B-to-B Insights: Face-to-Face
Pinterest. Foursquare. Google+. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. We're so entranced by the possibilities of social networking we risk forgetting the other kind of networking that can work so well—live, in-the-flesh human contact.
Social networking can reach a wider audience by far. But the impact is not as memorable as networking with a prospect face-to-face. Rule of thumb: The closer you can get to the prospect, the better quality the lead. Therefore, you should do both traditional and social networking, and not just the computer kind.
Dive in and Get Noticed
Traditional networking can be difficult for people who, like me, are shy and introverted. When I arrive at the event to find attendees conversing in small circles, I find it difficult to interject myself into their crowd.
My strategy for overcoming my timidity is to do something at the event that automatically makes me the focus of the meeting, so that other people come to me instead of me imposing on them. The two best methods for doing this are being the speaker and sponsoring the meeting.
● Speak Up: When you volunteer to be the speaker for that meeting, your attendance is publicized in advance. You wear a speaker's badge that designates you as special. Attendees gravitate toward you both before the talk and after your presentation. You become the most popular person in the room, eliminating the need to proactively seek out networking prospects.
● Pave the Way With a Sponsorship: If you don't like public speaking, offer to sponsor a meeting. I recently did this for a meeting of the local chapter of the Business Marketing Association (BMA)—a good organization for B-to-B marketers to join—and of which I am a member. If you have a narrow niche market, like many B-to-B marketers do, it makes sense to join the association(s) serving the industry.
For $350, I became that month's sponsor. This entitled me to put a placard advertising my services on the registration table at the meeting and also to run a free banner ad in the chapter e-newsletter. Most important, the meeting chairperson acknowledged me as the sponsor in her comments. Attendance was small—just 28 people—but I got two great leads, both from Fortune 500 prospects.
If you're not interested in being a speaker, or if sponsoring a meeting isn't in your budget, consider this: Another great way to get noticed and to network is to volunteer to head one of the committees, such as the chapter newsletter or finding guest speakers. This automatically puts a spotlight on you without you having to impose yourself on others.
Networking Etiquette, Expectations and Goals
What are your goals when networking? One objective is to make personal connections with people in a position to help you. These people include not only potential customers but colleagues, vendors and referral sources.
Some networkers measure their networking success by counting business cards collected or business cards handed out.
Here's a tip: Wear a jacket with two pockets. Your business cards are kept in the left-hand pocket; the business cards you collect in the right-hand pocket. Other goals may include talking to 10 new people, finding one strong lead or discovering a new resource.
"Of all the marketing tools, networking is the most effective," says Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor, a marketing consultancy.
Benun defines networking as building and nurturing relationships by talking to people "just like you." These relationships are built by learning from others, helping out and making connections, she notes.
Even though your desire is to get business from networking, don't push for the lead or sale directly. If you do, you'll be perceived as a huckster who offers little value and isn't worth knowing.
Instead, make yourself a helpful resource. If you hear someone say he's in need of a Web developer, recommend one or two good ones you know. Doing so begins to build a relationship where you are perceived as a valued resource.
The prospect may not have an immediate need for your product or service. But by consistently being there as someone to go to for help, the prospect is likely to call you first when a need for your type of product or service comes up.
Before accepting an invitation to attend a meeting, qualify the event by finding out who will be in attendance. Are they your potential customers? If not, attending the meeting may be a waste of time for you as far as networking is concerned.
The prospect may talk about a subject on which you have whitepapers, brochures or other documentation. Offer to send this material. So as not to lose track of who gets what, write down the items you want to send the prospect on her business card.
At a recent meeting of a marketing club, I met the marketing manager of a large, local high-tech manufacturer. During our conversation, he casually mentioned the company had an active blog, and was having trouble keeping up with the demand for fresh content.
I asked him a few questions about length, content and frequency of the blog posts. We then exchanged business cards, and I followed up with him by email about a week after the meeting. The company decided to do the blog posts in-house, but I am on the marketing manager's radar for other copywriting projects that come up.
It also is a good idea to ask prospects you meet, "May I add you to my e-zine subscriber list?" Most will say yes, and you now have permission to email them, though you shouldn't abuse the privilege. If you publish your e-zine monthly, that means the prospect will hear from you at least 12 times a year.
Do not underestimate the power of a simple e-zine as a lead-generating tool. Many of the inquiries I get about my services begin: "I read your e-zine, and ..."
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.