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The Value of Networking

August 01, 2008
Jerry L. Kennedy
Selling Points Column, TLT

 

The Value of Networking

Getting involved with professional organizations is a strategy that generates new business and profits for your company.

This is the last part in our series of articles dealing with how to make sales without cold calling, and we’ve truly saved the best for last. If you really want to give your sales efforts a big boost, networking is the way to go.

After all what else could you do that has the potential to lead to multiple deals from a single sales presentation? At the same time, there are many ways to network that will not lead to great results. With that in mind, you need to make sure that your networking efforts are well-directed.

First, both you and your company should consider the kind of groups you should be networking with. The rule of thumb here is to go where your customers are. If you are in the lubricants industry, that means joining a professional organization such as STLE, whose members are using the products you sell. Other examples include trucking associations, farm bureaus, etc. The higher the percentage of members who use your products, the less time you’ll have to spend sifting through those who don’t.

Second, you should think about what kind of value you can provide to the organization. In other words, what do you bring to the table? If you only show up looking for what you can get, your chances of success are going to decrease significantly. On the other hand, looking for ways to provide value to the organization and its members almost guarantees your success.

Take, for example, the lubricants salesperson who joins the local farm bureau as a networking opportunity. With the rapidly changing nature of the lubricants business, especially skyrocketing prices, what kind of value could you provide to the bureau’s members? While it may be impossible to offer lower prices, could you highlight practices that extends drain intervals on members’ equipment? Recognizing that many small farmers are relying on older equipment, what recommendations could you make to maximize the life of that equipment? How about introducing them to products that improve fuel economy?

Providing value also means participating in meetings and events to achieve even greater success. This might mean manning the organization’s booth at the local county fair or serving meals at chapter meetings. I have a close friend who belongs to an Old West style posse; he rides in all the local parades and takes sick kids on camping trips. He does it primarily because he loves giving back to his community, and this has led to other members approaching him when they needed a new lubricant supplier. The point is this: Focus first on what you give and the benefits will come.

Finally, consider volunteering to give a speech. I promise this is one of the best ways to get your message across at networking events. The reason is simple: The person at the front of the room usually is looked upon as an expert on the subject. Whether you truly are an expert or not really doesn’t matter; the fact that you are giving the speech is all the credentials you need. If you’ve never done public speaking, I recommend joining a Toastmasters group or taking a speaking class at the local community college; the benefits are well worth the effort.

There are a few guidelines you should remember. First, don’t make your speech an extended sales pitch. Use your elevator pitch or 30-second commercial as an introduction, then make the topic something of general interest to the audience. Second, don’t exceed the time you’ve been allotted—remember, no one ever complains that the speech was too short! Last, if you really want to be considered an expert, dress the part.

If done correctly, networking can be a great source of leads and eventually additional sales. Take the value-first approach, and you’re sure to be a hit!

I hope you’re able to put at least some of these ideas into practice. If you have had success in putting these principles to work, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail me.

Until next time, happy sales to you!

Jerry Kennedy, CLS, is owner of Inside Out Business Solutions, a sales and customer service training organization. You can reach him at jkennedy@inside-out-solutions.com. For more information about Inside Out Business Solutions, visit www.inside-outsolutions.com.

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