Networking opportunities cannot be exploited fully unless you do your homework. By Matthew Record
Getting the most out of large networking opportunities, such as last month's Mipim conference and the many other industry-specific conferences, requires preparation. With time now one of the most precious commodities, no one can afford to waste it by attending unproductive networking events.
Potential clients at large events do not want to be sold to and it takes a long time to win a new client - so patience is key. However, networking events allow you to gather information in a very efficient and concentrated manner. Remember to ask questions first and concentrate on building relationships with people you meet.
Here are a few ideas for things you can do to make networking events both profitable and effective for you.
Find out who is going beforehand
Phone your contacts to let them know you'll be there (particularly the ones who you haven't worked for recently). Find out what is happening in their organisations. Think of the things your clients will want to get out of attending the event and introduce them to people you know will be of interest to them.
Identify prospective clients that you want to meet
Draw up a 'hot list' of people you want to meet and find out what the current issues are for those people, their sectors and businesses. Also find out which parties or seminars prospective clients are likely to attend.
If necessary, call in a favour to get an invite to where they will be. And, if possible, team up with somebody who is from an associated profession, such as surveying, banking or consulting. Between you, you will be able to attend more seminars and parties.
First impressions count
Mentally assemble all the market knowledge you possess to get conversations focused on the person you are talking to and their business. Asking questions about what is important to them will help you work out how you can help them.
Try to find some common ground you share personally, such as family, the neighbourhood where you live or hobbies, or ask their opinions on issues. Do not sell - rather, get a commitment to have a meeting when you are back. Also, ask which of their competitors are there so you can try to meet them.
Arrange a further meeting
Do not spend too long with people - just enough to ask to meet them again (this is where the selling will start). Write down what you found out immediately (Smythson do very discreet pocket notebooks) and prioritise each person you met for follow-up.
Dedicate time in your diary to do the follow-up before you go to the event - do not wait more than two weeks to follow up. Send a handwritten note to the people you met saying how much you enjoyed meeting them.
Effective networking at big events requires a lot of preparation and patience. Crucially, make your sales pitch short and relate it to what each person has told you is important to them and their business.
Matthew Record is director of consultancy Record Associates