Four Reasons You Hate Networking And What To Do Instead

The standard networking mixer doesn't exactly bring out the best in most of us. Here are some alternatives that do.

If you’re a normal professional, you may just feel at least a smidge of apprehension or resentment when it comes time to drag yourself to (or get dragged to) a professional networking event. Sure, sure, the crab puffs might be killer, but there are so many things to not love about these shindigs that I’d be here for hours if I tried to highlight each one.

Because that doesn’t sound fun for either of us, let’s start with four common reasons why you don’t enjoy them—even when you know (or suspect) they’re important to attend. And then let’s find a better option for every stinking one of them.

1. IT’S MORE STRESSFUL THAN FUN

Especially if you’re not a natural extrovert, or if you aren’t terribly practiced in the art of small talk, walking into a room of strangers can create all kinds of anxiety and tension. They often seem formulaic to the point of being comical, just without the funny ha-ha part. And this typically nets out to a fairly unenjoyable, stressful, and overtly corporate-feeling session.

A Better Option: Have you heard the news? Many, many professional groups (both the formal ones and informal ones) are realizing that we humans actually enjoy mixing business with pleasure when it comes to networking—especially when doing so lowers our stress levels while still enabling us to meet influential people, gather information that may be beneficial to our careers, or grow professionally.

If you cringe at the thought of the “traditional networking mixer,” consider heading over to Meetup.com or LinkedIn groups to see if you can find events in your area that pertain to your area of expertise or professional interest while combining a social or recreational element.

In the Portland market alone, you’ll find gatherings like these: Coffee & Copy (a gathering for writers), Wonder Women in Business, and a Tech + Pong hangout (for developers and other IT people). There are hundreds of these types of events, in pretty much every urban market. Go find a couple that suit you.

2. YOU’RE AFRAID TO APPROACH PEOPLE

Here’s the thing: We’re all afraid to approach people we don’t know, just at varying levels of terror. It’s human nature to fear rejection or looking awkward or stupid, it really is. And networking events are often just teeming with scary strangers that we dread approaching.

Given this, a lot of us tend to completely underperform in these environments. We go through the motions and survive, but we end the evening with very little to show for the agony we’ve just endured. And that’s not at all what our goal is here.

The Better Option: First, recognize that we’re all scared. All of us. That may ease your feelings of “I’m all alone in this.” Next, if the event has genuine potential (and, really, most of them do), try constructing a game plan in advance, which will make it less intimidating to walk in the doors and approach new people. Consider bringing someone who’s a natural connector, or who knows a lot of people in your industry. And ask that person to make introductions on your behalf.

(See? Less terrifying already.)

Or, you might create a game out the entire event. Challenge yourself to see how many people you can meet or what specific goals you can achieve before the end of the evening. And, if you can get your hands on an attendee list in advance, be sure and do so. This will make pre-planning much easier, as you will know who your “target connections” are beforehand.

3. THE EVENTS FEEL SO FORCED AND FAKE

The events I most despise are the ones in which everyone just stands around shoving their cards at one another while trying to juggle appetizers, cocktails, and handshakes. I often feel like I’m in some bad 1991 movie scene, one that’s overtly making fun of how corny and fake so many of these professional mixers are.

Seriously, does anyone ever forge genuine, lasting connections in these awful environments? I probably can’t say, because I’ve admittedly exited stage left in the middle of many of these types of deals before even giving them a chance.

A Better Option: If the fakeness of “classic networking” really doesn’t work for you, choose non-networking networking opportunities. This isn’t an oxymoron at all. Sleuth out (and get your rear end over to) events that allow you to actually contribute, do, or achieve something while you meet like-minded people.

Raise your hand to volunteer at an event or for a cause tied to your area of expertise or interest. Organize a fitness group or book club specifically designed for people in your field. Join a committee within your own company, with the specific intent to get to know new people within the organization. You get the theme here.

4. YOU HAVE NO TIME TO ATTEND NETWORKING EVENTS

I’m absolutely not one of those people who says (in a judging tone), “It’s never that you have no time, it’s that you choose to not make the time.” Oh, God, spare us all. Hi, I’m a married business owner with multiple children—who are in multiple extracurricular activities. I actually “get” what it is to have almost no extra time to be flitting about town talking shop over mediocre wine.

