Business networking for IT 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 IT 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.
Chief Executives Get Together And CFO Meet Ups
It is how as a IT 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.
Top Five Small Business Network Tips
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.
Networking may not be enjoyable to some people but we can always make it fun and profitable for businesses. The following are just some of my tips to share with you how you can get the most out of your next networking session:
1. Know the location -It helps to know where the event is going to be held beforehand. It is both frustrating and embarrassing to appear in the wrong place and keep calling the host who is busy talking to his / her guest.
2. Always arrive early - If you can follow this, you will make it as a top networker in no time. I always respect people who turn up not only on time, but well before the event starts. Arriving early is not only for show, you can have a great opportunity by connecting with the host and guest speakers (if any).
3. Bring more name cards -Bringing more name cards can make a difference at times. In a professional business event, it is embarrassing to tell people that you run out of name cards. If the event is expecting 100 people, bring 150 name cards. You will need them for something you will not expect - lucky draws, subscriptions and unexpected turnouts etc.
4. Get to know the host - Most networking events are hosted by certain organization and associations, part of the reason to arrive early is also to have time to talk to the host and tell them what you do (if this is the first meetup). As a host, we respect people who turn up early. This is also an excellent time asking the host if they know of someone who can help or work hand in hand with your business.
5. Find out who will be attending the event - This works if you have a way to know who will be attending the event. If the event is displayed via Facebook or Meetup.com, then you will be able to know who may be attending (via the guest list). After you know who will be attending, spend some time going through their websites and prepare some small talk topic when you meet them. You may even find a common interest between you and the person that will be attending the event =)
6. Prepare your 10 seconds 'what you do' pitch - To be honest, no one is interested in what you do in most networking events. If you fail to impress people during the initial 10 seconds of interaction, you will have to work harder to make yourself memorable. One tip I have here is to stress on the benefit when people ask 'What you do for a living?'. If you are an Accountant, don't reply saying that you are an accountant, just mention that you help businesses to cut down as much as 20% (or some statistics that is realistic) of their costs. An Entrepreneur with common sense will be eager to hear more and ask you how they can do that!
7. It is better to overdress - If you can't figure out the dress code for the event, just dress formally. It won't hurt by overdressing in most events. Appearing in formal dress code also signifies that you respect the host and VIPs of the event. Overdress will also make you memorable for most people especially the host.
8. Advertising Zone? - It is also important to ask the organizer if there is any way to share the benefits that your business will bring to the attendees on the event. Some business networking events will have some sort of 'Advertising Zone' that allows you to place your marketing materials for exposure. Some even have business booth.
9. Identifying the top 3 trades you need - Most businesses cannot survive on their own without forming alliances with leads flowing from one to another. For example, Corporate Services Provider works pretty well with Web Designers, IT Support Companies and Accountants. You need to place the top 3 trades that you are looking for on top of your mind at all times. Doing so will make it easier for you to connect with someone who is in the trade that you are looking for on any networking event.
10. Find out and participate in the event theme - Some monthly or Bi-monthly events do organize networking themes at times. For example, an event may request everyone to turn up with red-white theme in the month of Aug (Singapore National Day). Have fun and participate in the theme for the event. Participating in the theme also show that you are giving support to the host or organizer.
Sounds easy? Try them out in your next networking opportunity!
Do not expect to receive benefits right away. Do volunteering work for network groups to stay visible and give back. As a responsible IT 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 IT 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.