How to sell yourself and your product when networking.
One of the questions business owners often debate is what is the most important part of a network meeting?
Is it the 60 second pitch, the part where you mingle with other business owners, the 1-1 session or the follow up? Which is the vital opportunity to make a first impression that can’t be repeated if you blow it? What is the essential thing that great networkers do to make the most of their chance to shine?
There are varying opinions on which stage is the crucial one, and while they are all important to the impression you give of your personal brand, the truth is that some of the stages are more important than others…and despite the mythology surrounding the perfection of the killer ‘elevator pitch’, the truth is that the part where you actually explain or ‘sell’ your product or service isn’t necessarily the key to success many people think it is in the networking environment.
To network strategically, each stage should be carefully crafted and thought of as an exposure. One of the best ways to approach each step is to gear it towards an attempt to find out as much as you can about the person you want to be your customer, or be a great referral source for you in the future.
The 60 second pitch
Much has been made of the skill involved in creating your 60 second pitch, to the extent that the overall feeling is that if you can’t explain everything your business does in 60 seconds and get people to buy what you’re selling, your business – or your ability to explain it – is too complicated to have value in the networking room. This implies, essentially, that you need a punchy way of telling people exactly how you solve their problem, or ‘pain’, in the minimum amount of time possible in order for your pitch to have value. But unless you are pitching to busy investors, selling to people is, of course, a lot subtler than that.
Networking is ultimately about building relationships – and networkers who stop focusing on the sell and instead consider how they can make people WANT to get to know them better, tend to have a lot more longer term success than those who immediately try and get people to buy their stuff.
No matter how fantastic your product or service is, you risk turning people off before you’ve even had a chance to showcase what you do if you say the words “so speak to me and buy my thing.” The audience feel sold to, and if you take that approach you’ve lost your opportunity to build lasting business relationships. We are British and we don’t like to be sold to or convinced we need something we’ve never even thought about. Ever bought something from someone you didn’t like? No, me neither!
One of the best 60 seconds I heard recently at a 4N networking event was a gentleman who said “please arrange to come speak to me before I do the presentation or you will wish you hadn’t missed out”. The format only allowed for him to meet with 2 people and yes, you guessed it, I made sure I was one of them. He created intrigue and curiosity and made me want to know more, even though I didn’t know what he had for sale.
His presentation was engaging and made sense, and his words reminded me of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you still haven’t read this classic book yet, make it top of your list as it really will change the way you do business forever. The basic message is that within a 1-1 or engagement with your prospect, you should make it a game to see how long you can get the other person to speak. Ask open ended questions and take great interest in the other person. Listen attentively and be present in the moment. The person will come away feeling that they have just had the best conversation ever, when actually they have just talked about themselves. Our favourite subject is me myself and I.
Fortune is in the follow up
You’ve head the saying “fortune is in the follow up?” Well it’s the truest thing you will ever hear. The next step is to ensure that you follow this person up. “Brilliant,” I hear you say, “is this where I finally get to tell them about me and my product?” Not quite. Not everyone we build relationships will become a customer, but they may introduce you to your best customer, so staying on their radar in a friendly, non agenda driven way is the best way to start the conversation and not scare them off.
Should you send a follow up email?
In my eyes there is nothing worse than getting a spammy type email that starts with “it was so good to meet you yesterday… now here’s my stuff you can buy.” Even if I did have a genuine conversation with that person and I really liked them, they just ruined all their credibility now that they’ve made me feel sold to. I feel like they only were engaging with me to sell, and I feel like I can’t have a conversation with them now, without them wanting something from me. That might sound crazy in view of the fact that our main reason for networking in the first place is to gain business and new customers, but that’s how my mind works, and that’s how your customer’s mind works too.
Here’s the thing; wouldn’t it be so much better to carry on building that relationship and RING the person? What would happen if you said: “Hey Dave, it was so good to speak to you yesterday. Tell me a little bit more about how you set up your business – I found it fascinating.” At some point he will invariably say…”hey, I made this all about me, let’s talk about you.” Now you have moved out of the arena where he will feel sold to, because he’s invited you to tell you about yourself and is much more likely to want to genuinely help you.
Listen! Stop talking
Of course, I’m definitely not advocating that if you have a solution to someone’s problem within the conversation you don’t tell them how you can solve it with your service or product – it’s just that we often gain a lot more from really listening, than talking, when we put ourselves in the networking room. I hope I have given you a different way to think about how you go networking, and the other secret about this is that the less pressure we put on ourselves to sell ourselves and our product, the more natural and approachable we will come across anyway…taking a lot of the stress out of the whole (sometimes scary) experience! Please let me know how you get on, and good luck!