Unsolicited advice is a bit like performing surgery in the dark. While well intentioned, it is unlikely to hit the mark, and it creates a burden on the person who receives it.
This is different from general advice. If I make a general post with an idea or tips, then you are free to choose to embrace it or not. It is up to you to read it or just keep scrolling. On the other hand, if you comment or private message you, then I have created a burden and even obligation.
For most business owners, sales and marketing are a necessary evil to be able to do what they want to do for their customers. Sales often feels adversarial and almost hostile. What if there was a way to engage with people whom you can help that put you both on the same side without the us vs them feeling of traditional sales?
As I have been diving into my coaching work, I am finding that everyone is at a different stage in their journey to achieve their goals. I wanted to share my thoughts on how one might delineate those stages to assess where they are in the journey.
In this article, I’ll discuss the six stages and what you can expect at each stage as well as some brief thoughts on what you should do to move to the next one.
In sales, we often encounter irrational fear. We may not want to pick up the phone to make calls because we are afraid of what they might say. Our fear may prevent us from coming right out and asking for an appointment. We might be afraid to drop into a business to make a first contact. On an appointment, our fear might prevent us from asking for the sale.
When you work in sales, and if you are an entrepreneur you work in sales, you have to do a lot of scary things. You have a scary job.
But do you really?
Have you ever seen one of those signs that says “Confined space. Permit required.” That’s because the space inside is claustrophobically small. It might just wide enough for a person to enter. Somebody gets that permit and goes into that space. That’s a scary job.
Firefighters have to run into burning buildings. As I write this, there are a series of deadly wildfires raging in California. There are firefighters who have to go out into the burning forests and get right up next to fires the size of towns, in which a sudden shift of the wind could engulf them in flames. That’s a scary job.
Police officers I have spoken to have told me that the scariest kind of call is not an armed standoff, not a gang issue, not a bank robbery, but a domestic situation. With an ordinary criminal, they are making rational judgements. They can be negotiated with. In a domestic situation, emotions are high and reason is out the window. Alcohol or drugs might be involved. There could be children in danger. The perpetrator may feel that they’re at the end of the road with nothing to lose. A police officer is expected to assess the situation, find the perfect answer, and do it all on the fly. That is a scary job.
Soldiers may find themselves going into a place where an enemy is actively trying to kill them with guns, missiles, or even bombs disguised as anything from piles of trash to baby carriages. That is a scary job.
Where were we before I went on this little soliloquy? Right, we were talking about how scary it can be to pick up a phone, to walk into a business, or to ask a fellow professional business owner to make a deal. Still think your job is scary?
Yet, it’s in our head. Foolish and absurd as it is, some of us are afraid to pick up a phone to set an appointment. How do we overcome that? Perspective and action. Perspective to realize that we’re not running into burning buildings or facing IEDs. Action to just get started. Pick up the phone and start dialing. Set your feet moving towards the door. Push the words out of your mouth to ask one more time for the sale.
If you are selling a quality product that is good for the consumer, you owe it to them to overcome your fear and help them make the right decision. Don’t let your irrational fear cause them to miss out on something good.
Sometimes all it takes to overcome your fears can be a little support and help in getting your head right. If you need that in your business, my Common Sense Coaching program may be right for you.
One of the mainstays of networking events from New York to Los Angeles is the Business After Hours event. Whether they call them “mixers”, “socials”, “After 5s” or any other creative name, the basic concept and format is the same.
Usually running weekday evenings from around 5:30 to around 7:30, the event is hosted at a local business who provides alcohol and food. Attendees mix, mingle, and network. There’s usually announcements and remarks from the host around the middle of the event, sometimes with a raffle. That’s the framework.
There are some variations between events that can work just as well. Some start a little earlier or run a little longer. Some have food spreads to rival a royal wedding, while others offer Bud Light and chips. Venues can range from accounting offices to ballrooms with a skyline view.
What makes a good Business After Hours?
Ultimately, as long as the event draws people, gives them a drink so they feel comfortable, and provides and environment in which they can talk, the event will be successful.
I have seen events with a couple dozen people that were great for everyone who was there, and I have seen events with almost 200 people that were a total waste of time.
The first thing you need for a good event is good people. This is highly subjective. Your perfect connection may not be of value to someone else. What is universal is that the people be friendly, outgoing, and open to networking. The wine helps with that.
An organizer can do a little to help things along. Many Chambers of Commerce have “ambassadors.” An ambassador’s job is to mingle at the event connect people. They talk to people and ask them whom they are looking to meet and try to connect them to the person in the room who is perfect for them.
Especially at larger events, it is entirely possible to be in the room with your perfect contact but never get to speak to them. This is where ambassadors are fantastic.
