Networking Game Plan

by guest author, Peggy Parks, The Parks Image Group

I had never networked until I started my business and was absolutely petrified. What should I do? What should I say? How do I start a conversation? How do I end a conversation? What do I talk about? How do I approach people? What do I wear? It was all so overwhelming. Therefore I’ve decided to assemble this “cheat sheet” for those of you who may feel uncomfortable mingling in a room full of strangers. Read this before you leave the house!
Before the Event: Have a Plan

  • Where are you going?
  • Why are you going?
  • Who will be there?
  • What is your goal?

Make sure you have plenty of business cards (neatly organized in a card holder) and a pen and notepad. Clear out your wallet and handbag to avoid any embarrassing spills.

Have your “elevator pitch” ready. An “elevator pitch” is essentially a spiel you give in the time it takes to ride an elevator (anywhere from 30-60 seconds). Hit the major bullet points - who you are, what you do, what you’re looking to accomplish - and be prepared to recite this throughout the event.

When You First Arrive 

  1. Survey the room. As you approach the door, take a moment to check your posture, adopt a relaxed and confident facial expression, and determine whether or not anyone you know is inside. Take a deep breath - it’ll help you calm those nerves. 
  2. Make conversation. Approach someone who is standing alone - most likely they’ll be grateful for the effort. Do not interrupt people who are deep in conversation, and do not invade others’ personal space. If you’re still at a loss, introduce yourself to the host or check-in person; oftentimes they are happy to make introductions to get the party going.

What to Say
We all know to stay away from politics and religion, but you should also make sure that you leave your personal life behind. Don’t talk about health issues. Do not criticize the venue or the food. Do not gossip.
Check the headlines and be aware of what’s going on in the news. This will give you a conversation starter. “What do you think of….?” This way you can gauge the person’s opinion and respond accordingly. There’s less chance of offending someone.
The easiest thing to do is ask others to talk about themselves. We all love to do this. Even if the person you are talking to is boring, be mindful; do not make them feel uncomfortable. Listen to them, nod, agree, be in a forward position, and look at them, not at who is coming through the door!

Should the person not know how to stop talking, you need to make a graceful exit. Do not make them feel bad. Smile; tell them you enjoyed the conversation and that you need to mingle with others.

Business Cards
I attended an event earlier this year. The event had already started and I noticed a woman who came in late. Before she sat at a table, she made sure she distributed her business card to everyone in the room. She was trying to be “discreet” but was very disruptive and rude. The woman next to me said, “Peggy, she needs to take your etiquette class.” What was she thinking? (She wasn’t.) Do not hand out your business card unless someone asks for it. All they will do is throw it away. Do not assume you can add someone to your distribution list simply because you have their contact info. Networking is about forming relationships, not selling yourself. People won’t buy from you unless they know you, like you, and trust you. It all takes time. Research shows that it takes seven “touches” for people to remember you. Exercise a little patience and take the time to forge a connection.
What to Wear
If you want to “work the room,” I recommend that you wear friendly and approachable colors such as a medium brown, a medium blue, or earth tones (if they are flattering to your skin tone). Wearing black may be a bit intimidating.

Wear a jacket which has two pockets. It will help when giving out your business card. Put your business cards in your right pocket, and put the business cards you receive in your left pocket (or vice versa). This will prevent the embarrassment of giving out someone else’s business card!
Following Up
This is the most important part of networking. Don’t let a great connection slip through your fingers because you were too lazy to follow up!

  1. Enter your contacts into your database. Include a few notes so that you can recall what you discussed.
  2. Pay it forward by making connections and introductions. Not every person you meet will present a business opportunity for you - yet. But by connecting someone with another contact who may be in the same field you can impress two friends, who will more than likely return the favor down the road.
  3. Send a thank you note or email if you are short on time.
  4. Check back a month later.
  5. Connect on social media. LinkedIn and Facebook - provided your profile is professional, not personal - can be a great way to keep in touch.

