By Ruth Henderson, President and Co-Founder, Whiteboard Consulting Group Inc.
Networking is a great way to build your business. In fact, it's pretty much a requirement for small and medium business owners these days. And yet, so many cringe at the thought, finding it stressful, frustrating and in the end, not very helpful. After all, it means you have to find the right people to talk to, tell them about your business and hope that a few of them want to speak to your further.
Right? Well no, maybe not.
What if, instead of trying to sell YOUR product or service to everyone that you meet, you spent time learning about ways that the both of you can act as referral partners for one another?
I have written before about how great coaching at the office involves enabling the coachee to self-discover things they are doing well and things they could do better. Well, networking is like coaching. Get your network partner to self-realize that you are someone they should do business with.
Three steps to becoming a better networker:
1. Tell Me About... Tell Me More...
Resist the desire to talk about your business, no matter how much you love it or how sure you are that the person you're speaking with needs you! Instead, use these phrases to learn and discover more about the person you are talking to.
One of my worst networking experiences happened three days after my business partner and I launched a new website. We met with a website developer who ostensibly wanted to chat about our business, but immediately launched into an hour-long lecture telling us how he would revise our site. Then there was that time when a divorce attorney whom we had just met asked if either of us was married. Yuck.
Tell me about/Tell me more about: your business, your clients, how you got started, your business partner, your employees, your personal life.
What ever YOUR angle is doesn't matter. It is much more effective to get people to start talking about themselves. Listen for information "nuggets" and get them to tell you more.
2. That Sounds A Lot Like XYZ...
Use the information you gathered in Step 1 to tell a brief story about a similar situation that happened to you.
I've had a similar experience. Can I share a story with you?
Don't go on and on, and despite the overwhelming urge to to jump into stories about your own business/idea/product, wait. Breathe. Remember, you are building a relationship. Not a buyer and seller interaction, but a real relationship with this person!
3. Leverage And Ask More Open-ended Questions
An open-ended question is any question that does not yield a yes or no answer.
- How is XYZ working for you?
- What kind of feedback do you get on XYZ?
This is also a great time to set the stage for a followup conversation (especially when you are at a networking event and want to speak to more people):
I would love to know more about you/your XYZ, When do you have some time next week to chat?
You've really got me thinking about you/your XYZ, and I'd like to pick your brain about it some more. When are you available?
So, when do you get to pitch your business?
Well, you don't.
In fact, unless they ask you the open-ended questions about you and your business, you need to remain focused on them. Remember that people learn coaching and networking techniques by observing others. Be their role model.
And even when I do talk about our company and our process improvement and training work, I still try to ask questions that may appeal more to their business, like: Tell me about process improvements that you have worked on? Tell me about how it worked? Tell me about the types of training that your company offers/delivers/has done in the past? How did it go? These questions spark their own self-interest, but with respect to our business. It's a win-win, without the pushy side of traditional networking.
Here's a little Network Planning Checklist to use the next time you're headed out to an event. Good Luck!
- Know who is going to be there.
- Know who you want to meet.
- Learn about them.
- Prepare your questions in advance.
Step 1: Tell me more...
- ¨Tell me about what you do?
- ¨What is your favourite part of your job?
- ¨Tell me about how your started your business?
- ¨Tell me about your family?
- ¨Tell me more about... [insert: nugget learned earlier here]
Step 2: It Sounds Like
- ¨It sounds like your job is... (insert: exciting, stressful... you want to echo what you heard above).
- ¨It sounds like you are... (driven, frustrated, a powerful leader, a great coach, looking for a change)
- ¨May I share a similar story with you?
Step 3: Tell me even more...
- ¨How do you get clients?
- ¨How do you do X (hiring, process improvement, training)?
- ¨Tell me more about what you think of (leadership training, websites, anti-aging skincare)?
- ¨I'd love to chat more about XYZ. When are you available to chat?
Ruth Henderson is one of the Founders of Whiteboard Consulting Group Inc., and an experienced blogger. You can read more blog posts at www.whiteboardconsulting.ca, or follow her on Twitter @whiteboardcons.