Social networking events can initially seem an “inconvenient distraction” for entrepreneurs from the day-to-day running of their company. But all the evidence suggests that there is business to be won for savvy networkers. Networking events range from business breakfasts to after-work happy hours at restaurants, as well as more formal events. And the benefits frequently become manifest on innumerable levels regardless of the setting or the tone of the event.
Will Kennedy, sales and marketing director at managed services provider Solar Communications, believes that the IT sector – in particular – is missing a trick when it comes to the many benefits of networking.
He explained: “The impact of networking in the IT industry is often underestimated, even by the very people working within it. “After all, once we’ve installed the software and done twiddling with the wires, do they need to see or hear from us again unless there’s a problem? “That, I fear, is the perception, and it couldn’t be more wrong. “What’s so important for us in the IT industry to understand and appreciate, is that our products are critical to the everyday functioning of our clients’ businesses. “Being on hand, be it through a fully furnished corporate event, or over a cappuccino, strengthens that sense of trust in us as providers of solutions who will always be there should things go wrong.” Many networking experts maintain that there are five steps when it comes to successfully building business contacts...
1. INTRODUCE YOURSELF – Be proactive by initiating conversations rather than waiting for others to approach you;
2. SWAP BUSINESS CARDS – Think of your business card as a marketing tool which could help win future work;
3. BE ATTENTIVE – Networking events can be beneficial as a means of self-promotion but remember to listen actively to those people you meet;
4. JOIN ONLINE “NETWORKS” – These days, there are numerous online resources for networking with LinkedIn being among the most popular for business people;
5. HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS – Remember that networking is generally a long-term process and it’s unlikely to prove effective unless you keep returning to the same group.
Kennedy added: “Cultivating and developing that trust through regular contact with clients is good for building a reputation, understanding more about their business and a stronger relationship but it also has another, more basic function - increased sales.
“Ours is a fast-moving industry, and new technologies and solutions are appearing all the time offering new ways for businesses to execute mission critical processes more quickly, more efficiently, more easily and more cost-effectively.
“Regular face-to-face contact with clients gives us the opportunity to showcase these solutions and, hopefully, close sales further down the line. “A reputation for reliability and trustworthiness is vital for all industries, but particularly so for ours, an industry whose failings can have a catastrophic impact on our clients’ businesses.
“Organising events where we can share our levels of expertise via thought leadership allows clients – both existing and prospective – an opportunity to see and hear that they are right to put their faith in our solutions and in our people. “It consolidates their belief in us, and that belief can translate to enhanced loyalty, greater custom, and new partners. Successfully selling a product to a client shouldn’t be the end of face-to-face interaction with them - it should be the beginning.”