Networking events are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a popular event means there’s plenty of potential customers to meet. On the other hand, attending an event and coming away empty is a huge waste of a business owner’s most precious commodity – time.
Fortunately, there are ways to tilt the odds in your favor. Some advance preparation and a few tips to keep in mind while at the event will increase the chances that you walk off with at least one, or possibly several qualified leads.
Choose the event carefully. A common mistake among those wanting to meet a lot of people is registering for the wrong event. Rather than consider what most interests you, look at an event from your potential customer’s perspective. Before signing up, always review the event agenda. If, for example, financial planners are your target audience, plan to attend an event aimed specifically at this profession.
Know what you want to get out of attending. It’s not enough to have a vague ambition to “connect with some prospects.” The more specific your goals, the more likely you’ll come away successful. Remember, a networking event is all about meeting people, not making sales. We’ve all met people who try to get us to buy something on the spot, and nobody likes that experience.
Devise a game plan around (a) making a specific number of contacts; (b) handing out a set number of business cards (and collecting a higher number from others); or (c) quickly learning as much as possible about a handful of people, in order to qualify them as prospects.
Polish up on your elevator pitch. Without a concise and enticing way to introduce yourself at a crowded event, you’re dead in the water. Every business owner should have a brief description of what they do and a statement about how this can benefit customers. How long should the elevator pitch be? Experts vary on this, but absolutely keep it under 60 seconds. Coming in at 30 or even 10 seconds is ideal. Focus most of what you say on the results you’ve provided to customers and then stop. You want the other person’s first thought to be, “Tell me more.”
Meet and greet. The first rule of thumb is don’t be late. Showing up after others have arrived sends the message that you’re possibly an unreliable businessperson. Instead, plan to arrive 15 minutes early and position yourself near the door, so it’s easy to say hello as attendees walk in. Make eye contact, shake hands firmly and smile. Don’t look over the other person’s shoulder in an attempt to monitor other new arrivals; your complete interest in the person you’re speaking with should be loud and clear.
Know ahead of time the exact questions to ask that will help you qualify a prospect. (Even if someone turns out not to qualify, they may be a source for other leads later on.) Whether they’re promising or not, hand out your business card and collect theirs. If possible, check your calendars and set up a time to talk further.
Follow up right away. The day following the event (or as soon afterwards as possible), take out the business cards you collected and follow up with the people you’ve met. If they seem like potential prospects, you certainly don’t want to let the trail go cold. If they’re non-prospects, they may still be valuable as contacts for future networking events.