By Michael Gavin
Networking is essential to success in sales. It allows you to connect with others in various industries, gain new insights and skills, and find new business opportunities. In this article, I offer tips on the top places to network and how to network effectively.
While some may find it daunting to attend networking events, you can find valuable business opportunities that can significantly improve and grow your business. Various organizations across the nation host networking events, and the Internet makes it easy to find networking events in your area. Certain websites list upcoming networking opportunities, such as meet-up groups, conferences, seminars and much more.
Two recommended websites for finding upcoming networking events are Networking for Professionals (http://networkingforprofessionals.com/) and Network after Work (http://www.networkafterwork.com/). Typically, you can attend these events for free or at minimal cost.
A great way to network is to join your local chamber of commerce and small business associations. The charter of these organizations is for members to help other members and provide them with new business opportunities. By joining these organizations, you can connect with individuals in various industries and make new connections that will last throughout your career. These organizations typically require a membership fee, but the frequent networking sessions and substantial business opportunities that can come out of them make them well worth the investment.
Social and professional networking sites, in particular LinkedIn, have made it much easier to network. LinkedIn is a great way to increase your business contacts, grow professionally and expand your payments industry knowledge. If you are new to LinkedIn, begin by connecting with people you know or have done business with in the past. If you haven’t spoken to someone recently, send him or her a message with an update on what you’re doing now. The more people who know about your business, the more opportunities you will receive.
LinkedIn also has numerous groups of business professionals who share information regularly. Within these groups, members start discussions, promote events and share valuable content. Engage in group conversations, and share relevant news to increase your online presence in the payments industry. This can help you build a strong reputation, and people will begin to view you as a payments expert. Most importantly, stay active on LinkedIn, and you will start reaping the benefits of new opportunities.
Many communities have clubs based on interests, such as exercise, art, religion and music, where you can make new connections. You never know who you are going to meet that could become a customer. Being involved in your community is the best thing you can do to grow your business. It also helps bring in referrals from word of mouth within your community.
My first tip for effective networking is to prepare by identifying your targets beforehand. If you have an idea of who will attend, you RSVP’d via social media, or a list of attendees was provided, you’ll have a good sense of who you want to reach. With likely attendees in mind, think of topics you would like to discuss.
Starting conversations with strangers can be difficult, but if you identify potential discussion topics in advance, networking will go much more smoothly. The same goes for LinkedIn. If you want to contribute to a group, read through current and past discussions to get a feel for what members want to see and are interested in. This will give you guidance as to what topics and news to share.
Networking is all about building relationships. It is for connecting with others, not for selling. While you may be inclined to talk about your business and start selling, wait until you have established a solid relationship and have engaged in conversations multiple times. Once you have a relationship, if potential opportunity exists, schedule a one-on-one meeting to discuss whether your products and services could benefit your target’s business.
Following up is critical in networking. After you’ve met someone in person, connect with him or her on LinkedIn, and send a follow-up message mentioning that it was nice meeting the individual and that you would like to keep in touch. Make it personalized, and if the prospect mentioned something memorable, mention it in your follow up.
Networking is the easiest and best way to grow your business. Even if you are experienced in the industry and have a large number of connections, it can never hurt to have more. Networking is an ongoing process to continue throughout your career to help you grow professionally while expanding your business.
As Cayan’s Senior Vice President, Sales, Michael Gavin is responsible for day-to-day management of the company’s direct sales efforts, including organizational structure, sales forecasts and overall strategies. In addition, he was the architect behind the design and development of the company's agent channel and now oversees all sales activities within that channel, a growing network of more than 400 independent representatives throughout the United States. He has also served as a key leader within the organization since joining the company in late 2000. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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