Peggy M. Parks is an international image consultant and founder of The Parks Image Group, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. Custom corporate workshops on professional business attire and etiquette, private one-on-one consulting that features a personal and individually crafted image plan and wardrobe planning and selection form the core services Peggy’s company provides.

Engaging Prospective Buyers

The fine art of social engagement is something that many sales professionals I talk to are struggling to figure out. When is the right time and what is the right approach to use when engaging with a new prospect in the online space? In other words, when is it OK to move the conversation beyond information sharing and into a sales discussion?

Sharing knowledge and information for the betterment of the entire social community without the expectation of an immediate sales return is a core attribute of the savvy social sales player. The ebb and flow of give and take in social communities is expected and important. At the same time, we are also sales people who have quotas to achieve each month. It’s natural to wonder when the time is right to move beyond sharing goodwill and asking for a sales appointment. While the “right time to engage ratio” will vary due to the actual situation, I can tell you that the first several times you show up is much too soon. You make your mark - over time - demonstrating your willingness to share your expert credibility for the benefit of others.

How long does it take to make your mark, you might ask?

My personal experience is that it takes about 30 to 60 days for people to begin to know who you are. It’s possible to gain sales traction more quickly of course with increased frequency of participation, but be careful not to rush the process. Your goal is develop credibility in the eyes of your ideal buyer, because people do business with people that they know, like and trust. Selfless participation in social networks gives you the opportunity to let people get to know you, like you and trust you, which can shave weeks and/or months off your sales cycle.

Ready for a challenge?

Commit to one core group (it should be the one with the highest potential for return on your sales effort) for a month and make it part of your day to comment on at least one question. Keep track of the people who reference you in their subsequent comments. This will help you determine who’s getting to know you and help you understand what topics tend to generate more interest and dialog.

While you might be thinking, how can I squeeze this into an already packed day, the bigger question is can you afford not to? Buyers are discussing what products and services to buy. If you are not visible, how can you expect to be front and center in their minds when they are ready to make their decision? The social savvy sales winners are those professionals who understand that consistency is an essential ingredient to their online sales approach. Contribute quality content and thought leadership and the buyers in your group will soon recognize that you are someone they need to know.

There aren’t any shortcuts; you have to put in the time to become known. Do the work and reap the rewards. Done with purpose, a plan, patience and active participation, the return on your sales effort is absolutely worth it!

Now I’m Your New Best Friend?

Surprisingly, I just received email from a former colleague that hasn’t said boo to me in years. Now that she’s been displaced from her job, she wants my help (and I assume others) to connect her to new opportunities in other corporate accounts. Hum. I’m all for lending a helping hand…

AND I think it’s just a tad rude to ask me to do something for you when you haven’t kept in touch, nor did you offer to do anything for me in return.

People please don’t let this be you. I am empathetic to people finding themselves suddenly out of work. But it is up to you to keep your network fresh and to stay in touch with people regularly even IF you have a great job today. Lack of time cannot be your excuse. Not when you have plenty of social tools to make your life just a little bit easier.

Remember, you never know when you might need someone’s help down the road. If you haven’t done your part cultivating the relationship, then don’t expect a lot when you need something.

Are You Social Selling?

As human beings, we seem to be hard wired to resist change, even when presented with information suggesting that to move in another direction would be wise.

Reminds me of the movie - Groundhog Day. Bill Murray portrays Phil Connors an egotistical TV weatherman faced with living one day in his life over and over again. Connors is presented with the rare opportunity to take a different path when faced with the same circumstances. It is a clever film about do over’s and the challenges of changing our ways.

78% of buyers consistently say that they go to the web to do research on something they plan to purchase according to Anderson Analytics.

This is the world of social selling. In today’s relationship economy, buyers are not interested in meeting with you personally to learn about your products and services. At least not at first. They want to research you before meeting you. You need to be ready.

Sales behavior has to adapt to this new relationship economy. It doesn’t mean that your prior investments in sales training, sales methodologies, CRM systems or sales process is lost. It does mean that how you engage and connect with potential buyers has changed.

