you and your contacts. It is the opportunity to discover what others can do for you and what you can do for them. Rather than focusing on making a sale, focus on finding the right connections that will lead to an opportunity to build your brand. Remember that not all connections will be sales, since many of them will often become advocates for your brand.
These contacts may have their own share of contacts and networks that didn’t attend the event. They may have insight into your field of expertise. They may even have something that your brand needs. Limiting your search radar to sales potentials can eliminate almost the entire benefit of attending a networking event.
Consider one of the most powerful aspects of networking, and that is to spread the word. Getting your fellow networkers to talk about your brand with others, as references, is ideal for initiating word of mouth marketing. If you limit yourself to sales, you might make some, but you’re basically only going to make a limited number of connections. Rather than spreading the word about your brand, you’re going to gain only one or two clients, and miss out on several more that could have been made by making the right connections.
Developing your network
In order to partake in effective networking, you’re going to need to include a few practices into your networking technique. First of all, don’t settle into a niche. While it’s important to build relationships with your established network and develop loyal connections, you must still seek new contacts and thereby establish new opportunities. Keep your eyes and ears out for any potential connection candidates, especially those that have been referred to you. Take interest in others and work to build a relationship with them. You never know what they can offer your brand, be it service or their business. While you might think they have little or nothing to offer you, it won’t necessarily mean that they don’t have anything to offer indirectly.
This brings up the next and potentially vital component in networking. Though you may not be able to help a contact directly, there are other ways that you can help them, and resultantly help your own brand. Make connections by advocating for another (preferably within your network) and turn that connection into a potential trust-building opportunity. Both connections are more likely to reciprocate the gesture in the future, which is what everything in business is about- planning ahead.
Additionally, the conversation at any networking event needs to be appropriately engaging. Avoid overwhelming conversation with product and service discussion. Make the conversation about your brand. How do you define it? What does it mean to you? How have you helped others? These are the questions that are going to intrigue potential connections, whether they want you in their network or if they can refer someone to you.
Building trust is perhaps the most important part of networking, so be sure that you honor your commitments. Being reliable isn’t something that you can describe in a sales pitch. It’s something you have to demonstrate through your actions.
The next time you attend a networking event, whether it’s online or offline, make it your priority to create connections, not generate sales. And once you have those connections, take them a step further and develop them into loyal relationships that will build your brand in more ways than just a single sale.
Maria Elena Duron, is managing editor of the Personal Branding Blog, CEO (chief engagement officer) of buzz2bucks– a word of mouth marketing firm, and a professional speaker and trainer on developing social networks that work. She provides workshops, webinars, seminars and direct services that help create conversation, connection, credibility, community and commerce around your brand. Maria Duron is founder and moderator of #brandchat - a weekly Twitter chat focused on every aspect of branding that is recognized by Mashable as one the 15 Essential Twitter Chats for Social Media Marketers.