One of the reasons so many people dislike networking is because they have unrealistic expectations. They feel it’s been a waste of time if they don’t return from events with at least one new client. I’d be surprised however if many people attend networking or other business events in the hope of finding say a new accountant or a website designer.
The only exceptions are likely to be those people who have recently started a business but who have yet to appoint an accountant or create a website. They may not have attended the event with the intention of finding someone they need to provide them with a specific service, but they may be more open to the idea than more established business people.
My point is that I don’t expect to wave my magic wand and instantly convince new contacts that they both need a new accountant and that I am best placed to perform this service and nor should you. If that’s your objective you will invariably be disappointed. However, if you set more realistic expectations you can increase the number of new contacts who subsequently become clients.
The seven steps
What impression did you leave with the prospect? Will this be reinforced if they visit your website?
Business branding and messaging
Was this sufficiently clear, relevant and memorable?
Were you evidently listening more than talking and able to engage the prospect with relevant stories of how you have helped other clients like them?
Dependability and trust
Were you able to demonstrate this when you met and have you thought about how to reinforce this message when you contact the prospect again?
Does the prospect know you have sufficient relevant experience to provide the support and advice they need?
Contact the client within 48 hours, whilst they will still recall that first meeting
Give and share
A willingness to do both can make a very positive impact at that first meeting
It’s never too late to start
I was at a Shropshire Business Partnership breakfast seminar recently and the speaker was Charlie Hutton, the entertaining author of the business bestseller How to Legally Murder your Competitors Online. Now whilst Charlie was concentrating on advising how to drum up business from the internet, most of my fellow breakfast networkers had been busy meeting and greeting with business card exchanges galore.
I must have come away from the meeting with around a dozen cards, but not one of those individuals followed up that brief initial meeting and now that two weeks has gone by, I cannot recall any of the numerous brief conversations I had in any detail.
So what was the point? Are these individuals all sitting in their offices, disappointed by the subsequent lack of interest in the business services they offer?
What they should have done was follow up and contact those people they’d networked with in a more personal and effective way. They might try going back through that old pile of business cards they’d collected and picking out those that they can recall and feel it could be worthwhile contacting again.
If this has happened to you, don’t assume they will remember you though; you are likely to have to re-introduce yourself. This is when it pays to have noted on the back of each card you received when and where you met people and any key relevant information.
Prospects or suspects?
The truth is that most of the people you have met are probably simply ‘suspects’. That is, you hope or suspect that they may become prospective clients. This only really happens once they have expressed some interest in talking to you about your services.
Part of the reason for following up with new contacts is to see if your suspicions and hopes are correct, which should be done subtly rather than too overtly? At least until after you have established some form of relationship with them, beyond the initial chat you had when you first met.
To demonstrate your dependability you may have promised to do or send something specific by way of follow-up after you met your new contacts. Make sure you keep those promises. Failure to do so will count against you, as it suggests you cannot be trusted.
Follow up ‘meetings’
We are all busy, so respect your prospect’s time and recognise that they may not be able to make time to meet you for a coffee, but at least have a chat on the phone or send a well-structured email. Also it is critical to subtly find out if they’re likely to need or want the service you offer.
The problem with all of this is that’s it doesn’t generate immediate new clients, it takes time to follow up personally with everyone you meet and critically and you’re not earning any money!
This is all very different to the position when someone approaches you directly or in response to an advert or promotional material. You know they are prospects – so you simply need to focus on ‘closing the sale’.
There is a temptation to simply send everyone you meet a friendly generic follow up message. You may see this as ticking a box so you can say you follow-up with everyone you meet; except that you don’t. A generic message is just that, it doesn’t tick any of the seven steps that can help you to Stand Out.
Too many individuals running businesses in the service sector, from marketing experts to accountants, take this approach and it doesn’t work. It’s highly unlikely to convert any of your new contacts into clients; wasn’t that the objective of the exercise?