One of my projects as a solopreneur is to manage a networking group for manufacturing companies in my region. Through a stroke of sheer randomness, a search for manufacturing in Kansas City on Google brings our little humble site up #1, without any formal SEO effort on my part. But do you know who is searching for manufacturing in Kansas City? Not manufacturers; salespeople who want to sell stuff to manufacturers.
While I am happy to talk to anyone about the network, many aspiring networkers seem to think there are shortcuts to crossing the sales finish line. The manufacturing network is just one example, but I seem to run across more of these situations when the economy is slow. In the spirit of March Madness here are 3 situations that could either turn into a foul or a 3-pointer. Which will it be for you?
Foul: Your target market is widget makers. You find an organization of widget makers and think, ‘I’ve hit the jackpot!’ and proceed to make your pitch to all of the widget makers in the room.
3 Pointer: Even if your product or service is the saving grace of every last person in the room, they don’t know you, know your company, and you can’t presume to know their needs. At first, just be quiet and listen to what your prospects have to say. Enthusiasm is contagious, but so is the flu.
Foul: You’ve put a great presentation together and can’t wait to show it to all of your prospective customers. You contact the manager/leader/administrator for the association and offer to be a speaker or presenter at the next meeting.
3 Pointer: Ask the person in the organization about the concerns of the members. Come to a couple of meetings if possible. The most effective presentations are those tailored to the needs of the audience. I like to offer an advance questionnaire to the attendees so I can work real world examples into my presentation.
Foul: You start a networking group with the stated intent of getting people together, but it’s really just to get business for yourself. I continue to be amazed at how often this happens. I was recently invited to a ‘girls night out’ by the mom of one of my son’s friends. Turns out it was an MLM pitch with wine on top.
3 Pointer: There is nothing wrong with having an event to promote your business or forming a referral group. But tell us that up front. Share your ideas, don’t hide them behind a phony invitation. Bringing people in under false pretenses is not going to engender trust.
I know it’s tough out there. It’s easy to get carried away, especially if you’re fired up, passionate or broke. But the best fruits to come from the networking tree are the ones you allow to ripen over time. Some people may not need your company today, but if you have shown them your value over time, they will remember you when they need you, or when their brother in law or neighbor needs you. There really is no shortcut to building a trusting and valued relationship.
Special thanks to Donna Gordon at Kansas City Manufacturing Network (http://www.kcmn.org/).