The 8 Commandments of Business-To-Business Networking
Whether you’re working a 9-to-5 job (do those kinds even exist anymore?) or you run your own company, it is no longer enough that you offer an excellent product or service. A successful business association or a not-so-successful one relies upon myriad factors.
Chief among them, the one that truly differentiates a hit from a miss, is business networking. No, don’t roll your eyes just yet; it is one of the most crucial prongs that you can use for business growth. And that is what you’re here for, right?
For some people, this side of the business comes easy. The meeting people, stopping by to lend a helping hand, making small conversation and eliciting a laugh – it’s second nature for them. For the rest of us, the ones who are not naturally extroverted, this bonhomie requires an extra bit of effort.
Yes, you have a fantastic idea, and yes, you want it to spread to the maximum number of people; but nobody told you that you would have to network, and network so extensively. Fret not, building and maintaining a business network looks harder from the outside than it actually is. And slowly but surely you can get business-to-business networking right, even if you not a natural extrovert.
Here are our handpicked 8 tips, commandments if you may, that can help you navigate this terrain smoothly.
#1 Build healthy working relationships
Remember, it’s not about selling. Not initially, at least. You must focus on building a relationship first. Establish levels of comfort where the other person does not view you as a business predator but looks forward to interacting with you. Be genuine and look for ways in which you can help the other person without pushing your agenda.
Once the groundwork is done, you will very often find that the opposite party is willing to endorse you without you even having put forth such a request. Takes away the awkwardness of asking for help, now doesn’t it?
#2 Leverage existing networks to make fresh contacts
If cold calling isn’t your cup of tea, look for ways in which you can use your existing coterie to expand your business network. Try not to reach out to the new contact directly but ask for a reference. Explain why you need the introduction and allow the value that you will bring, to come through.
Building a network is vital to your business. However, it is equally important to be a connector too. This makes you come across as a genuinely helpful and resourceful person. And the two people you connect will be thankful.
#3 Regularly attend networking events
Participate in networking events; go with a colleague or a friend if you know nobody there. It helps get a foot in. However, be absolutely clear on what your reasons for the network meet are. Are you there to learn a new skill, or make contacts, or is it a volunteer group?
Once you get comfortable in the group, split up from your partner. Walk around, mingle. Smile. Speak at these meetings. Ask more questions and talk less about yourself. Offer to take up a volunteer position. All this makes you visible, and very soon it is the others who will seek you out.
#4 Focus on conversations
For people to open up to you, you must learn to ask open-ended questions. Chuck those clichés of ‘so, what do you do’. Instead, focus on the who, what, when and why.
Give your complete attention to the person that you’re talking, and you will have a great conversation. Nod your head; give visual and audio responses; reiterate what they said so that you retain the most valued piece of information.
#5 Overcome the fear of rejection
Do you know the most common fear? No, not public speaking, although it does rank quite up there. It’s the fear of rejection.
When you approach a new contact or a potential business association, always have an end goal in mind.
Remember, you are under no obligation to close a deal. Instead, use the networking as an opportunity to invest in yourself and your business.
#6 Master the art of exiting a conversation
Do not monopolize anyone’s time at a networking event and don’t let the same happen to you, learn to disengage a conversation politely. You can excuse yourself by saying you see someone that you would like to say hello to. Or you say that you would love to continue meeting more people. The easiest and most reliable method, which no one can deny you, is to say that you have to go to the restroom.
#7 Improve your brand visibility and image
It is important that you get seen at these networking meets. The only way is to mingle, mingle, and mingle. Be the first to volunteer, speak up, hold forth witty conversations, etc.
#8 Extend a follow-up invitation
And finally, you should have a follow-up plan for re-connecting with those who you met. A quick hello and a brief recap of your time with them is what you need. Follow-up with them within a week while the meeting is still fresh in their mind. You never know when an opportunity is just waiting to be made the most of.
The only way to network in business is to get out there and meet people. Build new, strong relationships, and set up your own formidable network of contacts.