By now you’ve heard just about everyone tell you that networking is key to your success as a marketing professional. Well of course it’s important, vitally important. Nevertheless, at many of the professional mixers including tech, small business, entrepreneur and startup gatherings I attend, I see many people fumbling at making the connections they need to make. Here are a few tips to help you connect effectively and casually.
Especially if your business involves establishing and developing relationships with other people, understanding your potential client is very, very important. So what can you do to build that understanding? Listen. And listening includes reading facial expressions, body expressions, making people feel comfortable and giving them visual cues back like pleasant eye contact, a nod of the head, a smile, even an eyebrow raise. And know this: People feel it when someone feigns interest and asks them, “What do you do” but in reality, is just waiting to talk about themselves or their business.
There’s a difference between saying “Hey, my name’s Gabe. I am the founder of the Urban Farm Agency, a local marketing agency in Long Beach” and then going on from there, and saying “Hey, my name’s Gabe. I am the founder of the Urban Farm Agency, a local marketing agency in Long Beach. What do you do?” In the second version, I pitched the ball right back to the other person and gave them the floor. Now it’s my job to listen and absorb what they’re saying.
I usually listen for a few minutes and nod but give limited interjections, even if I’m burning to contribute. Oftentimes the speaker will then pitch the ball back to me, asking me more questions about what I do. I’ll answer briefly but will again ask them about themselves. What I’m trying to learn is the fundamental stuff behind the business, I want to know what excites them, what their plans and goals are for their business or venture. That’s the good stuff, so I continue listening and engaging to move the conversation to this deeper level. Once you know what they’re really after, you have a much clearer idea as to how you can earn their business.
3. Make a Specific Close
The close is something I’ve seen a great many people fail at. Rather than exchanging business cards or contact info, I see people talk for 10-20 minutes and then meander off. Perfect opportunities get missed this way. You have not connected until contact info has been exchanged and a very positive and memorable impression has been made. Remember, we’re mixing to meet and grow relationships people! Here’s a few nice, direct closes that work.
Closer #1: You know what? It has been fantastic meeting you. I really look forward to us talking in the future. In fact, you should give me your information and I’ll follow up with you Monday. Does that work for you?
Closer #2: Great. Fantastic. I need to move around a little bit but I really would like to talk with your further. Give me your information and I’ll follow up with you on Monday. I really appreciate your time. I look forward to talking to you further.
Closer #3: It has been fantastic meeting you. Give me your information and I’ll follow up with you on Monday. There’s some people I said I would stop by and say hello to. I think I can help you and appreciate the opportunity to earn your business. You haven’t given it to me yet. I understand I have to earn it, and I appreciate the opportunity to earn it.”
Number 1 above is brief and to the point. Number 2 provides you with a polite way to excuse yourself and still exchange information. Number 3 gets you further along in the process towards closing that new client. Note that in all of these different versions, I said “I’ll follow up with you Monday.” That specific close places the ball in your court. No matter what, if you say you’ll follow up on Monday, follow up Monday! From there, see it as your mission to prove your value to that potential client.
4. Always Provide Value
Well before they start paying you for your services, your potential client should think of you as someone who can provide insight and help. Being the guy they’re happy to see isn’t just how I run my own business, it’s literally how I grew my career. The last thing you want to be is the guy that walks into a business and everyone says, “Oh geez, what are you trying to sell to me now?!” We all know how we feel about that guy. So don’t do that to yourself. Instead, work at being the person who walks into the office and they say, “Hey, great. I have some questions for you. Can you help us with this?”
5. Never Assume
In Southern California, many of us run around in flip flops and t-shirts, looking about as casual as we can get away with. I’ll even meet future clients when I’m buzzing around town, doing errands and not looking as put-together as I’d like. Truth is, it can be easy to discount someone who doesn’t look the way you presume they should but that is a very serious error. Never, ever assume. I repeat: Never assume. The person you’re showing respect, courtesy and kindness to, the person you’re showing a level of interest in listening to they’re going to remember you. You don’t know what their wife, brother or best friend does. If you’re the one marketing professional who’s listened to what the guy in flip-flops has to say about brewing beer, you’ll likely be the person he calls up when he says he’s got an investor who’s backing his brewery. Give all the connections you make your time and consideration. Listen, engage and stay in touch with an email, text message, or Facebook message every now and again. In the long run, it always pays off.