Networking is no doubt a necessary part of marketing your business.
Business Network International (BNI), an organization that facilitates networking via 7300 local chapters located around the world, estimates that last year alone, its generated some 7.7 million referrals that ultimately yielded over $50,000 in business for the average member.
That’s a huge return, but in the absence of the framework provided by a non-virtual society like BNI, where is the introverted business leader to start? Conferences, meetups and social media communities are all awesome for building new connections, but for some us, the idea of getting out there and talking to people about what you do is simply terrifying.
Lots of people struggle with making the most of the connections they come across while networking. There’s a simple principle, however, that has the power to make networking easy. All you have to do is keep it in mind, and the rest will flow from there.
The secret to networking success is putting the needs of someone else before your own. To really connect with people, you must think about what they need and how you can help them to achieve it. It goes against what we as humans are hardwired to do – put our own needs first.
To make matters worse, it’s easy to confuse networking with simply being sociable. Networking is oriented around specific business functions, usually with the intention of connecting groups of people to others who need their services. Being social, on the other hand, involves conversing with people you like. Being social at networking events encourages cliques, which defeats the purpose of the networking event – you’re socializing with a small group of people, and keeping yourself from connecting with others for your business.
It helps to have a list of questions ready to fire, because armed with these talking points, you are not only prepared to talk to people – you’re one step ahead, because these questions allow you focus the conversation on them, maintaining flow and building goodwill all the while.
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No one wants to go to a networking event or digital hub to hear non-stop sales pitches, so shifting the focus away from yourself to your prospect gives you an edge. Memorize these three go-to questions, and you’ll be well on your way to building strong relationships scalably.
Question 1: What are the top issues and trends in your industry, and what are you doing to address them?
This question encourages the business owner to think about what they’re doing, pitting it in the context of wider industry issues, and it gives you an in for discussing how the services you offer can help them with their pain points.
Think about it for a second. The people you network with aren’t necessarily going to consider that procuring design services, for example, will solve their problems on their own. It’s your job as a designer to understand people’s challenges and demonstrate how they’re design problems, and how you can solve them.
Question 2: If a competitor of yours could do something differently that would make you feel like your own business was being threatened, what would that be?
This question gives insight into the ecosystem in which your new contacts operate, what their fears are, where they see themselves in the context of this ecosystem, and what their triggers are for sensing business threats.
Once you’re armed with the answers to this one, you can position yourself as part of the solution. You can also do so while citing the dangers involved with not opting for your solution – dangers that you already know will resonate and therefore also hopefully motivate. Of course, this approach also calls for the right touch, as scare tactics are unscrupulous and exploitational, often transparently so.
Question 3: What initiatives have the potential to dramatically improve your business, but you haven’t had the time or resources to work on properly?
With this one, you’re basically asking to be fed low-hanging fruit. You’re giving your networking contact the opportunity to talk about things that they know they need to do but, for whatever reason, they haven’t yet been able to get off the ground.
That’s why this is the million-dollar question. Here you can expect a variety of answers, but this one offers an ideal opening for you to mention how you would be able to help them with those initiatives.
Stop Wasting Opportunities
It’s important to make the most of networking opportunities with meaningful conversation. You’ll stand out in people’s memories because you listened to them and were truly helpful. When you’re bombarded with all kinds of people to talk to, but keep the conversation simple and social, you’re not providing value, and you’re not going to walk away with value.
This type of conversation ultimately helps business leaders to close deals, because it positions you as a solution to one or more problems for prospects. You’ll showcase your expertise while also showing you’re in business to serve your clients – and that goes a long way toward landing contracts.
Prepare yourself with the above three questions, and prepare answers to the questions should you be asked to provide them by another shrewd networker. Get yourself into a frame of mind that allows you to focus on helping and providing value to people, and you may find you enjoy these types of opportunities more than you have in the past.