In business networking, take the time to sow seeds and watch your opportunities grow.
Networking is an essential part of growing your business. When asked if they network regularly, most salespeople will tell you they do. Folks who say they don’t find benefit in networking aren’t doing it right. So, what does good networking look like? How do you know if you are getting the most from your networking efforts?
Start by digging a little deeper. How many hours per week are you networking? How many referrals did you receive last year as a direct result of networking? How much closed business did your networking result in? Is your answer still yes, or are you staring at these questions like a deer in headlights?
What is networking and why is it important? Networking is the simplest and oldest form of sales. The purpose of networking is to form personal relationships. Some people you form relationships with will buy from you directly, but that is not the ultimate goal of networking. The goal is to form a NETWORK who will sell on your behalf. When the people you network with regularly meet someone who is looking for a product or service you sell, you want them to immediately think of you and refer that client to you. Referral leads convert 30% better than leads generated from other marketing channels; therefore; the effort you put in on the front end will impact your sales results for years to come.
How do you network and with whom? The key to networking is consistency. Let’s use the Chamber of Commerce as an example; which is a popular venue for many businesses to network. If you sign up as a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, you might get one or two leads per year just from being listed in their member directory. If you attend an event every now and then, you will have a little more exposure but the increase in results will be minimal. If you start attending events on a regular basis, you become more than just a name in the directory.
By attending the weekly Chamber breakfast every Friday, you are forming personal relationships with other members who participate in the event on a regular basis. They learn more about you and the products or services you have to offer. In addition to attending the Friday morning breakfast, perhaps you also attend the monthly luncheon. You are now becoming an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and other active members are taking note. They are more likely to refer you to people who are interested in your services. You see an increase in leads as a result of your active participation with the Chamber of Commerce.
As one of my favorite chefs, Emeril Lagasse would say, it’s time to kick it up a notch! In addition to attending Chamber events, join a Chamber of Commerce committee. Being part of a committee provides additional exposure for you and your business and allows you to be part of the larger events in your community. Think about the businesses (small or large) in your town that have become staples of the community. Chances are, they didn’t get there by sitting in their office HOPING clients would simply walk in the door. Hope is not a strategy. They participate in food drives and community events, they welcome new local businesses by attending ribbon cuttings, they are pictured in the local paper at Chamber sponsored events.
They are INVOLVED in the community on a CONSISTENT basis; and because of their dedication and high visibility, their business thrives. It’s likely their networking efforts don’t stop there. In addition to all they do in the Chamber of Commerce, they have a representative who also participates in the local Rotary Club or BNI chapter. They are likely on a board to plan an annual golf outing or toy drive. The key to their business success is that no matter how many groups or events they participate in the network and participate on a consistent basis.
Developing personal relationships is the very core of sales. Developing your network takes time. The average salesperson will spend six months of active, consistent, networking with a single group before they begin to see results. Think of it as a relationship. The first date is awkward, you are still learning about each other; as the weeks and months progress, you become more comfortable and more committed. The same is true with your networking community. The first time you attend an event, it can feel awkward.
In fact, you may not know a single person in the room. As you continue to show up week after week, the network becomes familiar with you and they begin to understand the services you offer and the products you sell. The group members begin feeling comfortable referring you to their friends and family, and even their own clients. Networking is an amazing thing that develops over time just like a relationship does. After all, the core of networking is building relationships and your own network of salespeople willing to sell on your behalf.
The fact of the matter is that 87% of front-line sales reps and 82% of sales leaders agree referrals are the best business leads you can get. Ask yourself again, how many hours per week are you actively networking? What are doing within your networking groups to be more involved? Set networking requirements as part of your job responsibilities and sales goals. Place regular networking meetings on your calendar as required appointments. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and be accountable. Once personal relationships form, they are hard to break. Putting the time and effort into networking WILL result in more referrals, higher closing ratios, and more money in your pocket.
Author Bio: April Milner is the Central Regional Sales Director of Wheaton World Wide Moving and Bekins Van Lines.