Networking During the Holidays

The holiday party is a great time to meet people but . . . you should have a plan!

Everybody goes to parties, and the holiday season is full of them. It’s also a business slowdown season for many of us who are not in retail. The holiday parties are NOT just a place for free food and drinks.

Holiday parties and other social mixers bring new opportunities to network, even more than the rest of the year.   The holidays are times when we are more likely to see people in a social setting, and this setting definitely lends itself to building relationships.

Most people think of networking only in traditional networking venues, such as the chamber, strong-contact referral groups like BNI, and other business-oriented gatherings. But that’s not using the power of networking to its fullest.

It can be the best time to introduce yourself or have a friendly conversation with one of your superiors. Making an impact on someone important can be a real career booster; it could open the door for new job opportunities, promotions and/or new business.

In order to make the most of “holiday party networking,” here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be prepared! If you’re going to hobnob, try to know whom you are talking to, what their job and role in the company are and what they’ve done this year for the organization.  Use this info as a way to start a conversation. If you know some of the people who will be in attendance, do a Google search on them.  Do some homework.
  • Ask questions. Some suggestions: How did you start the business? How did you take the business international?  How did you start franchising? What were some of the challenges with . . . ? Have you read any good books lately? (My favorite is: How can I help you?)
  • Have a “teaser” topic ready. Approaching the end of the year, every business wants to increase profits and performance in the New Year. Have an idea ready that describes how you can improve your sector in the coming year. (Word to the wise: Don’t give away the goose; set up a meeting to discuss the details.)
  • Use this introduction as a segue for a future meeting. As mentioned above, you don’t want to “end” the conversation at the party. The end game here is to open the door for follow-up. You want to be able to connect with the person after the party, one-to-one.
  • Don’t have more than a couple drinks. It’s a party, but it’s not YOUR party. You don’t want to be stinking of liquor when you approach the people you want to connect with. Impressions count. Make the right one.
  • Be confident of your value. Introducing yourself to an executive can be an intimidating experience, so give yourself an informed pep talk. Before the event, make a list of the things you’ve done over the past year and understand how what you do may integrate into discussions. Once you’ve got this down, there’s no reason you shouldn’t feel good about yourself. Consider how what you’ve done can integrate with the executive’s interests.
  • Honor the event. Make sure when networking at a holiday party–or any non-traditional networking event–that networking is supplementary to the reason people are there, so don’t treat it like a chamber mixer.  Be sincere.

Don’t act as if you’re in the boardroom giving a presentation; keep it natural and leave them intrigued. The real emphasis must be on “finesse” at a company holiday party. Yes, it is a great networking opportunity–but if you overtly “sell,” you may turn people off! After all, it is a holiday.

You can network anywhere, including events where it might not at first occur to you to try it–and, paradoxically, it’s at these non-traditional networking settings where you’ll often get the most bang for your buck.

Is Your Path to Success Ignited by an Emotionally Charged Connection?

In this video, I talk with my good friend and partner in the Referral Institute, Eddie Esposito, about a very interesting concept he helped develop which I’ve never before mentioned on this blog site–Emotionally Charged Connection.

Many people are not conscious of their Emotionally Charged Connection, yet it’s the reason we get up in the morning and do the things we do every day.  It’s driven by the heart, not the check book or the head–there’s a big difference.  Once you become conscious of this Connection, you are able to understand and more effectively apply five important elements of success which we talk about in the video: Vision, Mission, Goals, Strategy, and Action.

After watching the video, if you’d like to learn more about ways to develop your emotionally charged connection with your prospective clients, go to www.ReferralInstitute.com and locate a franchise in your local area or call the Referral Institute main line and they will be happy to direct you to where you can get more information.

Developing Your Target Market

 

Building your business is all about leveraging your strengths within the context of your prospects’ needs, then networking with as many of those people as you can.

The most successful networkers have developed a thorough strategy planning process. Key aspects of this process include: identifying the major components of the broad, deep network you hope to establish; studying the different types of networking organizations and how they fit into your overall strategy; and identifying the types of businesspeople that make up your target market.

There are also some subsequent aspects of the process that are extremely important to note. The first of these is directly related to you: how do you fit into your own strategy? Second, where will you find the people you want to interact with and make part of your network?

To start, let’s identify some of the strengths and skill sets that you bring to the table as a business professional. I’ve discussed these before but they are no doubt worth repeating as answering these questions truthfully and thoroughly will really help you discover important things about yourself.

  • Are you a “people person”?
  • Do you enjoy public speaking?
  • What kind of professional background did you have before starting your business?
  • How long have you lived in the area where you do business?
  • What other natural skills do you have (such as time management, staying organized, keeping clients focused) that don’t fall directly into your business expertise but are valued by people?

Once you’ve got these answers written down, ask yourself, “What group of people or target market is best suited for my services?”

