Attending networking events is a great way of building your lead generation network.
However, as these events are limited in time you are only able to meet a limited number of people.
And as it takes time to establish if the person you are speaking with is potentially a quality lead this further limits the number of people you can meet at any event.
Here is a system that will help you triple the number of people you meet at networking events to help you develop a wide business referral network for your business.
1. The Networking Conundrum
The primary aim of networking is to develop a wide business referral network so people in your network including yourself, are confident and happy to refer business to each other.
If you go to a networking event with the intention of only connecting with quality leads this will limit the number of people you will meet at any event.
This is because you need to spend a bit of time with each person you meet to establish if he or she is potentially a quality lead.
On the other hand, it makes it difficult to establish quality connections if you try and meet as many people as you can at each event without a follow up plan after the event.
This is the quality or quantity conundrum.
2. Triple the Number of People You Meet at Networking Events
For me, networking events are a means to meet and establish connections with as many people as possible so you can spend some quality time with them after the event.
The real networking then happens after the event.
As the aim is to meet and establish initial connections with as many people as you can at networking events, here is a sure way to triple the number of people you meet at your next networking event.
I use this system and I know it works because at one 2 hour networking event, I met and exchanged business cards with 30 people.
The aim in using this system is to meet and exchange business cards with as many people as you can with the intention of spending quality time with them after the event.
Further down the page, I explain why connecting with the people you meet after the event should be the most important part of your networking strategy.
3. The Preparation – Pre Event
It is a good idea to bring a bottle of water as you will be chatting with a lot of people. It is also a good idea to have something to eat beforehand because you will not have any time to eat at the event.
You also need to have your Unique Selling Proposition ready. This is the quick 3 line spiel that you give in response to the perennial question of “So what do you do?”
Phrase your Unique Selling Proposition so it is brief and yet compelling. Practice saying it as many times as necessary so it comes out naturally.
AND … bring lots of business cards. You will need them.
4. At The Event
At the event, you can cover a good cross section of people by following a circular pattern starting from one end of the room to the other.
You should allocate around 5-7 minutes to each person that you meet. At a 2 hour event, this equates to 16-20 people.
5-7 minutes per person should give you sufficient time to find out what they do and share with them what you do.
When you approach your networking target always approach them with positive body language and a warm smile.
When I approach people, I always start with a “Hi” and a big smile. You will find that most people will smile back at you. Use an opening line that you are comfortable with. This will come out more naturally.
After the opening line, I follow this up with:
“May I please exchange business cards with you?”
You will find that most people will be more than happy to exchange business cards with you. Like you, they are also at the event to network and you just made it easier for them.
Once you have their business card, this is the time that I follow it up with a standard question such as “What do you do” or something more of an open question such as “What do you like best about what you do?”
The business card would normally give you an indication of what they do. So an open question like the latter is a great question to use to start an open conversation.
I always make a point to first give the other person the opportunity to tell me their story. This is because I am genuinely interested in business and I enjoy finding out how people make their business tick.
After they have finished, I then tell them about what I do using my Unique Selling Proposition. I normally follow this up with a couple more questions like “Who is your ideal customer?” and “Where else do you to Network?”
In closing and again with a big genuine smile, I then say:
“I am going to do more networking but can I call you sometime next week and arrange a time for a coffee chat?”
Please remember, if you pose this question it is super important that you actually give them a call and arrange a coffee chat.
If you feel that you do not have any connection with the person you are networking with and you really do not have the time or the inclination to actively network with this person again, then I suggest saying something along this line and again with a smile:
“I am going to do more networking. It is good to meet with you, can I send you a note sometime during the week?”
Again, if you do say this, you have to make sure that you do send a courtesy email and graciously thanking them for the time they have spent with you at the event.
At the end of the event, you will find that you will be fatigued and your mouth will be as dry as sandpaper but will have collected at least 12 – 20 business cards.
5. After the Event – The Real Networking Happens
What you do after the networking event is more important because this lays the foundation for your business referral network.
The following day after every networking event, I ALWAYS send a courtesy email to ALL the people I have met at the event.
This allows you to reconnect with the people you have met and it gives you the opportunity to reinforce the information that you shared with them about your business.
More importantly, your courtesy email gives you the opportunity to invite the people that you want to connect with for a “quality” coffee chat.
Why invite them for a coffee chat?
If you recall, our primary aim is to develop a wide referral network so people in your network including yourself, are confident and happy to refer business to each other.
The beauty of having a wide referral network is having people in your network help you market and spread the word about your business.
However, the only way you can confidently refer business to each other is to first understand each other’s business.
And the best time to do this is during your coffee chat. It gives both of you the opportunity to get to know and understand each other’s business.
Dr Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI International the most successful networking organisation in the world, pointed out that the “real” purpose of meeting people is so you can find out how you can help them with their business.
This is based on the law of reciprocity. As Zig Ziglar said “If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.”
Now the people you help will not necessarily be the people who will help you with your business. With the law of reciprocity, by creating strong networking relationships by helping others this will eventually bring benefits back to your business.
As an example, in the past couple of weeks I have referred business to three people in my network. One of the referrals was to a business I met last year. Although we had not spoken to each other for a few months I was confident enough to refer the business to him because of the time I had taken to understand his business.
6. Keeping in Touch
After your coffee chats, it is a good idea to continue to keep in touch with the people in your referral network. You want them to think about your business whenever a referral opportunity arises.
There are different ways that you can keep in touch.
For businesses within your referral network you can organise to meet regularly. Formal referral organisations like BNI meet actively every week. They also hold events where members invite guests to their events.
For myself, I have established a Business Referral Group of like minded and highly professional business people for the purpose of referring qualified business to each other.
I also do a monthly business e-newsletter such as this one which I send to people in my network and share on various social media platforms. I focus on business topics which can potentially help people run their business more effectively.
The other way you can keep in touch is to send information which is relevant to the people in your network whenever you come across information which is relevant to them.
Remember, your business network is just like any of your other relationships. You have to continually nurture it to get the most out of it.
About the Author
Robert Leroux heads iSapience – a B2B & B2C Lead Generation, Customised Outsourcing & Managed Solutions and International Business Consulting Company. Since 2000, he has helped numerous Australian and international clients across many industries including: IT, Digital, Retail, FMCG, Advertising, Wholesale, Distribution and Logistics, Gaming, International Trade, Infrastructure and Governments.