Business networking for Information Technology 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 Information Technology 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 Information Technology 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.
There is really no secret to building your network of contacts. There are a lot of resources out there giving tips and tricks on building business networks and expanding your realm of influence, but there are some basic principals to follow that can have a significant impact on how successful your networking events and strategies are. Paying attention to the basic details is often a more effective approach than using any "secrets."
What is the point of business networking? It is the process of building relationships with complementary businesses, business owners, and business managers to increase your influence and position within a specific market or industry. There are two points to take away here - building relationships and increasing influence and position. Relationships will naturally increase your influence, and influence creates opportunity and improved market position.
The most important value in business is the relationships that are built. Customers, clients, vendors, and colleagues all shape the relationships within a business. Like any other area in life, the quality of the relationships can have a huge impact on the outcome of your interactions with existing and potential clients, vendor/reseller relations, and every other aspect of your daily operations. Focus on building and maintaining positive relationships with your contacts (both within and outside of your company) you will quickly begin to increase your influence with your contacts.
How do you practically build good relationships with new contacts? There is balance and communication to work on. All relationships tend to follow a similar tract: introduction, follow-up, acquaintance, interaction, commitment. There is room between each stage for varying degrees of influence, but most relationships in business tend to fall somewhere in these five categories.
In the introduction stage, you first meet the contact, give some overviews about yourself, find out who they are, exchange contact info, and independently decide whether or not the person is worth a follow-up action. If there is the potential to have a mutually beneficial relationship, or the new contact can possibly benefit you, request permission to follow-up with that person. If you can benefit them, let them know that you would be open to a follow-up communication.
The follow-up communication is where most individuals drop the ball. It is difficult to make time in a busy schedule to get in front of your computer with the intent to follow-up on potential leads or new contacts. If you don't follow up correctly, a few things can happen:
1) you can loose out on a potential referral,
2) you could loose out on a potential client,
3) you loose out on a opportunity to get connected to a whole different network of contacts, and
4) you can loose credibility by not following up when you expressed an interest to.
If networking for increasing influence and position within a market is important to you, then follow-up opportunities should be created, not missed.
If you can get through the follow-up process, your hope is for a favorable response from the people you contact. When favorable replies are made (either by phone or email), you gain an opportunity to create an acquaintance with the contact. This is the real first step in developing a relationship. At this stage, you have made a favorable enough first impression to engage someone a second time, so use this opportunity to win them over. This third step is usually the opportunity to give out some usable information, such as potential leads for each of you, or a request for proposal (or a request to offer a proposal) for services.
Once you have had a few interactions with your contacts, you begin to develop an acquaintance with them. At this point, you both know each other and each others businesses, but you aren't close with them yet. You may or may not have had any business dealings with them, but they are at least on your radar for future deals, or as someone who you can send referrals to. Most business relationships don't grow past this phase, but if you continue to follow up with them and remain in contact, often times you will either get a lead or be able to give a lead to someone you stay in contact with.
The final step in the business relationship process is developing a commitment with the new contact. This doesn't have to be any formal commitment, but typically means that you both agree to continue interacting with one another. Hopefully the commitment comes in the form of a new customer or a referral that turns into a client, but either way, you have built a new business relationship that will only grow from here. It is important to not loose contact with individuals in this stage of the business relationship because they can often be the most influential people in your growing network.
Most business-savvy individuals are always looking to grow their network, which means that follow-up and continued interactions are welcomed. It is your responsibility to bring value to the relationships that you build - don't just look to your own interest, but to the interest of your new contacts. In doing so, you will begin to increase your influence and position within your industry.
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 Information Technology 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 Information Technology 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.