By Keith Rosen, MCC
The Executive Sales Coach™
Here’s a rhetorical question: Would you rather make a cold call or follow up with a qualified referral (that is, someone who has already expressed some level of interest in your product as a result of an endorsement)?
What is that, you say? You don’t feel comfortable going to a networking event, into a room filled with people you don’t know, and then have to ask a complete stranger for new business? How about those special interest groups or lead groups where the intention is to help other people build their business by sharing referrals? Well, I have news for you: Most people feel the same way. Chances are you don’t enjoy networking because you feel that you’re alone, “out there” all by yourself. Hey, it takes a lot of courage to fly solo and into an event where you don’t know a soul. Yet, maybe there’s a way for you to change your mindset around this.
To begin, let’s take a moment to define what networking actually is (in the spirit of selling). Networking is the act of meeting new people, often in a social setting with the intention of interacting with them, exchanging ideas, and developing mutually rewarding relationships that could ultimately lead to new selling opportunities.
One of my clients, Brenda, was a stay-at-home mom looking for ways to generate some extra cash to help her family with the monthly expenses. To do so, she found an outside sales position selling a line of self-care products. This position gave her the freedom and flexibility to create her own hours, while honoring the first priority in her life — her family.
Brenda knew that in order to make the endeavor worthwhile, she needed to maximize the little time that she had to devote to her business. After speaking with the top reps in her company, Brenda quickly realized that the only way to leverage her prospecting time was to put herself in front of as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. As such, she began to search for local networking groups, trade shows, and business events that she could join or take part in.
Brenda called me one morning and shared her situation with me. Finally, she said, “Keith, I am so uncomfortable attending these functions with people I don’t even know. And even if I did start talking with someone, I wouldn’t know what to say or how to stimulate their interest in what I am selling without sounding pushy or overly aggressive.”
I then shared several observations that helped her transform networking into a prospecting activity she could actually enjoy:
1. Bring a Wingman. Rather than flying solo at your next networking event, bring a friend, coworker, or business associate along with you. This “security blanket” will boost your confidence as well as your comfort level and immediately removes the bulk of reluctance associated with attending a networking event by yourself.
2. Realize You’re Not Alone. If you ask most people who attend networking events, they would tell you (if they were being honest) that there are certainly some feelings of apprehension and anxiety when it comes to meeting new people. Rather than placing yourself in the class of people you perceive to be the minority, instead understand that you are amongst the majority of people who feel the same way you do.
3. Keep Your Intentions in Focus. If you expect to go to a networking function and walk out with a handful of business cards from people who want to buy from you, think again. To maximize your networking efforts, detach yourself from the expectation of having to generate new business. Your only focus should be on having a good time, relaxing, and enjoying yourself as you meet new people and foster new relationships. The other stuff should take care of itself as a natural byproduct of your new “relaxed” mindset.
4. Lighten Up! Who doesn’t want to have fun? Let’s face it, when you go to a networking event, there’s often food, music, even a keynote speaker. Don’t take yourself or these events so seriously; they are supposed to be fun. Besides, people would rather do business with those who are extroverted or fun to be around, not the wallflower sitting in the corner. And if for some reason you’ve forgotten how to have fun, you’re not alone. In fact, you may want to speak with a coach about learning how to have fun again.
5. Make a Friend First, a Client Second. “OK, Keith,” Brenda said. “So I go to a networking event and I begin talking with someone. What do I talk about? I never know what to talk about at these functions.” So I asked Brenda, “When you go out with your friends do you have trouble finding things to discuss?” Brenda shook her head emphatically “no.” When I asked her what some of the typical topics of conversation were, she replied, “Family, work, kids, school, travel, weather, leisure, current events, hobbies, sports, shopping, and movies.” I then asked her, “So, why would it be any different to discuss these kinds of things when meeting new people?” “Because they are strangers!” Brenda declared.
I then shared what I thought made networking so much fun: “Strangers are simply friends waiting to be met. At one point, weren’t all of your friends strangers to you? When does a stranger become a friend?” Aside from liking the person’s initial disposition, it’s when you find you have many mutual interests, and that their life parallels yours with the same challenges, joys, and experiences you are going through or have gone through. Most of all, it’s when you realize that you enjoy being around them because they make you feel good. These people enrich your life and add value to your existence. If this is true, then it really doesn’t matter where or how you meet them. And it is often easier to develop a friendship than it is to develop a client relationship (there’s less pressure to perform or to generate a measurable result).
6. Make It About the Other Person. Rely on the “pull approach” to networking rather than “pushing” for the result. To build off the concept I mentioned in solution number five, Brenda now has a bevy of topics to discuss with the lucky person who she begins to talk to at her next social event. However, instead of talking about yourself, talk about them. Often, when people are nervous they try to find a safe haven, a topic they are used to and comfortable discussing. So they wind up talking about themselves. Use this as a leverage point. Take the topics I mentioned earlier and craft some questions around them that you can ask another person to stimulate conversation and get them talking about themselves. Inevitably, they will eventually start asking you questions, especially as it relates to your career. Now you’ve just created the opening to discuss what you do without even trying.
7. Shift the Balance of Power. Finally, instead of asking yourself, “Why would that person want to talk to me?” change the question to, “Why would I want to talk to them?”; “How can I deliver value or assist them?”; “What can I learn from them?” These questions shift the balance of power back to you so that you no longer need to be on the defensive or feel you have to come up with reasons why someone would want to talk to you. Now that you are in the mode of inquiry, this change in your mindset will stimulate some questions you can ask them as they relate to the topics mentioned in number five.
After taking the time to adopt this new philosophy and approach, Brenda reported that changing her thinking about networking helped her tremendously. She has developed a more positive outlook and feels comfortable striking up conversations and making small talk.
Effective networking will expand your bandwidth and position you in front of more targeted prospects. So remember, to maximize your networking efforts, don’t take yourself so seriously. You will be amazed who you attract when you detach from the stress of having to generate new business and instead just let yourself have a good time.
About Keith Rosen, MCC — The Executive Sales Coach
Keith Rosen is the executive sales coach that top corporations, executives, and sales professionals call first. As an engaging speaker, Master Coach, and well-known author of many books and articles, Keith is one of the foremost authorities on coaching people to achieve positive change in their attitude, behavior, and results. For his work as a pioneer and leader in the coaching profession, Inc. magazine and Fast Company named Keith one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country.
If you’re ready for better results quickly, contact Keith about personal or team coaching and training at 1-888-262-2450 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Keith Rosen online at Profit Builders and be sure to sign up for his free newsletter The Winners Path.