Are you ready?

The Most Valuable Question You Can Ask

Today’s post is from Jack Canfield, a man that I’ve admired for many years. I happen to be a big fan of his Success Principles book and recommend you read it for yourself if you are interested in truly achieving your ideal success.

I wanted to use Jack’s piece today, because it focuses on our relationships with others, gathering feedback, course correcting and sticking with taking action until we achieve our objectives. Successfully selling your product or service depends on creating great relationships with potential buyers and partners. If you had to rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 in terms of your relationship building, how would you stack up?

Now, let’s hear from Jack…

As you begin to take action toward the fulfillment of your goals and dreams, you must realize that not every action will be perfect.

Not every action will produce the desired result. Not every action will work.

Making mistakes, getting it almost right, and experimenting to see what happens are all part of the process of eventually getting it right.

Thomas Edison is reported to have tried over 2,000 different experiments that failed before he finally got the light bulb to work. He once told a reporter that, from his perspective, he had never failed at all. Inventing the light bulb was just a 2,000-step process. If you can adopt that attitude, then you can be free to take an action, notice what result you get, and then adjust your next actions based on the feedback you have received.

Ready, Fire, Aim!

Don’t be afraid to just jump in and get started moving toward your goals. As long as you pay attention to the feedback you receive, you will make progress. Just getting into the game and firing allows you to correct and refine your aim.

The Most Valuable Question You May Ever Learn

In the 1980s, a multimillionaire businessman taught me a question that radically changed the quality of my life. So what is this magical question that can improve the quality of every relationship you are in, every product you produce, every service you deliver, every meeting you conduct, every class you teach and every transaction you enter into?

Here it is:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the qualityof our relationship during the last week?” Here are a number of variations on the same question that have served me well over the years…

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate…

  • our service? • my teaching?
  • our product? • this class/seminar/workshop?
  • this meeting? • our date/vacation?
  • our performance? • this meal?
  • my coaching/managing? • this book/recording/show?
  • my parenting/babysitting?

Any answer less than a 10 always gets this follow-up question:

“What would it take to make it a 10?”

This is where the *really* valuable information comes from. Knowing that a person is dissatisfied is not enough. Knowing in detail what will satisfy them gives you the information you need to do whatever it takes to create a winning product, service or relationship.

There Are Two Kinds of Feedback

There are two kinds of feedback you might encounter - negative and positive. We tend to prefer the positive - that is, results, money, praise, promotion, raise, awards, happiness, inner-peace, etc. It feels betters. It tells us we are on course and doing the right thing.

We tend not to like negative feedback - lack of results, little or no money, criticism, poor evaluations, complaints, unhappiness, inner conflict, pain, etc.

However, there is as much useful data in negative feedback as there is in positive feedback. It tells us that we are off course, headed in the wrong direction, doing the wrong thing. This is priceless information!

In fact, it’s so valuable that one of the most useful projects you could undertake is to change how you respond to negative feedback. I like to refer to negative feedback as information for “improvement opportunities.” Here is a place where I can get better.

Ask Yourself for Feedback

In addition to asking others for feedback, you need to ask yourself for feedback, too. More than any other source of feedback, your body will tell you whether or not you are on course or not. When you are relaxed and happy, your body is telling you that you are on track. When you are constantly exhausted, tense, in pain, unhappy and angry, then you are off track.

Take time to listen to what your body is saying to you. Take time to listen to your physical sensations and your feelings. They are sending you important messages. Are you listening?

Remember, Feedback Is Simply Information

You don’t have to take it personally. Just welcome it and use it.

For more on Using Feedback to Your Advantage, review Principle #19 in The Success Principles. It’s one of the most important principles you can apply.

Jack Canfield, America’s #1 Success Coach, is founder of the billion-dollar book brand Chicken Soup for the Soul© and a leading authority on Peak Performance and Life Success. If you’re ready to jump-start your life, make more money, and have more fun and joy in all that you do, get your FREE success tips from Jack Canfield now at: