Let’s admit it. We have all been there – you’re at a business networking meeting with the goal of drumming up some new business opportunities, but you don’t know where to start. Business networking events are one of the most tried-and-true ways to get business leads, but they can also be some of the most challenging.
When I first started attending business networking events, I found myself always picking the wrong people to talk to, and could never really find out the information I needed in order to make the event a success. I would inevitably give my business cards to the wrong people, and got sucked into way too many unproductive lunches (and somehow always ended paying for them). And the people I did call as a result of the networking events were almost always a complete waste of time. When I look back on it now, I was spending too much time talking, and I was talking to the wrong people.
Now when I go to a networking event, I try to apply many of my lessons I’ve learned from doing lead generation. If you follow these tips, I can’t guarantee someone won’t still try to “set you up on a lunch date” that never leads to a sale, but you will see better results.
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind to help you maximize the opportunities for lead generation at every business networking event:
- Do your research first: You wouldn’t want to make a lead generation call without doing your homework about the company you were calling, so don’t make the same mistake about networking events. Every networking event will often make available a list of the companies who will be attending – so find out ahead of time which companies will be there, and then do some research to find out which of those companies are a good fit for your solution. Try to have a short list of 4 or 5 companies that you would most like to talk to, and refresh your memory before you arrive at the networking event with some facts and anecdotes about why you’re interested in them.
- It’s about building relationships, not closing sales: One of the biggest lead generation mistakes is asking for the sale (or asking about the client’s budget) too soon. In the same way, when you’re at a networking event it’s important to remember that you’re not there to close sales, you’re there to introduce yourself and your company, and to lay the groundwork to build relationships with people who might become customers, or who might offer to refer you to potential customers.
- Grab their attention: Just like every lead generation call needs to grab the prospect’s attention in the first few seconds, at a networking event you have a limited amount of time to get the other person’s attention and show that you have a compelling solution. Refine your “elevator pitch” and make it customized (as much as possible) for those top companies on your “short list” that you most want to meet at the event.
- Listen more than you talk: Lead generation is often a matter of listening to what the prospect is saying, and “reading between the lines” to uncover the prospect’s unspoken needs and underlying “pain points.” When you’re at a networking event, it’s important that you do more than rattle off your own “elevator speech.” Instead, you need to invest time in truly listening to what the other people are saying. Try to get a sense for their biggest challenges. Ask open-ended questions to find out more about their business needs.
As an example, I start by saying that “I work for Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry founding lead generation companies. We provide lead generation services for B2B companies in XYZ vertical.” (I try to tailor each conversation to the individual I am speaking with.)
I keep my introduction to no more than 2-3 sentences. If I keep talking about my company, I am missing my opportunity to ask them about their needs. I will then proceed to ask them what they are doing for lead generation, which areas of lead generation have been successful for them, and I will try to hone in on “pain points” by asking if they are currently satisfied with their lead generation efforts. If they outsource this process, are they satisfied with their vendor?
Your job at this early stage of the conversation is simply to find pain points, NOT to sell your solution. Once you have determined that you can help, ask for their business card, and ask to take the conversation to a later date. Only then should you start offering specific solutions to their pain points.
- Focus and prioritize your efforts: In lead generation, one of the biggest challenges is to prioritize, rank and sort through a large volume of sales leads. Not all sales leads are equally promising, and your organization needs to develop a consistent method to rank, sort, and follow up on the sales leads that are most eager to talk to you and most ready to buy. At a networking event, you might see a whole room full of people – but not all of them are going to be the right fit for what your organization offers, and not all of them are going to be worth investing a large amount of time and effort to build relationships. Work the room. Don’t spend too much time on any one conversation – instead, look for ways to graciously (or not) exit a conversation if you feel that the other person’s organization isn’t the right fit for what you sell. Try to talk to as many people as possible, but also develop your own easy “sorting questions” that can help drill down to identify whether or not the person you’re talking to is going to be worth following up with after the networking event.
While there are many differences between dialing lead generation calls and meeting with people in person at a networking event, in some ways the two environments require a similar approach. Stay focused on relationship building, not deal closing. Do your research to get informed about the top companies that you’d most like to talk to, and prepare a concise elevator pitch to grab their attention and make them want to learn more. Keep listening and ask good questions to dig deeper into your prospect’s business needs, and rank your prospects by priority so you can make efficient use of your time.
About the author: Gregg Schwartz is the Director of Sales for Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the leading appointment setting companies servicing the B2B marketplace. Gregg has developed and implemented hundreds of lead generation programs resulting in millions of dollars in revenue for his clients.