Turning Networking Into Net Worth

On any given weekday there are dozens of networking events in the tri-state area. While thousands of businesspeople attend these events, the truth is most of them do not have a strategy for maximizing the benefit from their time spent. Here is the inside scoop on turning networking into profitable business development.

With the right strategies, networking can have a powerful impact on your business — it can greatly expand your professional contacts and dramatically increase your sales. We’re not just writing about it, we experienced it firsthand: As a VP of sales for a company that did a roll-up of 30 businesses within a span of three years, Jeff Bauman focused his business development on networking, with a goal of increasing sales and creating name recognition in cities where the company was not known. Within two years he was the founder of a new networking group in each of his 10 new markets, and he went on to become the top salesperson at his company for 17 out of 18 years.

Sue Fredericks, who started a consulting practice five years ago after more than 20 years as a corporate executive, focused on developing diverse networking groups with decision makers at all levels in a variety of industries. That strategy has been the source of her company’s success and growth over the past few years, resulting in strong referrals and repeat assignments with satisfied customers.

The key to turning networking into solid business relationships and then into sales is to have a strategy (and no, showing up to networking events with a pocketful of business cards is NOT a strategy).

The first steps in this strategy are to ensure that you invest your time wisely by:

  1. Planning your networking events based on the amount of time you can dedicate to building business relationships.
  2. Choosing the networking events/groups that will help you meet your goals.

Time commitment

Most networking events are two or three hours long. But that is just a fraction of the time required for business development. If you are expecting to close a sale at a networking event, not only are you wasting your time, but you may also leave a bad impression on the other attendees. Networking is about building trusting relationships that, if nurtured properly, will generate sales for years to come.
You need to make sure you are sincerely committed to making introductions, offering assistance to people you meet and following through on your promises to help.

Of course, building strong business relationships requires a significant time commitment. The chart above will help you choose how many events you can attend based on the number of hours you can dedicate to business development.

Choosing networking events and groups

Now that we have established that business development takes more than just time spent at an event, let’s determine which events and organizations will generate a return on your investment. When considering which networking events to attend, answer these questions:

  1. What is the target audience you are attempting to meet?
  2. Who is the decision maker that you need to get in front of? (Note that it may not be necessary to have the target decision maker attending your event. It is necessary that the people who are attending have a relationship with your target decision makers.)
  3. What is the common denominator of your target audience? (e.g., industry, company size, location, etc.)
  4. What level (e.g., director, vice president, owner) of people do you need to network with?

It is important to establish that the companies you network with share your values and goals. Both the introductions you give and those you receive will be better aligned with your image if you choose companies and people with similar values. (Sometimes you just have to try an event or two to see if it’s a compatible environment.)

Once you have an idea of the amount of time you are prepared to spend every month and the qualities of the people you would like to meet, use the above chart as a guide in selecting the networking events that are best for you.

Of course, there is a lot of variety within each type of organization. If you can, try to determine the participating member’s role or job title as well as your potential exposure to your target audience.

Going through this exercise will help you develop a business development strategy that will generate meaningful business relationships and sales for many years. Understanding the value of networking, developing your plan and committing yourself to the discipline necessary to develop long-term relationships will yield results — we are living proof of that!