A business owner friend and I were discussing the current business environment this week, and swapping notes on what works (and what does not) when it comes to increasing sales.
Assuming the product and services are in demand and provide value to customers, there seem to be two relatively easy ways a business owner/development manager could increase sales …
- Attend 2 or 3 business events a week
Now, a word of caution here. You don’t go along with sales uppermost in your mind. Your intent is to meet new people, make some connections and add value to their conversations and knowledge.
The more you do this in the right spirit (‘give more than you expect to receive‘), the better you will become at it, the more people you will meet, the more of their connections you will be allowed to make, and you will actually walk away with more sales opportunities, and ultimately more sales.
People are naturally gregarious, which means we are wired to cluster in groups. (Be they sporting clubs, political parties or when we attend a business event.) So go along to these gatherings, regularly, and, although it might seem a bit daunting at first, here’s a trick I learned from the master of networking himself, Ron Gibson:
As you walk into the room, don’t go over to people you already know (by all means say ‘Hi’ to them) but head directly for those you don’t. In fact, make a beeline for a person who is on their own. They will probably standing at the fringe of the event, hoping the walkpaper swallows them up, feeling a bit uncomfortable and nervously looking at something interesting on their phone. They will normally be relieved and delighted to see you approaching them, smiling, introducing yourself. Ask them what they are doing here, what their business is, and engage them in conversation. Show genuine interest in what they do, while exploring in your mind how you might best help them. (Not how they can help you, the other way around). When you get a chance let them know how you can help them (if possible) and also explain what you do, and you’ll quickly see if there is any common ground. If relevant, swap cards, and maybe promise to catch up in a few days time. Try to make 4 or 5 new contacts this way at every meeting. Attending 2 or 3 a week means you’ll quickly gather 10 or more new potentially useful business contacts every week, and remember, each will have 100 or more contacts of their own. The value of this regular exercise is the permission you win to gain access to these new people.
Pick your events wisely. I have found the ones set up expressly for networking are not necessarily the best ones as they can attract those that are only trying to sell. You know the kind. The same people frequent them, they are usually free. Go to a variety of professionally run (and often paid for) business functions, because that’s where the interesting business people are. As a nice bonus, you will also learn much from the presentations and discussions on stage. Some might be stand up cocktail functions, others a sit down breakfast or lunch. Either way, there will be opportunities to mix and mingle, where it is far easier to stay seated or in your comfort zone. Most will stick to who they know. But as a wise sale coach told me recently, you only grow when you are out of your comfort zone. So get up and go meet some people. People are naturally friendly in this setting, far more so than if you cold called them. So get it done!
Consistently doing this over time expands your own networks, and believe me, for someone like me, not born or bred in this fair city, it has worked a treat.
In fact, failing to do this not only harms your business, it also limits your career opportunities. I’ve had 6 jobs in my 30-year career so far, but have only ever had less than a handful formal job interviews. My last 4 jobs (spread over almost 2 decades) have not stemmed from a formal job interview at all. They have been gained through networks I have forged over time, and often from cups of coffee or a phone call from a referral. I even sold my business within 6 weeks of an initial coffee meeting where the idea was first mooted.
Following up with those people you can help, that you might open doors for (and they you), is critical. This is where you need a good system to lock away your new contacts in your Outlook Contacts or a CRM (client relationship management) system. Using something like CamCard (a free app that takes a photo of business cards and automatically synchs the data into your contacts) can make it a piece of cake.
2. Treating LinkedIN like a business event
I treat LinkedIN in the same way I do a live business networking event – I go there to meet new people, connect and add value. The more you do this the more new business will drop off the bottom as a matter of course. I also do this with Twitter, and to a lesser degree Facebook and Instagram.
Essentially, LinkedIN is very much like business networking, except you don’t have to physically meet someone first. Again, don’t go on there to sell, go there to connect and add value, and in time you will meet loads of new people, some of whom will be interested in how you can help them (and they you), and the permission to sell to them (or one or more of their contacts) may be granted. I have met many new business contacts this way. I have also used it to get into a company, that hitherto had seemed impossible.
As in networking events, be careful not to cross that line. Don’t go on LinkedIN too much (10 minutes a day will suffice), and use it to meet new people, publish and share interesting information. Be the better Roman. Share and like other people’s posts. Add some comments. Share and publish something of your own.
As with all these things, it’s about persistence and consistency. If you only do a little bit for a few weeks assuming this to be ground breaking, you will be sorely disappointed. Do not expect results straight away, learn as you go. Don’t overdo it either – there are people in every town (mine included) that have a bad reputation of spamming people on these networks and at business events. They’re always there, and sadly, they seem blissfully unaware that whenever their name is mentioned, you can hear collective groans of disapproval. Don’t be them!
Get out there and be seen, both physically and on LinkedIN, in the right way, and I promise you will make more connections and win more opportunities to do more business. You might enjoy a pretty nice career as a result.
Extra resource: Read this excellent post > ‘Scared of Networking? How to kill it at your next event‘