Forming a network of business contacts, both customers and suppliers, is a valuable skillset. It’s sometimes dismissed as time spent ‘not working’, but done right it is a valuable investment in the future growth of your business.
But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Forming strong business relationships requires much more work now than it did years ago. It’s not about meeting people, but also nurturing meaningful contacts and converting them into genuine business opportunities.
So here’s my top tips on business networking:
1. Connect in person
While LinkedIn and other social media offer some connectivity with potential business partners, you can’t completely replace the face-to-face networking that happens at conferences, or at social and sports events. This skill is particularly difficult for Gen Y who are climbing the career ladder and attending conferences for the first time, but they have learned to form relationships on social media and are having to learn some additional skills to succeed
2. Start the conversation
Know who you’re going to be speaking to, topics you have in common and relevant current affairs. Speak in plain English and don’t use too much jargon in conversations. Take along information which can kick-start conversations. You can take an educated guess at their interests outside the office, their families and hobbies or if a world event is likely to be a hot topic of conversation.
3. Research people
Before you go to an event or meeting, research who will be there and think about what their objectives might be. Are they looking for a supplier like you, or could they provide you with what you need to take your business in a new direction? Be open about why you are there and what your own goals are.
4. Be genuine
Businesspeople like to do business with people they like, so it’s important to appear genuine and well-rounded. Sell too hard or pretend to be something you’re not and you won’t build any lasting relationships.
5. Make it last
Get in touch soon after you meet a contact, and mention something you enjoyed discussing. Then touch base regularly.
My final point is that team members at all levels of the business should see networking as part of their role. It’s not the sole responsibility of the head of sales or the managing director to make new business contacts. Everyone should be adding to their list of trusted contacts. All team members should know how to communicate about the company outside of work. If you make networking part of the everyday DNA of being part of a business at every level, then you will have far greater success.
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