Consider the scenario of a business networking event. These are superb sources of leads and referrals that can be the life blood of your business. The business skills you develop in this arena can easily be applied in any business scenario. Assume you have engaged in conversation with a good potential contact. Once you have created a positive first impression start the interesting chat about various areas of common ground. By careful listening, you may identify an opportunity to do some business to your mutual benefit at some later date. You are looking for the moment when someone says something to you to make you think, "Ahaa, there's a potential business opportunity here." Suppose you are a business development consultant who specialises in the food industry and who has a good track record in helping companies to increase their margins. If you were asking all the right questions such as
"So how you finding things at the moment?", and you hear the answer "We're doing reasonably well but we don't seem to be getting the efficiencies in the factory." That is an Ahaa moment.
Can I mention again, that networking using business development skills isn't selling; it's building business relationships, and gathering business information?
This should be the start of the follow up business development process which is as follows
1. Ask for their business card and read it carefully
2. Always find something to comment on; maybe the spelling of their name or perhaps they have their business in a particular part of town which you know intimately. It doesn't matter as long as you show them that you are interested in them, their business and their circumstances
3. Now this is a key moment. Ask if you can phone them next Wednesday or Thursday to discuss the problem they have with their margins. You can say something like "Now isn't the time or place, but maybe your problem is a simple issue which I can give you some help on". The chances are if you have made the right impression, the answer will be "yes".
4. Bear in mind all the time that if you don't ask the question then you don't give the other person, with the business opportunity, a chance to say yes.. You will be at your most popular at this juncture. If you have done it all right, are you really going to waste a great opportunity? Not every business event and not every person you meet is going to turn into a business opportunity but if you are awake alive and alert, listening attentively and with empathy... you just never know
5. Write down on their business card the day you have agreed to call and let them see you do this. This shows that you are serious and the chances are you're likely to do it. At this point, there is no reason whatsoever not to excuse yourself in one of several ways which we will show you another time..
6. As part of the bridging process ensure that when you get back home or to your office or even before you leave the business networking event write down where and when you met the person a quick description of them and any salient facts which you may use at a future date to show them that you are truly listening to what they had to say.
7. When you make the follow up call as agreed, review the business card or refer to your business development software if you use it and confirm that they were happy for you to follow up. If you had picked up that the person was going away for weekend then make sure that one of the questions you ask is "How did the weekend go?" I'm not asking you to remember these details. What I am doing is asking you to write down some small talk facts that you gathered on their business card. It helps break down their barriers to talking about business.
When I ask my audiences "what is the most important thing with regard to business cards?" the normal answer I get is "make sure you carry plenty of them with you". Of course you know now that the most important thing is to ask for theirs. Offer your business card by all means, but don't be too quick to do this. I think it's a little pushy and it's another form of saying "aha you want to know all about me don't you. Here's my business card". It just may be that they don't want to know all about you ... not at that moment anyway. There's a lot more to say about business development training and in particular working the room but you can find out about that on my other articles.
Take note that business development and networking is about giving first and receiving second. If you go into it thinking "What's in it for me and what am I going to get out of this tonight" then the chances are you won't succeed. If you ask questions such as
- "How can I help you?"
- "Who would you like me to introduce you to?"
- "How will I know if someone I'm talking to will be a good introduction for you?"
You will be showing them you are a proficient and skilled business networker.
Dr Albert Scweizer once said "Give without remembering and receive without forgetting". That should stand you in good stead when you're out there looking to create new business opportunities.