However, I also actually “get” how important it is to forge and maintain strong professional relationships throughout one’s career. I have personally and professionally benefitted (over and over again) from having a supportive and influential network of people around me (and hope I’m helpful to them as well!)

So what happens if you’re someone with so many demands on your time that physically attending networking events is nearly impossible?

A Better Option: I’ve got two words for you: social media. No matter how good (or not good) you are at it or how much you like (or dislike) it, you’ll need to harness the power of these platforms as a solid alternative to participating at live events. Your specific strategy should be customized to your own needs, personality, and comfort level with various platforms, but you absolutely must leverage networking tools like LinkedIn, Twitter chats, and Facebook Live events (to name a few) if you’re not able to attend face-to-face gatherings.

Blipping off the radar entirely may feel more safe and comfortable, but you’re shortchanging yourself (and may cause yourself a lot of unnecessary stress when you need support from others) in the long run. Business is built around relationships. It is truly who you know in many, many instances.

So even if you abhor the idea of networking, try your darndest to find survivable (and maybe even enjoyable) ways to stay connected with influencers around you.

And for sure have a firm handshake.

Source: Fast Company

The Best Salespeople Do What the Best Brands Do

best-brands

It’s not news that the role of salespeople and selling is changing.  In the past, salespeople were often the first step in a purchase process, and could significantly influence customer decision-making by controlling information about pricing, availability, competitive advantage, etc.

But in this era of nearly ubiquitous information, customers usually engage with salespeople after they’ve already researched their purchase and in some cases made their purchase decision. Digital commerce and disintermediation have caused many customers to question the importance of having a sales relationship at all. Moreover, companies are learning that true sales success isn’t indicated by the number or size of deals closed; it’s measured by getting and keeping the right customers.

Great salespeople succeed in this new business environment by doing what great brands do.  I laid out seven critical brand-building principles that great brands follow when I wrote my first book.  I’ve now found that these principles are as instrumental to restoring sales to its role as a valuable, sustainable, integral business function as they are to building great brands. 

  • Great brands start inside. Great salespeople sell inside first. Just as great brands start brand-building by cultivating a strong brand-led culture inside their organizations, great salespeople know the first step to sales success is actually one taken inside their own companies.  They contribute tremendous value to their organizations through their market insights and direct communication channel with customers.  So they help their companies with product development, marketing strategy, and customer service by serving as the Voice of the Customer internally.
  • Great brands avoid selling products. Great salespeople cultivate emotional connections with customers. In the book What Clients Love, Harry Beckwith explains that relatively few businesses actually sell products, services, or even expertise; most sell satisfaction.  “Progressive does not sell car insurance.  It sells comfort:  the comfort of knowing that if you have an accident, they will be at the scene, ready to write a check.”  In the same way, great salespeople don’t try to sell items or programs.  Instead, they appeal to and connect with their clients through emotion, brand story-telling, and thought-leadership.  In doing so they take the attention off price and features and appeal to the feelings customers value and the identities they want to experience and express.
  • Great brands ignore trends. Great salespeople don’t imitate, they innovate. Great brands don’t follow what everyone else is doing, nor do they wait to take their lead from customers.  In the same way, great salespeople offer their customers unique perspectives and often seek to push their thinking.  They present a differentiated sales experience by challenging customers’ status quo and teaching them something new and valuable.  They are the “Challengers” that Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson identified in their research into what distinguishes high sales performers.
  • Great brands don’t chase customers. Great salespeople attract the best customers for their company. Just as great brands know they’re not for everybody and so they seek to attract loyal and profitable customers through shared values and common interests, great salespeople are selective when engaging prospects.  Research by VoloMetrix, a sales productivity firm, shows that top sellers build deeper relationships with fewer customers rather than casting a wider net of shallower engagement.  Salespeople cultivate profitable, sustainable customer relationships if they’re savvy enough to focus on accounts that inherently represent a good fit with their company instead of trying to close as many deals as possible.
  • Great brands sweat the small stuff. Great salespeople create extraordinary experiences that embody their brand. Great salespeople know that they can strengthen their brand if they interpret and reinforce it and its differentiating value throughout the sales experience.  So they examine all the different touchpoints between the customer and the brand in the sales process and seek out opportunities to infuse the most influential ones with the brand’s key values and attributes.  They’re also aware of the power of social selling today and they carefully manage their social network activity to make informed, authentic, personal connections.
  • Great brands never have to “give back.” Great salespeople create real value for their customers. Great brands don’t engage in questionable business practices and then try to make up for them with charitable activities and social responsibility programs — they create a positive social impact in the way they design and run their businesses.  Likewise, great salespeople don’t engage with customers simply to make a sale — they look for ways to make their clients more successful.  Leadership consultant Scott Edinger observed, “Sales training programs rightly focus on finding clients’ ‘pain points.’ But great salespeople also know there’s value in pointing out successes waiting to be exploited.”   They know improving a customer’s condition may not always involve a sale and they do it nonetheless.
  • Great brands commit and stay committed. Great salespeople impart the unique value of their brand. Many salespeople feel pressure to gain new business or retain accounts at any cost, but the most effective ones do not give price concessions just to win deals.  They are convinced of the value their company offers and they skillfully help their customers understand it as well.  They employ the techniques put forth by the writers of the book Value Merchants, drawing on their knowledge of what clients value to convey their offer in a way that resonates with them.

