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How to network with purpose

Photo courtesy of flikr user Michigan Municipal League

(MoneyWatch) To enhance prospecting, it pays to network in target-rich environments. Quick, think of your target profile. Then think, who gathers these people? Right now there are groups and associations that are creating pools of prospects for you to meet.

Some of these will be a monthly meeting. Sure you could join and get active. Plus you could work to become a leader in the group. And, yes, you could serve on committees to form linkages. All great strategies.

But there is also the guerrilla mingle approach. These are the time-crunched sales people who know it is more important to attend the group's social hour than the meeting itself. When pressed for time they know they'll make more contacts and perhaps even learn more if they arrive promptly for the social period and cut out before the speaker.

Let's do the math. If the social period is one hour and the meeting is one hour, this is a two-hour investment. During the meeting portion you get to connect with the person on your left and right (let's assume you are not sitting next to someone from your own company). You don't get to choose the two people, so if you're lucky you maybe make one good contact and it will cost you 60 minutes of your life.

Now during a one-hour social period you get to do a recon of this target-rich environment. You can quickly excuse yourself from suspects and hone in on the prospects. Let's say you get to talk to four good prospects. Each prospect only cost you 15 minutes. That is a much better ROTI (return on time investment).

So what is the best way to work the room? Make a sport out of it. Here are the rules of the game:

1. Think gamesmanship. Make a "Beat-the-Clock" game out of mingling and see how many potential prospects or referral sources you can make at each meeting. Remember, there are no timeouts, the clock is running.

2. Double-team them. Don't congregate with people you know or work with. To make meeting people easier, consider doing it with an ally from another company. You can introduce each other to potential prospects.

3. Use zone coverage. If several people from your company are attending an event, fan out. If you do stay for the meal, spread out to different tables. Even if you are asked to "buy a table" at the event, you can do that symbolically and spread the people out at various tables. That improves the odds of making a good connection.

4. Go head-to-head. When seating is unassigned, choose your table with purpose. Don't be the first to sit down. Lay back and see where people start to settle. Then consciously pick the best opportunity.

5. Surpass personal best. Keep score with how you do. Then try to better your best. Prepare for the game of meeting potential prospects like a runner psyches up for a race. Aim for a personal record each outing, always increasing the number of "prospects per allotted minutes" from your previous best performance.

You can also take rookies under your wing. When you are out to mingle, watch for singles. These are the newcomers, visitors and other disoriented folks. Appoint yourself the unofficial welcome wagon. Greet them and make them feel at home when they arrive. Ask them who they are hoping to meet and help them with some introductions. You might just make a friend, and referral source, for life.