The other day I attended a lunchtime networking event in Birmingham. I had gone to meet somebody who I believed would be there but at the eleventh hour had to duck out (I learned later) leaving me at the mercy of a heaving mass of smartly dressed, enthusiastic and fragrant professionals. My worst nightmare!
I have nothing against enthusiastic professionals (especially if they smell nice) in fact I earn my living from them but to see a huge posse of them all swigging away on free orange juice and engaged in the art of “networking” was almost too much for me to bare.
[ <—- Thanks to Nick Lincoln at V2VFP for the caption]
I deal with medium to large law firms. The decision makers within those firms rarely go to those kinds of event and if they do they aren’t going to make a purchase worth tens of thousands of pounds from somebody they’ve just met over a sausage on a stick! So this is my key message: if you sell to medium to large organisations you are wasting your time attending networking events.
I’m not saying business doesn’t get done at these gatherings because I’m sure it does but the conversion rate is so low as to be laughable. Think about it. You have to meet a decision maker who right now has a need you can help with and a budget that matches your expectations but does not have incumbent suppliers who can already deliver what’s required. Not really very likely when you consider it that way is it?
Of course the argument goes that networking events are also about building relationships which is true but if that’s the best way you can engage with your stakeholders you may find your depth of relationships a bit on the shallow side. If you want to build strong relationships you’re much better off arranging to meet people on a 121 basis; at least they know you cared enough to make the effort.
For my own part I have built all of my businesses (the biggest tipping the scales at a hefty £40m turnover) on the firm foundation of relationship selling; it’s easy, efficient and really quite fun. I cannot recall a single client I have won from a networking event and nor can I honestly say that going to them strengthened any of my relationships. Remember: people attend these events to sell not to buy!
So in closing if you must attend these frightful shindigs learn how to work a room (personally I can think of nothing worse) and get stuck in but don’t expect to win loads of business as a result.
Alternatively you can avoid them like the plague and reinvest the time you have saved into one of four alternative approaches to finding and connecting with new clients that I will be talking about in my next post!