I am always telling business owners and salespeople to get out and network but so many of them don’t follow my advice. There are many reasons but one of the biggest hurdles is approaching someone you don’t know; it’s a lot like cold-calling which most people hate. Even me, as outgoing as I am, sometimes find it difficult to walk up to a group of people I don’t know and try to get into the conversation. But what’s the point of networking if I go to a networking event and only talk to the people I already know? Granted, it might remind them to use my services if needed but to continue to expand my business I need to meet people new people as well.
So how do you walk up to a perfect stranger and strike up a conversation that could lead to sales? The first thing is don’t think about sales. Don’t think about yourself. Think about getting to know the other person. When I am at a large networking event, I always look for people standing alone; I figure they are an easy target because they aren’t integrated and may be feeling left out. They are usually grateful that someone approached them. I use my smile – one of my best assets – and catch their eye and walk over. Of course I extend my hand and say hi. I usually ask if they are a member of the organization or if they have been to the event before and then follow the line of conversation based on their answer. I keep the person engaged by asking questions about the organization, the event, the speaker and when appropriate I will ask them questions about themselves and their work. As long as I am asking and they are answering, I have their attention. As I wind the conversation down, so that I can have the chance to meet a few more people, I ask for their card and offer mine and if I will be following up I let them know by saying something like, “I’ll give you a call so we can arrange a time to grab a cup of coffee.” It’s not so hard but for me but for someone more introverted this can be a challenge.
What I find harder is approaching a group that is talking. But at some events everyone is standing around talking to the people they already know. If I am going to meet someone, I have to approach a group. I usually look for a smaller group of 3 or 4 and again, use my smile to catch someone’s eye and start walking toward them. If I can’t catch an eye, I try another group. When I get close, the group will usually expand to let me in and if they don’t immediately greet me, I just listen and get involved in their conversation, never talking about myself, always joining in on the topic and when the appropriate time comes, I thank them for letting me squeeze in on the conversation and introduce myself. Trust me, I know this isn’t easy for many people and that is why I prefer attending structured networking events like the BizTalk Blender, so that I am in a comfortable setting that guarantees I will meet new people that I can do business with, collaborate with or develop into a referral source. If you are not in Reno, you can bring the BizTalk Blender to your business community or look for other structured networking events to attend.
Here’s a short video from www.candogo. com on approaching someone at a networking event.