Why networking is the #1 skill you must master
As an independent management consultant (or anyone else working in sales) you must be able to answer these two questions:
1. How do you find clients who have a desperate need for what you do?
2. How do clients, with a desperate need for what you do, find you?
Most of us would prefer to crack the code to question two.
As time goes by the balance should shift automatically from question one to question two. Your portfolio of clients should regularly call back for more and the people you have worked with before move on to new companies where they need your services. People you have worked with will recommend you to other people. If it doesn’t happen, then you must take a serious look at the quality of your services and the value you provide. That will be the subject of another post on another day.
Until the day where most of your assignments come to you, the only choice you have is to get yourself in front of many potential clients.
Networking is the ultimate skill required in preparing for client engagements.
Social Media Networking
Yes, social media networking and communication works. However, you are most likely not an expert in this field. As a solo practitioner or a boutique firm, you must become a social media expert. YOU are the value proposition, and you cannot delegate the creation of content exposing your value to anyone else. You can delegate some of the plumbing to someone else, but learning and knowing how social media works is a tremendous asset when you are a solo practitioner.
Social media networking is a long-term strategy. Don’t expect results overnight. However, social media networking has the benefit of the long tail. The effects are accumulative.
Social media networking is about content, contribution, and activity. A passive approach of having a profile sitting on LinkedIn is not going to do you any good. Re-posting other people’s content is OK from time to time, but it is not enough if your ambition is to be considered a “subject matter expert” or a “thought leader.”
Social media networking is a web-based activity. Working the web is a numbers game. You should be the poet and write good stuff all the time. You can learn the plumbing from someone that has made the journey before you.
These two books should get you going: The New Rules of Marketing and PR and Content Machine.
Clients engage with people they know and trust or with people they have been recommended to by someone they know and trust. Getting long-term and profitable client engagements come through personal contacts, and therefore networking is the #1 way to generate leads. But selling is VERBOTEN at networking events.
Networking means inviting people for “a cup of coffee,” participating in networking events in your industry association, in the industry association of your clients or in other physical contexts where you meet potential client executives.
Become the Speaker
Getting on the podium is the ultimate way of creating awareness at a networking event. You must deliver quality from the podium, but you do not necessarily have to be the keynote speaker (although this is the most powerful role).
Assume the responsibility for organizing networking events for the industry organization of your clients. Find the speakers among your potential clients and make the introductions. This is an excellent way of increasing awareness and building personal relationships.
Don’t expect immediate results. You are investing in awareness building for your brand (yourself).
Networking is a marketing activity, not a sales activity.
Never sell at a networking event.
You don’t go to a networking event “to be sold” anything, neither do the other networking parties.
So the one thing you don’t do when networking is “selling.” It is VERBOTEN. There will be more about “selling” in a later blog post, but let me just repeat:
No “selling” at networking events.
In this context, I use “selling” as a synonym for telling or bragging. There is nothing worse than a hungry salesperson hunting for leads that he or she can close tomorrow. Be curious and ask other people what they do and join the conversations that are already going on. If someone asks you a question about what you do, then give your ultra short one-stop-elevator pitch and close with a question to the other person. You are there to learn not to teach.
Networking events are opportunities for maintaining relationships with people you already know and for making new contacts.
Your primary objective when making new contacts is “filtering.” You meet people, and you let them talk. You make a very brief introduction of yourself (no selling!), and then you ask questions. Your questions will make people talk. What people say and how they say it will give you the opportunity to determine if this is a person you would want to “do business with” in the future. Whether or not they are a potential client is irrelevant at this stage. The question is can they win your confidence.
Isn’t it the other way around? Shouldn’t I win their confidence?
I assume you are who you are, and that you are not playing a role. I also assume that what you do can be explained in a few seconds. Leave it to the other person to make her judgment. If she finds you and what you do interesting, she will let you know.
A cup of coffee
Invite people you find interesting for “a cup of coffee.” “A cup of coffee” is 45-60 minutes informal introduction. The “cup of coffee” typically takes place in a café, but sometimes also in your office or the other person’s office. I prefer the café, as it is more informal at this stage of an acquaintance.
A “cup of coffee” meeting is introductory (no selling!). There is no formal agenda, and there is no prior commitment to a next step. However, as you have taken the initiative, you must be prepared to give a helping hand to your “coffee” fellow if you can.
You can also “meet” with people virtually. Having a cup of coffee with someone in Frankfurt, Auckland or Chicago can be accomplished through Skype (turn the video on!).
The objective of networking
Most of your business will come from your network, either directly or through recommendations.
The objective of networking is to get to know interesting people. Some of these may become your clients someday, while others may become your partners, your vendors, your sources for inspiration and so on.
Give and don’t sell
The #1 rule in networking is your preparedness to give and your ability to refrain from selling.
Be prepared to give to people you find interesting. I’m not talking about free consulting hours. I am talking about references to other people in your network or material to read or some other information or contacts, which could be valuable to the other party.
Don’t expect anything in return, but I can assure you: The more you give, the more you will receive.
And finally, networking is a long-term effort. Stay true to your networking activities; filter your contacts and give, give, give. People you meet today will most likely not engage you as a trusted advisor tomorrow. Be patient and act naturally. Stay in touch, and they will come to you when the time is right for them.