Turn your Contacts into Clients!
Professional Services Marketing, LLC www.psm-marketing.com If you are a professional who makes your living out of marketing yourself and your services, it’s likely that approximately 90% of your new business comes from referrals (see research). Because of that, your ability to create and maintain a professional network is essential to your businesses’ success. While some people find that they have a natural ability to network, many others find it helpful to have some strategies to help them successfully connect with other professionals during their networking meetings and turn their contacts into clients!
Five Tips to Succeed in Networking
1. Quality is more important than quantity
While building a professional network is extremely important if your business is dependent upon referrals, it is essential that you spend your networking time wisely. We often hear professionals say their networking efforts are not paying off. In these cases, we encourage them to review the people they are networking with to ensure they are making wise choices on who they are networking with. One of the best ways to make sure you are networking with the right people is to review where your best referrals have come from in the past. Where have your best clients come from in the past? Do you receive referrals from lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, consultants, or other professionals? How can you connect with other professionals with similar characteristics? Create criteria for what your best referral sources have in common, then focus on using LinkedIn to ask your first tier connections for introductions to those you want to meet.
2. Focus on asking questions – not selling yourself
The purpose of a networking meeting is to find out about the person you are meeting with to determine if the individual should become a closer connection of yours. After the meeting is scheduled, think about the questions you will ask in your meeting. The purpose is NOT to sell your service during a networking meeting. Networking is about how you can help others (and in turn, they will want to help you). Ask them questions about themselves and their business. You can typically find some great background information about who you are networking with by conducting some research about them online before your meeting. You can often learn where they went to school, what their hobbies are, what type of practice they have and what connections you have in common. Use that information to get the conversation started off in a way that will build rapport. Then continue to ask them questions and listen carefully to their responses. This will enable you to leave the meeting with a better understanding of this person – and whether or not you see them as a possible trusted referral source for you and your clients in the future. This leads right into the next tip…
3. You must like and trust your referral sources
Remember, networking is the process of creating a trusted group of professional associates – for the mutual benefit of both parties. Your purpose is to determine if the person with whom you are meeting is someone you would feel confident referring your clients, friends and colleagues to down the road. Consider developing a list of ‘intrinsic questions’ that you can ask yourself about the person you are meeting with to help you decide whether or not they are a someone you would like to continue building a relationship with down the road. The bottom line is that you should leave a networking meeting knowing if this is a person you would actively refer your friends, families and professional colleagues to.
4. Follow-up and follow-through
After your meeting, if you have decided you would like continue the relationship, it is extremely important to follow-up with them. We suggest that you develop a process for the next steps you take after each networking meeting. Consider a process that includes: Linking-in with your new connection, adding them to your “Contact Management System” and including as much personal and business information about them as possible. Schedule a date on your calendar for two months out to reconnect with them again (if you have determined they are an A-level connection.) If you promised to send follow-up information or offered to make an introduction for them – then make sure you do what you said you would do. Delays in following up with promised information cause you to lose credibility.
5. Continue to build and develop the relationship
It has been said that real trust doesn’t begin to develop in a relationship until after the fourth meeting with a new connection. While we can usually determine whether or not we like someone in the first meeting or two – actually trusting them with a client of yours will take longer. But remember the reverse is also true… and that it will likely take your new potential referral source the same amount of time to develop that same level of trust with you. This is where creating a plan for continued communication is very important. Your plan can be as simple as adding them to LinkedIn and continuing to post status updates that will add value to them. Another great way to build trust with them is to create a communication system that you can incorporate them into that will build your credibility and reputation. Newsletters, blog posts, LinkedIn status updates and other content marketing efforts can go a long way toward building and maintaining your relationship with your new networking connections. With time, practice and planning your networking efforts will pay off by bringing you the consistent new referrals your business depends upon to grow.
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