I am sure that it has happened to you when you are networking; perhaps they have gone around the room and each person has announced briefly what they do. Another person will then come up and explain all the wonderful things that they can do for your clients and that of course you should refer them immediately and they will be happy to relieve you of all your clients! Well, that last part is a bit of an exaggeration, but not the rest. And then they are off to run down their next target.
Needless to say, I am not usually going to refer clients to someone who does not bother to ask me what I do. I would be fairly sure that most who approach me like this do not even realize the impression that they are making; they are probably thinking that they are working hard to find business. Problem is they are not using the right tools to find business. There are really three tools that are vital to networking: a brain and two ears!
The real objective of networking is not to close new business in 5 minutes, but to find out if the person you are working with has a real need that you can fulfill, including whether or not you yourself can refer them to someone else that might be a potential client or customer. The real key to meeting this objective is asking the right questions and then, listening intently while asking key follow up questions.
Spending all the time talking about your own company will quickly persuade the other person that you are your favorite topic! The easiest way to get started is with the question, “What do you do?”, or the variant that is in the title to this Blog entry. From there, you can ask more questions about that person’s product or service and get more details.
The second phase of a networking conversation that follows is to ask, “How’s Business?” You will often get am honest answer even if the answer is negative. The easiest question to use to keep the conversation going at this point is “Why is that?” The answer to this question will often lead you to what that company’s real needs are. Careful listening, and clarifying questions such as “So, if I understand correctly_____.” (Fill in the blank with what you have heard) will give you a good idea of where their company is right now.
If you feel that you could refer them to a potential client, ask one more question, “What does a potential customer or client look like?” The answer will make it clear how to determine who their clients are. The additional information will also help you determine whether or not this person’s company needs your services. If they do, then you can move on the final step of your networking conversation, asking for a meeting.
You normally do this by giving the other person a business card, and saying something like, “We seem to have a lot in common, we should get together…maybe have a coffee!” At this point, the other person will often answer yes, simply because you have listened so well. They will probably feel that you have a lot in common because you asked such good questions and were a good conversationalist. Of course, the definition of a good conversationalist is someone who asks good questions and then listens very carefully!