To channel management guru Peter Drucker, more business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no business school courses are given on the subject. So chew on this: If you want to boost your selling power, it pays to improve your networking skills.
It pays to prospect. Seek out places where potential customers gather. We are surrounded by networking opportunities, although you should never confuse networking with schmoozing.
"Schmoozing has the connotation that you are getting something from someone with no benefit to the other person," says Diane Darling, author of "The Networking Survival Guide." Prospective customers see right through that. "One of the biggest pet peeves I hear from people is that people want something from them without a thought of giving back."
So you schmooze, you lose. Instead, to woo new prospects, you need to be willing to give before you start networking. Here are five of Darling's top ways to network:
1. Ask questions before meetings. The first few minutes of any local business group meeting is an excellent time to network. The atmosphere is casual and the conversation is light. Ask two or three neutral questions, such as where a person previously worked. Another good opener is, "I'm curious, where are you originally from?" That is an easy, non-threatening way to find something you have in common.
2. Talk to fellow passengers. Practice networking while in transit. When you sit down, smile and say hello. Ask if your seat mate is heading to a meeting or heading home. Of course, you also should respect the person's body language and personal space. If the person shifts away from you, that's a sign he or she wants to be left alone.
3. Use a book as a prop. This is an anti-networking tip. When you network on planes and trains, carry a book or an e-reader and have it visible. "When you first talk to someone, this indicates that you have something else to do and won't necessarily talk his or her ear off," Darling says. And if the person turns out to be boring, she adds, you can begin reading right away.
4. Network at conferences and trade shows. When you have a booth, make a point of catching people's eyes when they approach. "If the person is also an exhibitor, ask questions such as how many shows she or he typically attends in a year or what in particular she or he likes about this one," Darling advises. If the person is an attendee, ask him before you do too much talking. Monopolize the listening, not the speaking. Remember, you learn more listening to others than talking their ears off. Don't be that guy or gal.
5. Stalk, but nicely. If you're attending a conference or trade show, consider if there is someone specific you want to meet. Read speakers' bios. Make the connection a week or so in advance via e-mail and by phone. But don't overcommit yourself. "You can quickly run out of time," Darling warns, "and canceling appointments at shows is not professional."
So what can you give the people you meet? Listen to their needs and then sincerely seek to connect them with the contacts, information, or prospects they are looking for. You will find that the more you feed others, the more you will get fed.
Once you've figured out all of the secrets to great networking, register to attend The Secrets to Explosive Growth webinar on April 10th.
Image from Flickr user thelastminute