Networking can be the most important and yet most underestimated aspect of a company’s business development activities.
Perhaps even of all its activities.
“Networking is a funny thing,” Gunner Technology CEO Cody Swann said. “If you ask most small, mid size companies how they get business, they’ll tell you ‘word of mouth’ which definitely fits into networking, but these same CEOs think that’s enough.”
Effective networking takes special skills that don’t necessarily have to be innate.
“Like sales, people make the mistake that networking can’t be taught,” Swann said. “And while sales does require a little charisma that is difficult to acquire if you weren’t born with it, networking is far less about making people like you and more about keeping in touch.”
A salesperson, for example, will light up a room and draw a crowd.
A networker well quietly analyze and note what everyone is taking about and strategize from that information.
“An effective networker should be talking like one third of the time or less,” Swann said. “Unlike sales, you shouldn’t be talking a lot. Ask questions. Be a good listener and be extremely direct.”
One of the mistakes networkers make is failing to state their intentions, which leads to a loss of time and money.
“Some people think it’s tacky to come right out and say it, but it’s not at all,” Swann said. “‘Hey, we just started this new program designed to help entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. If I send you some info on it, do you think you can pass the word around your network?’ Simple as that.”
The same advice that applies to sales, applies to networking: State your intent. Ask for what you want.
Contacts respond especially well if they think they’re doing a favor.
“Who doesn’t like to help someone – especially when it’s easy for them to do so?” Swann said.
And that’s another key.
Networkers need to have easily digestible and transportable material they can rely to their contacts if they come across someone who might be interested.
“You want to arm the contacts in your network so they’re prepared at the point of delivery,” Swann said. “Let’s go back to the entrepreneur example. I want to drive home a 15-second or less pitch they can easily regurgitate when they run into someone who fits the bill plus a memento they can leave with them.”
Swann described the process as follows:
A networker meets with a contact over lunch.Over the course of drinks, the networker says to their contact:
“Listen, I could really use your help spreading the word about our new entrepreneur program. The crux of it is, we’re offering our services free for 30 days to any new client. During that time, we’ll start building their idea and simultaneously help them transform it into a business plan. And it’s 100% risk free, no obligation. Could you do that for me? Awesome. I’ll send you a follow up with the details.”
The networker then sends a hand-written note to the contact thanking them for their help with a one-paragraph reminder of what the program is and what anyone interested should do (i.e. email this address or call this phone number).
Finally, the networking puts together a package to go with the note. The goal is to put small products that the contact will use (i.e. bottle opener, charger, etc) and include enough of them in there that the contact is ok with leaving them with their referral.
The networker should also include a note that if the contact runs out of any of the mementos to please let the networker know so they can get them out more.
“This works so much better than buying someone a bunch of drinks every week and just expecting them to know how they can help you,” Swann said. “You wouldn’t just put employees in an office and expect them to know what to do, right? No. People need direction and preparation.”
Being a good networker is a lot like being a good friend.
“Send your contacts birthday gifts,” Swann said. “Give them a call to ask how they’re doing and see if you can do anything for them. And, always, always, always, send them a personalized gift when you get a new client from them.”