Great salespeople implement all of these principles in a cohesive, coordinated approach that mirrors the brand-as-business management approach used by great brands to develop powerful and valuable brands.  Just as great brands cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with their customers, great salespeople cultivate a deep connection between their company  and their client’s business.  To borrow a term, the best salespeople are brand evangelists.

Guy Kawasaki first adopted the term “evangelism” into the business world by applying it to an innovative approach to sales, marketing, and management.  Evangelism, as he defined it, means “convincing people to believe in your product or ideas as much as you do” because evangelists believe that what they offer is truly helpful and valuable to others.

Over the years, many technology companies have developed the role of a technology evangelist or “chief evangelist.”  These people are charged with building up support for a given technology, and then establishing it as a standard in the given industry.  Like these technology evangelists, brand evangelists — that is, great salespeople — build up support within a market for a brand so that it becomes the brand leader in its category.

Importantly, brand evangelism is not another one of the customer-centric or customer-driven sales approaches that have become popular in recent years.  Customer-centric sales and most other sales improvement approaches are pursued for the sole purpose of increasing sales.  Brand evangelism is about engaging customers in a way that produces stronger and more valuable brands and sustaining long-term business success for their companies and their clients.

This is what great salespeople do.

Understanding Non-Verbal Communication Signals

Knowing how to interpret non-verbal communication such as body language is a key part in mastering overall communications. Mastering this skill can also be extremely instrumental in successfully negotiating with a prospect…and can make the difference of whether a sale is made or not. Check out this video for a basic primer on body language in business.

Can Body Language Increase Sales?

body-language

That which is unspoken sometimes speaks louder than that which is said.

Body language, which includes gestures, facial expressions, posture and tone of voice, send nonverbal signals to audiences. These signals can either amplify or undermine our messages. This principle applies equally to an audience of of one or of thousands.

In their song “Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin says, “sometimes words can have two meanings.” The same can be said about the words our bodies speak. For example, a person who is unable to maintain eye contact is often seen as shifty or untrustworthy. I know of a person who cannot look others in the eye for long. However, he is an honest businessman and a generous employer full of integrity and fully trustworthy. He was severely abused as a child and hence suffers a lifelong struggle with self esteem which makes it difficult for him engage in eye contact with anyone but his little girl.

Because body language can convey unintended meanings, it’s important that we learn and master our gestures and expressions. The upside to doing this is that it can help increase sales. Preparing for presentations should include weaving in the appropriate body language at specific and opportune points. Great rock bands like Aerosmith get this principle and so should we.

In fact, body language can create a sort of bonding, particularly in one-on-one presentations. Studies have shown that tactfully imitating someone else’s body language can help connect to that person. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on this topic well worth a read called, “Use Mirroring to Connect with Others.”

Check it out and consider some of the components that may help you better connect to your audiences. As you do, consider how you can transition imitating your prospect’s body language into more quickly gaining your prospect’s trust. The key is to be genuine. That which is forced will be obvious. Having confidence in yourself along with knowledge and belief in your products or services is the first key step. Mastering body language will quickly become second nature once you put it to practice.