As much as business connections have moved online with the advent of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, face to face is still king when making new connections. But how do you leverage both in this web 2.0 world?
Recently over drinks I was chatting with a seasoned salesperson who eloquently informed me that, “It’s never been so easy, yet so hard, to do business.” The environment we’re in has created a double-edged sword. Through digital technology (blogs, social networks and websites) it’s never been easier to understand who our customers are and what they need. However, this has resulted in the bar being raised with customers who are more demanding, impolite and curt than ever before.
But as much as things are changing at a rapid pace, networking events are still very relevant. They may have evolved, but they’ve not completely changed in that they continue to be noisy, crowded and full of libations. So how do you make the most of them?
1. Before the event
With many events powered by MeetUp, Eventbrite, and Facebook, it has become easier to see who will be attending. Not only does this give you validation as to whether it’s worthwhile, but also provides you with great insights as to whom you need to be in contact with. Use social networks to secure information on who they are.
2. During the event
For most, meeting new people is one of life’s daunting challenges. If there’s someone who I find important that I might not know, I like to use my smartphone apps to locate their LinkedIn profile. To dive deeper as to what they’re thinking I use Google to discover what they’re saying on Twitter (Google provides better results on finding the person than Twitter itself). Think this is intrusive? Within a few years facial recognition technology will allow you take a picture of a person and bring up their entire social graph.
The good news is that age-old rules still apply when making a new acquaintance. A couple of points I find that work for me are:
- When the moment presents itself (do not interrupt an ongoing conversation), introduce yourself with what’s known as an “open face”. This can be described as the warm feeling you get when you see a baby or puppy for the first time; pass that happiness on to the other person. Smile, but be natural.
- If possible, shake that person’s hand and introduce yourself. Say something nice about them or their company, but be genuine.
- Be generally interested in what that person has to say and add value.
- When speaking about your own business, convey a one or two sentence value proposition that will instantly make that person understand what you do.
- Don’t talk at length about your business. Talk about their business or a topic of importance to them. Remember, everyone wants to feel important and special.
- Don’t overstay your welcome. If that prospect is the decision maker, ask for a business card and leave with value; offer to do something for that person, such as sending a case study or client example.
3. After the event
For prospects you find you want to build a business relationship with, your follow-up is key. If you want to really stand out, a personal handwritten note will wow any executive, but a brief email that is followed by a LinkedIn invite or Twitter follow is customary these days. Think of the email like an actual handwritten note, but keep it short, sweet and to the point. Mention how you met, what you discussed, attach follow-up items (articles or case studies) and outline the next steps. If you feel your impression was strong enough, by all means ask for a follow-up meeting. These executives are inundated with emails all day long, so make sure you have a strong subject line. I like to cite my own name as well as the value I’m offering in the email, such as “Derek Reese from XYZ, Case Study on Small Business”. Avoid terms like “Hi, Opportunity and Savings” because these are triggers for your email to wind up in their spam folder.
If you think this company is a strong target, you might want to set up an RSS feed from their news page or a Google alert, as these will give you key insights into changes in the company.
Most importantly! Add value when you communicate in the future.
Derek Reese is a social media advocate who works with a variety of businesses on implementing their integrated marketing solutions, as well as consulting on social media best practices. Find him on LinkedIn and on Twitter.