Maximize Your Profits Through Networking - Part 3: "Working the Room" - and Following Up After You Leave

By Colleen Francis

If we network properly, everybody profits, because networking is about people sharing their knowledge and information with others.

Preparation is a critical part of your networking success because it ensures that you go the event with goals and a purpose. It's also important to make yourself friendly and approachable once you're at the event, becoming a life-giver instead of a life-taker by looking for ways to refer first, smiling and taking a genuine interest in the people you're talking to.

Once you've met your first prospect, however, you will eventually need to do two things to solidify the relationship, and maximize your networking time:

  1. End the conversation and move on to meet more new people; and
  2. Follow up on your conversation to continue building the relationship after the event is over.

Ending a conversation
Ending a conversation at a networking event can be a delicate task. You need to move on and meet other people, but you don't want your new prospect to think that you're no longer interested in them.

In most cases, a 10-15 minute conversation in a business setting is long enough to establish whether there should be a follow up or if a connection has been made. Of course, if you're having an enjoyable conversation, feel free to stick around longer! Just remember that you're there to meet as many new people as you can, so you'll have to judge how much time you can afford to spend with any one person based on how long the event is, how many people are there and how many prospects you want to meet.

To end a conversation graciously and move on, try some of the following ideas:

  1. Introduce your new contact to another person in the room who you think they might find interesting. Once you make the connection and your contacts are talking with each other, you can easily excuse yourself from the conversation. If the connection is strong enough, they might not even notice you're gone - at least, until they thank you later for the introduction!

  2. Offer to buy them a drink or get them a glass of water. Many people get parched at networking events from all the talking. Use this as a reason to move through the event together towards the bar or water stand. If there is no reason to move towards the bar, or there is no bar, find another reason to start walking. Maybe you're in a tight corner, or perhaps it's noisy or crowded where you are. They key is to move through the event a bit to try to "run into" someone either you or your prospect knows. Then, you can introduce your new contact, or they will introduce you to their contacts and a new conversation will start.

  3. Take advantage of a natural lull in the conversation to bridge a departure by telling them that you'd love to learn more about their business, and asking if it's okay to follow up with them next week. Once they say yes, let them know that you will definitely call to set up a meeting, and that you're looking forward to continuing the conversation. If you know that you have other contacts in your database that would benefit from meeting this new contact, tell them that you have a couple of clients who would be interested in their company or service, and ask if it would be all right to call them next week to see about making an introduction.

    Once you've asked these questions, and the client has agreed to the follow up, it's much easier to say: "Great then, I look forward to speaking again next week. It was really terrific to meet you, Bill!" Always use their name at the end of the conversation, because it will help you build trust and likeability. Remember, the more you can focus the conversation on them, the more they will like you and want to build a relationship with you. These kinds of bridges work well to close the conversation because they show that you're interested in the prospect, and want to take action to further the relationship. Of course, you can only use them if you have the full intention of following up. Don't ever use this statement if you're lying simply to get away!

A gracious - and professional - retreat
Of course, there are other ways to get out of a conversation that you feel is going nowhere and has no potential. You can still be professional without making promises to call back or offering to get someone a drink.

One easy way is to excuse yourself when you see someone you have to say hi to, or who you promised to reconnect with at the event. This is where good pre-event planning comes in handy. If you've sent out some pre-event emails asking if your contacts will be at the event, you're more likely to notice when they come in or walk by because your brain is subconsciously pre-programmed to look for them.

When you spot someone, just be truthful and say to your new contact: "Oh, I just saw a client over there and I promised to connect with him at this event. Do you mind if I excuse myself, Bob?" Don't forget to say their name, because it will make your departure seem much less abrupt.

You can also use this approach if you see the organizer of the event by saying: "I just noticed Kerrie from the association over there, and I wanted to chat with her about X. Do you mind if I excuse myself, Bill? It was a pleasure meeting you."

Another tack is to tell your new contact that you have to "step out" for a minute, take a call or answer the phone. If you do say these things, though, make sure they're true. If you tell someone that you have to step out and then they see you simply walk over to someone else and start chatting, they'll know for sure that you're just blowing them off.

As you work your way through the room for the rest of the afternoon or evening, every time you see any new contacts you've met, be sure to make eye contact, smile and say "Hi Mary!" This will make them feel special, and they'll remember you long after the event is over. If you're chatting with another group and "Mary" wanders by, invite her in so that she can meet new people as well. Remember: your goal is to show others you care about them by helping them to make contacts and gather leads. In doing so, leads and contacts will flow freely to you.

The follow up
Once the event is over and you're back in the office, try some of the following tips to follow up on all the leads you gathered, and start building those long-term, mutually profitable relationships:

Enter your new leads into your database right away. I'm always amazed at how many sales reps leave piles of cards from various events throughout the year just sitting on their desks. Invariably, these cards get pushed from one side of their desk to the other each week with a promise to enter them "tomorrow." As the pile gets bigger, the task becomes more onerous, the leads become less relevant and eventually the cards just get "filed away" without any action taken.

1. If you enter the cards into your database immediately upon your return to the office, it will only take you a few moments. The sooner you enter the cards the better, because this also allows you to enter notes from your conversation while they're still fresh in your mind. These notes will in turn help you with your follow up calls. And if you have a field in your database to indicate where you met this contact, make sure to add the event name. At the end of the year, this will help you determine how profitable the event has been for you.

2. Send a handwritten thank-you note on non-corporate stationary. This should be all personal - no business. A simple message such as the following is perfect:

Dear Colleen,

It was a pleasure to meet you at the ABC event this week. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me on…

I look forward to meeting you again.

Or

It was a pleasure to meet you at the ABC event this week. It was great to learn about your…

In our office, we collect all types of stationary from plain-colored postcards to fancy note cards, so that we always have something that is suitable for a specific prospect met at a particular event. The only company information that goes out is the return address label on the back of the envelope. Believe it or not, we get emails from prospects thanking us for sending the thank you cards - proof to me that people love and appreciate personal attention.

3. Follow up when you said you would, with what you said you were going to do. If you promised to follow up "next week," make sure that you call or email to set up the appointment. Trust is built with consistent behavior over time. In sales, the best (and easiest) way to do this is to always keep your word.

4. Measure your returns. Once per year, do a review of all the events you went to, and determine which ones were worth your time. After all, there's not much point in wasting time and money at events that aren't helping you build a profitable network.

One final word: effective networking takes practice. Don't expect that the first event you go to will be hugely profitable. It often takes 2-3 events with the same group to meet the right people. The key is to always prepare thoroughly, keep attending events, try different events that attract your best potential customers, meet lots of different people in your target groups - and always follow up.

No doubt there are other best practices for networking, and I would love to hear about yours! Please email me at colleen@engageselling.com with your ideas for networking success. If we publish them, you'll receive a free copy of our Selling Innovation - sell more work less workbook - and have the chance to share a little of your own wisdom and experiences with your peers!

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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