Make the Connection

One of my employees told me this week that she passed some advice from one of my books on to her cousin; it was about making connections at networking functions.  She told me that her cousin, Greg, recently joined a chamber of commerce to promote the new business he started after being laid off from the company he had worked in for a number of years and he felt clueless as to how to form connections with the strangers he came in contact with at mixers.

My employee remembered reading an article by Alice Ostrower in my book Masters of Networking about making connections so she passed it on to Greg. Reportedly he feels much more comfortable at mixers and has been having a lot more success in networking his business because he now has a strategy for making connections and he feels he knows his purpose when he arrives at a networking event.

Here are the four standard techniques that have been working for Greg and I guarantee they will help you get your networking message across effectively and encourage a positive response (Thanks, Alice! :)):

1.  Get the person’s attention.  Show interest by asking questions: “How are you?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “Have you heard about? . . .” “Did you know? . . .”

2.  Add interest.  Respond to the answer but don’t move the conversation to you; elicit more information from the other person.

3.  Involve.  Use the “feel, felt, found” formula (“I know how you feel, I felt the same way, and this is what I found”) to involve yourself in the other person’s message before you deliver your own.

4.  Network.  Tie it all together by connecting one person’s needs or goals with the resources, needs, or goals of another person.  For example: “I felt the same way until I met John Jones.  He really helped me accomplish my goals.  Why don’t I have him give you a call?  Is tomorrow evening convenient?”

This is networking at its best.  Your new acquaintance finds a solution to a problem, your referral gets new business, and you gain a reputation as a friendly, reliable, knowledgeable person who seems to know everybody.  Your name and reputation will become familiar to more and more people, and your business will automatically benefit in the long run.

Guardian at the Gate

When I started my first business, I knew I wanted referrals to play a key part in my overall growth strategy, and I began to realize I wasn’t the only one trying to get more sales through referrals.  A lot of other business professionals were trying to do the same thing.

So I thought, “What if I became the hub?”  If all the other people out there were trying to do the same thing as I was, why couldn’t I position myself as the gatekeeper of sorts between other people’s networks? Then, if someone was buying a new home and needed a real estate agent but didn’t have one in her own network, she would come to me and see whom I knew.

How did that help my business?

1.  It encouraged me to continue building and deepening my relationships with others, even if I didn’t think they could help me right away. Our natural tendency is to nurture relationships with those we feel can help us the most. But the fact is, we never know whom another person knows, so we should take every opportunity to build relationships with all those we make contact with.  Bob Smith might not be a good referral partner for me, but he could be ideal for Jane Doe, another person I know.

2.  Becoming a gatekeeper had a positive effect on my credibility. I wanted to be the go-to guy in the business community–the person others came to if they needed a referral for anything.  This meant that I would be deepening relationships with people I might not otherwise have gotten to know.  Since people do business with the people they like and trust, whom do you think got their referrals when they needed someone with my products and services? . . . Bingo! 🙂

When you’re networking, make an effort to build relationships with people who may be good referral partners for others in your network, and try to connect them with each other.  I guarantee if you do this consistently, you’ll get more referrals in the long run.

Three Essential Questions

How can a time-strapped businessperson figure out which networking events she should attend and which she should let go by the wayside? 

The answer: Develop a networking strategy.

Here are three easy–but definitely essential–questions you need to answer in order to create a plan that will work for you. 

Who Are My Best Prospects? 
It’s important to know that each target market will have a strategy that requires you to network in different places. If you’re not sure who your target market is, look at your list of past clients. What industries were they in? How long had they been in business? Were your clients even businesses to begin with, or have you worked mostly with consumers?

Once you’ve put together a profile of your past clients, ask people close to you for patterns you may have overlooked and get their input on who might be a good fit for your business.

Where Can I Meet My Best Prospects?
As you begin targeting specific niche markets, there are other venues and opportunities that fall outside the typical networking event.  Here are some examples of specific target markets and where you should network to find people in these markets:

Small-business owners–chamber of commerce, local business association, referral groups

Representatives from big corporations in your area–service clubs, nonprofit groups, volunteer work, homeowners associations

Consumers–your kids’ events: Little League, Boy Scouts and so forth

Whom, Exactly, Do I Want To Meet?
Even if you can’t name the people you want to meet, the better you can descibe them, the greater the chance you’ll get to meet your ideal contact.

Be as specific as possible when asking for a contact because it focuses the other person’s attention on details that are more likely to remind him of a specific person rather than if you asked, “Do you know anyone who needs my services?”

Networking works.  It’s just a matter of developing a strategy that puts you in contact with the right people. That’s exactly what the three questions above will help you do.

Become an Information Exchange

Networking involves constant interaction with people from all walks of life and, if you keep your ears open, you can learn a heck of a lot.

And, guess what?  Knowing a heck of a lot makes you smarter.  Guess what’s even better?  Being able to communicate what you know and using it to help people get what they need makes you a valuable contact and a master networker.  It makes you an information exchange.

Start by listening to everything. Train yourself to listen to conversations you might ordinarily tune out, and to evaluate every issue you hear with an eye to how it fits into the pool of talent, expertise and resources your network represents.

One way to enhance this skill is to write down a list of your networking contacts and their products, services and special capabilities. Read the list every day, keep it up to date and respond quickly when something you hear connects up with something else on the list.

Learn as much as you can about the special terminologies of your contacts’ businesses. When you’re referring someone with a problem to someone with a possible solution, it adds to your effectiveness and credibility to speak the language of both.  It also helps you recognize the connection.

Last but not least, always follow these tips when communicating information to those in your network:

  • Speak simply, clearly and  in plain language whenever possible.
  • Keep the message short and relevant.
  • End with your offer to help.
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