Go Where They Hang Out
Ask your five best clients this question: Which events do you never miss? Note the way I phrased this. I didn’t say “Which networking events are you planning on going to?” I said Which events do you never miss?
If you ask this question to your top five clients, it’s a good bet that you’ll find other prospects who are just like them at those events. Once you have identified the event(s), ask if you can tag along or attend that event with them.
At the event, your clients will automatically become advocates for your business, without you even prompting them. Stand in the same circle of people with them, and they’ll start to introduce you to people they know.
Again, if they’re your top clients, they’ll probably say things like “yeah, Joe’s company handles all of our IT for us—they do a great job!”— all within earshot of your new acquaintances.
Don’t Ask About Their Business (Yet)
As you talk to people, don’t dive into what their business is and try to figure out if there’s a fit for you. That’s like saying, “Hi, nice to meet you. Will you marry me?” They just met you. They need to get to know you first.
Instead of diving into business questions, ask what I call relationship building questions:
- Are you from around here?
- What made you move to the area?
Look for commonalities. Maybe your kids go to the same school, maybe you both played sports in college, or both served in the military. Note that none of this goes into business. It’s all about building relationships.
Be the Connector, Provide Them with a Lead
When you get comfortable enough, and you feel like there is some rapport, you can ask what kinds of business challenges they’re facing. Again, you’re not asking how you can help them. You’re simply asking them about issues they’re trying to solve.
If they say they’re looking to redo their website and are in the market for a graphic designer, you might think that since you don’t provide graphic design services that there’s no immediate opportunity.
However, there is a good chance that someone in your network can help. Maybe you know a good designer or two. Maybe someone in your LinkedIn network can help.
So, don’t let your new acquaintance’s comment fall by the wayside. Say this:
Jane, I might know some designers who could help you out. Could I get your business card? I’m happy to make the connection for you.
When you get back to your office, find every designer you know who could help. Post a status update on your LinkedIn network. Send the designers this note:
Tracy, I know someone who might need some graphic design work. If this is something you can help with, let me know, and I’ll connect you.
Every designer you reach out to will respond to that email. Nobody’s going to turn down the opportunity for a referral.
Send a follow-up email to each person to make the connection.
This “Networking 2.0” approach does three powerful things:
- It provides value to your new networking contact.
- It provides a lead to your prior contacts.
- It increases the level of trust that all parties have for you.
The beauty of this approach is that even if the lead doesn’t pan out, they will remember and appreciate your gesture. You’ve added points to that layer of trust which is necessary before a prospect is ready to buy your IT services.
Keep in Touch
The sad part about networking is that most people lose touch shortly after making the connection. This is easy to fix. It just requires a tiny bit of post-meeting discipline to keep them in your pipeline.
Upon returning from your networking event and doing the initial follow up with your new contacts, you’ll want to complete two more things:
Connect with them on LinkedIn. This is an obvious, quick way to build your connections and stay in touch. When they connect with you, you can check out the people in their network to see who might be worth contacting directly.
Add them to your email newsletter list. Think of all the people you’ve met over the years and lost touch. Many of them had gone on to pick other IT companies as their providers because they weren’t ready when you met them but became ready later. Use curated newsletters to automate this process, so you can regularly nurture your contacts without any extra effort.
By staying in touch, you stay top-of-mind. That means your contacts will think of you first when they think of IT.