Follow these steps and you will build a great foundation to ‘start’ understanding and developing your target market.

My ‘Apple’ Experience

It was a few days before Christmas and the malls were incredibly packed.  My eldest daughter needed a new Apple laptop for college and I was going to get her one as a Christmas gift.

Apple’s in-store customer service is legendary and I would soon experience it firsthand. I went to Victoria Gardens, an outdoor mall near my home in Southern California.  I walked up to the entrance of the Apple Store and the first thing I saw was that the place was wall to wall people. No, really – I’m not exaggerating – it was literally wall to wall people.  I think if there were any more people in that store the Fire Marshal would have had to empty the place.

I stood at the door and was dreading the idea of going into this packed store and waiting forever for service. I took a deep breath and walked through the entrance.  I was no more than two steps into the store when I was greeted by an Apple employee. I expected her to instruct me where I needed to go in order to take a number and wait for service.  Instead, she said, “how can I help you?” I was a little surprised but, I told her what I was looking for.  While standing in the middle of the store she paged someone from a mobile device.  She told me he was the expert and could set me right up with what I needed.  After a few moments Chris was standing next to me answering my questions.

Within minutes of walking through the door I picked what I wanted.  Chris swiped my credit card with his telephone and instantly sent the receipt to my email address.   The entire transaction was done in a fraction of the time I expected in a store that was busier than I thought possible.

A good friend of mine, Stewart Emery wrote a book called “Do You Matter?” A major premise of the book is the idea that customer service is all about the “experience” people have in the transaction of business.  I’ve been to the Apple store a few times now and I can say with conviction that each time has been an amazing experience in customer service.

Another thing Stewart talks about in his book, which the Apple company seems to truly understand,  is that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  The Apple culture of customer service is light years ahead of any other computer company I have done business with – period. No computer company has come close to giving me such great customer service (some other computer companies even rank amongst the worst service I’ve ever had).

Well done Apple.  I will be back again… and again, and again.

If you’ve had a similar customer-service experience, I’d really enjoy hearing it.  Please leave a comment and tell me about it.

‘Mastering the World of Selling’

When one of your business relationships passes you a referral, don’t assume that the prospect is ready to hear a presentation on your product or service. When an associate passes you a referral, say thanks . . . then start digging for more information.

You will want to determine whether what you offer is a fit for what the prospect needs.  Taking the time to do this upfront saves a lot of time and energy–for both you and the prospect. Exactly what does the prospect do? What products or services does he want from you? Will your offerings truly fulfill his needs? What is his behavioral style? What are his business goals? How large is his company?

Even with the referral in hand, don’t skip steps in your sales process. Before you approach the prospect, decide on a strategy based on whatever you can find out about him–the same as you would when preparing for any sale. Although the prospect was referred to you, all you’ve really received is an opportunity to approach the prospect with a favorable introduction. (This is not a bad thing–a single referral can open the door to a prospect it may have taken weeks, months or even years to connect with–if you even could at all.)  But whether the prospect becomes a client or not depends on how well you convince him that what you offer, at the price and under the conditions you offer it, will fulfill his needs.

It’s always a good idea to consistently hone your sales skills and strategies. If you need a good sales resource, look no further than Mastering the World of Selling.  It’s a brand-new book by Eric Taylor and David Riklan, and it contains one of the greatest collections of sales training wisdom for the 21st century that I’ve ever come across. It features sales strategies and advice from 89 of the world’s top experts including Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins, Jeffrey Gitomer, yours truly and more. 🙂  To find out more about Mastering the world of Selling, click here.

Do you have any dynamite sales wisdom that you’ve picked up over the years?  If so, I invite you to share it here by leaving a comment–there’s no such thing as too much useful information.  Thanks!

Results Talk. Everything Else is an Excuse.

I had a conversation with a franchisee a few weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it for some time since.  We were talking about a marketing strategy that has proven to be very successful for many franchises within his company for many years.

When I asked the franchisee why he wasn’t participating in the program he said, “I don’t want to do that.  I don’t think it works.”  I said, “Really?  The top three franchisees around the country use it– just what about the technique is it that you don’t think works?”  He said, “I think the technique reduces client retention.”  I pointed out that the retention of the top three franchisees mentioned above was HIGHER than the client retention of his franchise.   He said “Yeah, but I just don’t think it would work in my area.”

I still can’t believe he really said that.  This is an intelligent individual who gave me one of the lamest answers I’ve ever heard for not doing something that works.

The bottom line is that the marketing strategy in question is in fact, hard work.  I believe that he just didn’t want to do all the hard work necessary to implement the strategy and he rationalized his position with half-baked excuses.

When a strategy works in many places and yields big results then all the excuses in the world for not implementing the strategy are just that–excuses!

Have you ever had a conversaton with someone like this?  If so, I’d love to hear about it and find out out how you handled it.

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.

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