As professionals, we know that networking can be a valuable tool for growing our business, our contacts, our knowledge and our prospect list. Yet asking people about how effective their networking efforts are, will result in an amazing array of stories that often end in “nothing happened afterwards” and “it was a complete waste of my time”. In fact, it's one of the very few business processes that most people do a dismal job of planning, executing and measuring.
At a recent client event, I delivered a speech called More Efficient Networking to a group of 150 professionals who are directly responsible for bringing in new clients to their organization. When asked how many of them had a documented process (that included both the networker and their support team) for pre, during and post events, exactly two people raised their hands. This is crazy when you consider how much of your time you can spend (often after hours) at networking events and the minimal results that most people get from such events.
Last year I coached a financial advisor who was overwhelmed with a huge workload and looking for a little more work life balance. When I look at her activity and schedule, I realized she was spending six nights a month at networking events ranging from professional groups to charity events. With a quick review of the ROI on these events, we were able to cut her back to two events per month, but improve her results on each of these by taking a more organized and focused approach. For example, I encouraged her to call the planner a few days in advance and offer assistance at the event. This will often give you a more prominent role in the event ,which makes meeting people a little easier and improves your chances of being remembered when you follow up later. A few months later, she relayed a great story about offering her assistance to the hostess of a charity cocktail party. The frazzled hostess asked her if she'd mind making drinks if she had the recipes for the special drinks of the night. She grabbed her husband for a little help and accepted her role as bartender with a smile. She said it was the most effective networking event she had ever done, as she met almost everyone at the party and promised to chat with them later in the week since she was tied up with her very important role. Her new friends on the planning committee were really grateful for her willingness to dive in and roll up her sleeves, too, and made an effort to introduce her around when she was done. Not surprisingly, everyone remembered her with a smile and her follow-up efforts were very fruitful.
So here’s the bottom line. Stop wasting time showing up with no plan and a half-hearted follow up process. If you have ever brought a stack of business cards back to your office and proceeded to push them around your desk for six months, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Here are my 3 F's and a few tips to improve your networking efficiency and ROI:
Forethought - Review all the possible events you could attend and rate them for alignment with your goals. You may have to give up on that group you've been attending for years and try something new. Prepare by looking for ways to improve your visibility during the event. If the attendee list is available in advance, do a little research on who will be attending to improve the quality and focus of your conversations while you're there.
Focus - Go in with some goals. One goal should be to connect at least one person with someone they need to meet. If you ask for something specific people generally enjoy being helpful. I once went into an event with the goal of finding a new human resource manager for one of my bigger clients. Before the night was over I had three leads to pass along to her. It was a double win by meeting lots of folks that wanted to be helpful and improving the relationship with my client, by showing her that I was working on her behalf all the time.
Follow-through - Create a checklist that's easy to pass to your support team (or at least tackle yourself within 48 hours of the event). The key is not to commit to more than you are capable of doing within a few days. Always make sure that uploading the contacts into whatever database that you're using is a top priority.
ConclusionIt's important to remember that networking is really about the beginning of new relationships! So be genuine and take time to choose how you will invest in them. Anything that requires your time should be studied and improved until you have the most efficient process. Happy networking!