How to Get More Out of Networking (Why You Can’t Rely on Referrals Anymore)
As an experienced business owner, you’ve no doubt learned the value and importance of networking to the growth of your company, as well as to your own career. Over the past few years, however, you’ve noticed that the spirit of networking has undergone a change—a change big enough and significant enough to leave your company behind in the constant, forward-moving growth of the business world.
You need to mirror that change and push forward. You need to adapt your organization’s networking approach in order to continue to reap its benefits. You need transformation in order to start reaching and communicating with the right people. Could it be that you’ve been using networking to try to engage the wrong people?
Old-Fashioned Networking: A Chatty Courtship
For thousands of years networking, though not always designated as such, has been a way to get in touch with others—a way for different people to help one another achieve success. So what is networking? It can have different meanings and purposes in different situations, but in the business world, networking is the act of establishing business connections and contacts through informed social interactions.
The term “networking” appeared in the late 1970s and 1980s, not too long ago at all, when the baby boom generation began to enter the business world. This was a time when sales were carried out as a result of networking—or schmoozing and socializing, as it might more accurately be labeled—businessmen chatting over dinner and drinks, for example. This process was more like a courtship based on flattery than a mutually beneficial business relationship; nonetheless, this form of networking was accepted as the norm.
As the years went on, referrals were the starting point for this old-fashioned networking process. Networking events were critical places and times to find the right people and get your name seen. Networking, for the sole purpose of gaining customers and increasing sales, involved deliberately seeking out and making contact with the right people, recording those contacts, and cultivating the network. It required constant, concentrated attention—costing valuable time and money.
The business world soon realized that time and money were its most cherished resources, and businesses began to find other ways to find customers, increase sales, and raise brand awareness.
Gone are the days of schmoozing; today, networking has a different meaning and execution, and sales representatives do their jobs much more professionally. The 21st century has brought change: change in technology, change in the business world, and change in the nature of networking and sales.
So what does this mean for you and your company? Perhaps the people you think you need to reach are not attending networking events like they have in years past. You’ve probably spent many years relying on referrals and introductions from peers to secure leads, but this approach has been increasingly unsuccessful. You know you’ve got a problem, but you can’t quite put your finger on it…
Out With the Old, In With the Growth
We’ll make it easy for you. Here’s your problem: you’re stuck in this rut of old-fashioned networking, and you’re still trying to use that kind of sales, in one form or another, for your company.
It’s time for change. And this change will only come when you accept that “old-fashioned” and “growth” unfortunately do not mix. We’d love to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them, because it is comfortable and predictable. But today’s business world has thrown comfort and predictability out the window, in favor of competition and constant transformation.
Are you using networking for the right purposes? Your goals for networking could be ineffective and unrealistic—and the key to networking success lies with identifying this problem.
Let’s face it: your buyers are most likely not attending the same networking events that you are, are they? Networking might be necessary for gaining business contacts—people you can go to for advice, to have a career-related conversation, and to take steps toward fulfilling one another’s professional needs. But is networking, in the truest sense of the word, appropriate for gaining leads and customers?
Think about the ideal customers for your organization. First of all, do you know who they are? Are they at networking events? Can they be contacted via referrals? What are their needs and how can you help them fulfill these needs? It could be that your customers are at networking events looking for your product or service, but this is something that cannot be left to assumption. Answering important questions such as these about your buyers is the first step in determining whether networking is the proper strategy to use to attract customers and increase sales—and therefore start to get the most out of your networking approach.
The Search for Mr. and Mrs. Right
In order to spur the growth of your company, you need to get your name and your brand in front of more of the right people so that you can increase sales. But do you really know who the right people are? If you’ve been looking for them and failing to find them at networking events, your answer will probably be “no.”
As we said earlier, your problem most likely has a lot to do with the fact that your company is unsure of who exactly your ideal buyers are. If you don’t already understand your buyers, where they are, when they are, and what they care about, you’ll have a difficult time creating an effective marketing strategy—which may or may not include networking events and referrals. With the right knowledge about your buyers, you’ll be able to create a memorable message that strikes upon their needs and a dynamite strategy that will reach them at just the right moments. The solution to your networking frustration and your lack of buyer knowledge lies with the development of a buyer persona.
The Buyer Persona: The Right Tool
A buyer persona is likely the tool for your business-owner-toolbox that you didn’t know you needed. Buyer personas are derived from an in-depth understanding of how buyers come to make a purchase: what motivates them to think about buying, what they see as barriers to purchasing, and what they consider to be a successful purchase. Within this wealth of helpful information lies the question that will answer your networking problem: are your buyers at networking events looking for your product or service, or are they on Google searching for it?
To find out, consider developing a buyer persona for your company. We promise that this process will answer more than just your networking question. Want to learn more about buyer personas, how they can benefit your company, and how you can start designing your own? Check out our Buyer Persona Guide.