That becomes a familiar mantra when you are networking for your business, especially if your business is service-based. When people are thinking about how to spend their money the actual decision making is often very emotional, in spite of any time spent doing research.
It is human nature to prefer to do business with those they already know and who they already like and trust. This is often at odds with whether or not they know the same person is competent. This is why the brakes go on when someone they have just met immediately launches into a sales pitch. It is always important to be authentic — people can tell when you are not, and it only serves to undermine everything else you might have done.
The current wisdom is that on average it takes seven to nine “touch points” before someone feels you are trustworthy. (A big reason to congratulate yourself if your average is less!) Possible ways to accomplish this include:
- Email — newsletter, informational articles (tips!), personal message
- In person — coffee or lunch, invite to a networking event
- Blog post
- Tweet, Facebook post or any other form of social media
- Direct mail — no, it’s not really dead. It has become so rare that now when you send something it can really stand out.
- Webinars or teleseminars
- Coupons and other special offers
Mixing your methods up has two advantages. It allows people to choose the option that works best for them. It also means that for those who are more engaged, they get some variety, keeping their interest up.
To your business success!
The Best of Intentions…
Do you follow up with the people you meet? This is where it generally starts to break down—and where differing thoughts about proper follow-up etiquette shows up. I have heard it pointed out that if you are not following up on these leads, it begs the question “Why are you networking?” I know I have been on both ends of this. People I have met who I have told “Please contact me, I am interested” who never followed up on my interest, and feeling overwhelmed and not taking action on my end by contacting my own “business card people.”
One practice that is generally agreed to be bad form is to collect the card, add them to your list and start sending them unsolicited emails, etc. This is a recipe for being considered a spammer. The compromise to this that I have adopted for now is to add them to my list, then send them a single email inviting them to opt into either my blog, newsletter and/or schedule a strategy session. Even framing it as an invitation draws an occasional complaint, so this will probably change. If they don’t opt in, that’s the end of it. They may get a call from me, but no email unless it comes up later.
There is no single right way, but having a system that you stick to makes a big difference. Be organized and sort your cards according to priority—hot leads within 48 hours, low priority within three weeks, the rest, such as referral partners, somewhere in between. Remember that it’s not a time to pounce and essentially say “buy my stuff,” but rather an opportunity to build a relationship, getting to know them a bit better and see how you might be able to help each other.
Doing some research and/or personalizing your follow-up is always a good idea. Also, don’t forget “snail mail” as an option. A handwritten note can make a strong positive impression.
Not everyone is going to be interested. One source suggests no more than three attempts, perhaps using two different methods. Don’t be a stalker! If you are making calls be prepared to have a conversation! This sounds obvious, but I have heard of those who purposely make calls at off-hours so they can leave a voicemail and not interact.
Relationships are the foundation of business success.
To your business success!
The other night one of the networking groups I attend turned out to be unusually intimate and we had an opportunity to have a very good discussion about networking groups, how they differ, and networking in general.
Networking is considered to be one of the most essential ways to generate new business. In spite of this I often hear people say they don’t like to go to networking events, even saying they are afraid to because it means talking to a lot of strangers. (This brings up an important thing to ask your self— If you aren’t comfortable meeting new people, then how are you going to bring in new clients?)
Something that might help with this is to look at the different ways they are set up. The ones I attend range from one called “The Schmooze” which I describe as “a cocktail party on networking steroids.” It is so massive that many first-timers are immediately overwhelmed, but once you figure out a strategy it can become fun (best to arrive early before the alcohol kicks in too much though!). On the other end of the spectrum are small groups that meet for lunch once a month to talk and build up relationships. Some are set up as leads groups you have to pay to join and are expected to supply a quota of referrals to other group members. Different times of day, philosophies, industry focus, personalities – you just need to take a little time to find the right fit.
Think of it this way—a stranger is a friend you just haven’t gotten to know yet, and they might turn out to be your best client!