Article Summary: The ultimate goal of networking is to meet or be introduced to “Key Decision Makers” (KDMs). They are your influencers, opinion leaders, check-writers, and contract signers at your prospect’s organization. In today’s sluggish economy, they frequently weigh price heavily before making purchases. Strong relationships will likely tip the decision-making process to you. The three “must do” activities to ensure that networking pays off include 1) Research your prospective key decision makers; 2) Develop your ideal event profile; and 3) Develop your target networking plan. The glue that brings all three of these together is… be deliberate.
Make Networking Pay Off – How to Find the Right Events for You
Copyright © 2009. The Chief Storyteller®, LLC. and ThinkBusiness Magazine
Ira J. Koretsky
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of them all? A little play on words as I think about the sheer number of networking opportunities there are in any given month. To give you an idea, type the phrase “networking organizations” into any Internet search engine. Bing shows 2,360,000 results for San Francisco, CA. Google lists 87,900,000 for Washington, DC. Yahoo displays 2,620,000 pages for Austin, TX. Obviously, not all of the pages relate to professional networking. The point is that networking is everywhere. So how are you to choose what events to attend?
A common complaint of networking shared is, “networking is a waste of time.” After talking to thousands of people at networking events over the years, two primary challenges for this perception begin to emerge. The first is, many networkers do not have a compelling business story—an elevator pitch prompting further conversation. The second is, people are not attending the right events. Let’s focus on the second challenge for this article. Improve your elevator pitch with a variety of tips, how-to’s, articles, and other elevator pitch blogs here.
The ultimate goal of networking is to meet or be introduced to “Key Decision Makers” (KDMs). They are your influencers, opinion leaders, check-writers, and contract signers at your prospect’s organization. In today’s sluggish economy, they frequently weigh price heavily before making purchases. Strong relationships will likely tip the decision-making process to you.
Here are three “must do” activities to ensure networking pays off for you.
Research Your Prospective Key Decision Makers (KDM’s)
As part of each new customer engagement, I ask a wide variety of questions related to how the sales team communicates, networks, and attracts customers. One telling answer is that they read only what interests them. It is, of course, natural for us to read what is interesting to us.
In sales, it’s all about them. Them refers to your Key Decision Makers. When you customize your various sales and marketing pieces, you have to know what they are thinking, talking about, losing sleep over, etc.
It’s all about them.
To be successful at networking, research:
- What are the KDMs thinking about?
- Where are the KDMs going to find answers to learn more about (1)?
During your sales process, ask the KDMs direct questions about what they are reading and thinking. Ask where they network to learn new insights, to meet colleagues, and to find new business opportunities. Start your own mini database listing the associations and groups your typical KDMs attend.
Supplement your knowledge and add to your event database with competitive intelligence found on the Internet. Perform searches related to your KDMs and the types of events they are attending. LinkedIn is a good resource to start your research. Find some Key Decision Makers in LinkedIn and look at the categories and kinds of groups he or she has joined. Use these insights to help refine your networking strategy.
Develop Your Ideal Event Profile
There are events for breakfast, lunch, dinner, after dinner, coffee, weekend socials, children’s activities or school-related, religious social gatherings, fundraisers, fancy galas, association meetings, conferences, educational events, private parties, and the list goes on! How do you choose? Follow Rod Tidwell’s (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) advice in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money.”
Only attend events that provide benefits to you. Benefits can be new customers, partners, ideas, referrals, and suggestions. The key is having an Ideal Event Profile (IEP). An IEP spells out the events yielding benefits time and time again. The IEP is focused entirely on finding Key Decision Makers or people that can introduce you to KDMs, whom I call “people bridges.”
Remember the IEP reflects the KDM’s choices, not yours. In your IEP form, include the basics such as industries represented; best time of day to attend; purpose of event (e.g., conference, education, meeting, networking, social, and training); and cost (cost is highly correlated with job titles—generally, the higher the cost, the more senior the attendees). Now add other fields to customize the IEP to your sales process and ideal customers such as favorite associations, charitable events, social clubs, and preferred special events.
Develop Your Target Networking Plan
Put your KDM hat on. Armed with research and an Ideal Event Profile, develop a rolling three-month plan listing the events to attend. Prioritize your list based on how the KDM thinks and acts. Also, try mixing the time of day and geography (some people stay close to their office or home when it comes to attending events) to maximize the number of people for you to meet.
Attend events from your list. Measure success. Are you meeting KDMs from prospects that are a good fit for your organization? If not, evaluate. Ask yourself:
- Is my elevator pitch working?
- Is my IEP on target?
- Am I attending the right events?
Be patient. It takes four to six months of consistent networking to build rapport and begin to establish trust. If your deal size is six figures or more, prepare for a longer relationship cycle.
Successful Networkers are Deliberate
Will Durant, in The Story of Philosophy, referred to Aristotle’s approach to happiness. Durant wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” As part of prospecting, you develop call plans and call visits based on targeted research. Successful networkers follow the same approach. Successful networkers are deliberate in researching events to attend, choosing wisely who to spend time with, and selecting target customers with follow up activities.
For the majority of my customers, I can track the source of the introduction or meeting back to a specific person, keynote, workshop, or event attended. Can you?
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Updated Content 2012, Updated header photograph 2019
Photography Source: DepositPhotos