Business networking for CFO is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting method you can use to grow your business. But if done incorrectly, it can be harmful to your business.
Business networking is a lot more than giving out business cards. It is about building trust. For CFO the networking is a lot more than meeting people. It is about connecting with the right people.
Business networking is a lot more than collecting phone numbers. It is about staying in touch, about listening, addressing needs and looking for opportunities all at the same time.
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It is how as a CFO we approach relevant business networking sessions that makes it work for us. Networking is about being authentic and genuine, building relationships and trust, and helping others. Although increased sales is the end goal, don’t participate in business networking to sell.
Build relationships and sales will follow naturally. People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. Relationship capital is an immensely valuable part of business success. Put your energy, intention and attention on business networking.
I consider myself to be fairly competent at networking. Even so, I still got intimidated when I thought about how to network with senior executives at my company. I probably experienced some of the same self-doubt you have gone through:
Why would they want to build a relationship with me? I don’t work with them day to day
They are probably too busy to connect with me.
I don’t want to come across like I’m “kissing up.”
How do I ask for a meeting?
In the last few months, I learned five great tips on networking with senior executives. They have helped me authentically connect with three senior folks at my company. Conversations with them have helped build my work brand and made me appreciate how much I can learn from each of them. Here are the five tips. I hope they can help you in your career.
Tip 1: Less is more – identify which senior executives you want to network with. Look at all the senior folks in your company and choose, at most, three executives you want to network with. Focusing on building deep relationships with a few of them is better than trying to get to know all of them. Here are the criteria I used to decide who to network with.
Recommended by others you trust – Not all executives are created equal. Many people in leadership positions still only care about themselves. It’s important to find out about their reputations and then figure out which ones are genuinely interested in developing people.
Relevance to your work – Have you worked with his or her teams? It would make more logical sense to reach out for a meet and greet if there is some level of connection between your work and their sphere of influence
Gut feeling from past interactions – If you have had any direct interactions with a senior executive, then trust your gut instinct. Some will seem approachable and easy to talk to and some will seem aloof and guarded. One of the relationships I built with an executive was purely based on our informal chats in the hallway about our personal lives, travels, etc. She is now an invaluable mentor for my career.
Tip 2: Take action – Be proactive and reach out for a first meeting. This is by far the hardest tip to follow for most people. Many of us have these ideas for a long time but never actually do anything about it. Just do it! Only when you practice, will you get better at this skill. You may not always do it right, but that’s still better than doing nothing.
Start with the executive you have the most personal contact with – You will have the best chance of success with someone you already know. Not only will this interaction build your confidence, but that executive can coach you on how to approach others along with who else you should approach.
Make it a one-on-one meeting – While face to face is preferred, it is not always possible. A phone call can be just as effective. Be flexible with timing – Offer options and leave it for the executive to choose the time that works for them. Be persistent but respectful – It’s not only possible that it may take several tries before a meeting can happen, but executives are busy and may cancel on you. Don’t take any of it personally.
Tip 3: Ask for Coaching or Offer to Help – This addressed my fear about how to come across to a senior executive. The most common mistake people make in approaching executives is asking something like the following: “How do I get to senior management, like you?”. It may seem like you are complimenting the executive, but you actually come across as self serving and burdensome. Instead, you should try either of the following:
Ask for coaching and advice: This will help your career, and it naturally compliments the leader you are reaching out to. Offer to help: Askg something like, “How can I be more effective in my role as a partner of your team?” or “What can I do to improve how we do xyz?”. Neither approach is focused on climbing the career ladder. Instead, they are about reaching out to learn and become more effective at your job.
Tip 4: Prepare to Listen and Ask how to Stay Connected – If you successfully get a first meeting, you will most likely get 15 to 30 minutes to talk to him/her. Come to the meeting with, at most, 1 or 2 questions and prepare to listen. This is not about you talking their ear off about your accomplishments or perspectives. This is time to listen to their guidance and perspective. Listen and have them clarify what they are sharing with you.
Assuming the meeting goes well, finish by asking if it’s okay to reach out in a few months to reconnect. You will be able to tell from their response whether or not they want to continue the relationship.
Tip 5: Be Thankful and Follow Up – Building relationships with anyone will take more than one interaction. Just like any networking effort, it’s important to be thankful and follow up
Once you’ve had your first meeting, be sure to send a simple ‘thank you’ email or note.
More importantly, if an executive provided advice for you to follow – like ‘you should also talk to these two people on my team’ or ‘this is how you can approach the work next time’ – once you have done those things, let them know. This will help you build your reputation and relationship with them.
Last but not least, schedule a second meeting. We would like to heard your comments.
Are you networking with senior executives today? Why or why not? Have these tips helped? Share your comments and questions below.
Identify which networking events you should attend. Pick groups that’ll help you achieve your goals. Find venues that make sense for your business. When you register for an event, schedule it like a meeting.
Determine how often you should be networking. How many times in a week, month, or quarter? Visit as many groups as possible.
Attend events with a plan and always try to learn something new. Prepare yourself for the event. Develop open-ended questions to ignite a conversation. Bring business cards but don’t give your business card to everyone you meet. Give cards to those who ask you for it. Try to sit with strangers. Don’t forget to mingle.
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Keep track of people you meet. Keep in touch with them and deepen your emotional connection. Establish a mutual beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients/ customers. Meet with the group members individually so you get to know them better and try to build quality connections. Consider other group members as resources. focus on the group; listen and think about how you can help them. Focus on giving. Build trust within the group.
Let's talk about inviting people to your business events in this article. The tips that I am going to share later applies to not only business related events but also normal events as well.
If you have tried inviting people to come for your business events be it networking or talks, you will agree with me that it is not easy to get the numbers especially if you are inviting business man and women because they prioritize almost all events according to ROI (Return On Investment) - if your event does not justify their time to be there, then most probably you will have a poor turnout.
Based on my experiences and observations from the other very experienced networkers in my business circle, I realize that there are only three things that you need to do it probably in order to have a high turn-up rate for your events.
1. Is this what they need?
I do not invite every person I meet to my business events such as BNI. If the first thing you meet someone new is to ask him / her to come to your event, then this is something that you may want to stop and re-think on.
Listening is by far the most important skill we need to learn and refine (not only for business). Thus, the first thing before we even start inviting is to ask relevant questions. For example, if you are holding an event for Internet Entrepreneurs to come together and network, you need to ask and assess if the person you are talking to has this area of interest.
A good question you can start off is, 'Have you been to other business networking events?'. This question not only help you understand them better but also make them reveal if they think they needed such exposure. You will be surprised that some business owners will answer this question admitting that they should go around networking more often! Now, do you think if you invite them to your event at this point of time, the person will be far more receptive and appreciate your invitation?
2. Persistent - the additional effort that makes the difference
A lot of invitations I receive nowadays rarely exceeds more than 3 times. If you are holding an event that happens regularly (for example, monthly), you must be persistent and keep inviting no less than 7 times. Most of the times, people are kind enough to tell you that they have other commitments and couldn't attend your event. If this is the case, invite them again when your next event is coming up. This kind of followup is the key that makes the difference.
I remembered I was inviting a business associate of mine who has rejected me no less than 5 to 10 times (I lost count...) because of his usual morning commitments. One day he finally make it to my BNI (Business Network International) event and thank me for inviting him to attend such an eye-opening event. I think sometimes we just have to be persistent especially if you see that your event adds value to the others.
3. Reminders - the secret to 100% turnouts
I never know that a simple reminder can make such a big difference until I came across a material by Dr. Ivan Misner who mentions that reminders are important and we should remind the people who have agreed to come for our events one or two days before the event.
It can be frustrating sometimes if you see that the person you have invited did not turn up in the end just because they forgot. Hence, a simple reminder either through phone or SMS can be very helpful. At the time of posting, there are already systems in place to send out automated reminders to people who have registered for events. One company that can help you to leverage this technology is FlexiSoft - managed by Norman Chin from BNI Singapore, Raffles Chapter.
Do not expect to receive benefits right away. Do volunteering work for network groups to stay visible and give back. As a responsible CFO you must show up regularly and on time, show others how you deal with business meetings and associates. Give quality referrals and leads. If someone gives you a referral, follow up on it in a timely manner. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. Take a referral seriously.
Don’t spam on social networks. Use the platforms designed for CFO to build relationships and expand your network.
Limit self-promotion. Don’t sell. Build relationships. Be as helpful as you can. Share relevant information with others as people love to learn new things. Participate in discussions. Let others know you’re real. Be approachable. Treat your online connections just as valuable as your offline connections.