How to screw up a Business After Hours event
As simple as a Business After Hours event is, there are quite a few ways you can screw it up.
Americans like to have a drink when socializing. It’s not so much for intoxication as comfort. It is a signal that we are relaxing. No drink? Now it’s work. Who wants to work after 5?
You’ve probably never seen an Business After Hours without alcohol. That doesn’t mean that people don’t try to host them. It’s just that no one shows up. I was part of an organization that ran morning networking events and tried to run an after hours event with no booze, just like the morning event.
Besides the hosts and the organizers, one person showed up. One.
Whatever your opinion of alcohol, the fact is that people expect it at an evening event. It doesn’t have to be a full bar. I’ve seen fine events where there was self serve table with some bottles of Barefoot wine and some cans of Coors. But there has to be something.
The whole point of a networking event is to network. Networking requires talking. If you can’t hear people, you can’t talk, and you can’t network. I don’t care how beautiful and hip the venue is. I care if I can make a connection.
Sometimes the venue is fine, but the hosts decide to add their own noise with a band or a DJ. For the host, this event is an exhibition of their business, and they want to put on a great show. This may lead them to think like a wedding planner: looking for splashy fun ways to set themselves apart, and a band sure is unique.
A band can also makes it impossible to talk. While some appropriate background music can create class and ambiance, too much volume is a disaster. I attended an event with a live band under a big tent outdoors. Fortunately it was outdoors because you could tell exactly where the speakers projected sound by where people were not standing. They were there to network, not to listen to music.
The result was an awkward event where no one stayed inside the tent with the food, only dashing in a nosh and dashing back out to talk.
Networking events should be fun, but it’s not a party. It has a purpose, and if the fun interferes with the purpose, you have a bad event.
Too much interruption
Fundamentally, the payoff of a networking event is the one to one interaction. That is the value that attendees are attending to receive.
The hosts and the organizers want to make the most of the opportunity of having all these influential business people in one place, and that’s why they have announcements in the first place. However, they’ve only got 5 minutes, 10 minutes max, to let people get back to what they came for.
The host can certainly speak for 3-4 minutes about their business, especially if they are sharing information that is interesting or that the audience doesn’t know. Hosting in a 200 year old mansion, you might hold their attention a few more minutes. Got a car dealership and telling me about great deals on new models? 60 seconds and I’m on my way to the bar.
Hosts are generally pretty good about keeping it quick, mostly because the organizer is MCing and keeps them on track. The more common offender when it comes to verbosity? The organizers. Some feel the need to tell you about every upcoming event, every new program, a few old programs, etc.
If they are rattling off a rapid fire list of events and dates and times, I’m not going to remember them, and neither are you. They’re on the web site. I can go find them (or in New London County get them from the Guy Who Knows a Guy mailing list).
There are some topics which do justify a little more length. Announcing new members is good because everyone likes to hear their name announced. Giving a few people a chance to share brief announcements of upcoming events is a great way to engage people.
Also, an interruption may be in order if there is some kind of activity which facilitates better networking. For example, one young professionals event I attended did a brief round of “speed networking. You got to talk to 10 people in 15 minutes, then afterwards you could seek out those that you wanted to connect with more. Very efficient way to find the right people. Well worth the time.
Other types of events
Of course, a Business After Hours event is just one kind of networking event. Ultimately, anything that gives people the chance to meet and mingle can provide a networking value. There are formatted referral based meetings such as BNI. There are speed networking events and other structured events. Networking breakfasts and lunches, often involving a speaker or presentation are popular. Some groups organize volunteering opportunities and other forms of outreach as a way for their members to connect while working in the community.
There is no wrong way to create a networking event as long as it gives good people the opportunity to connect and build relationships in a positive environment.
Is your organization looking to run a networking workshop or creative networking event like speed networking? Michael Whitehouse can advise you or even run it for you. Click here to contact him and discuss your ideas.
When thinking of what your networking approach should be, recall the immortal words from President Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961, with a small paraphrasing.
“Ask not what your network can do for you. Ask what you can do for your network.”
In every networking interaction, you should be seeking ways to help your counterpart. This does not mean that your own needs should be a well guarded secret. You can certainly mention what you are looking for, in much the way I might casually mention that I’m looking for speaking opportunities. Your focus, however, should be on finding ways to help the person you are speaking to.
Do not be a Despero
In The Guy Who Knows a Guy, I introduced the concept of Despero. Despero is exactly what you do not want to be. He is the desperate, pushy salesman who makes you feel claustrophobic. All he cares about is what he needs to do to make a sale. He’s looking for his next meal, and you’re on the menu.
You may remember Ned Ryerson from the movie Groundhog Day. He is the epitome of what I’m talking about. He sees a friend from high school for this first time in decades and goes straight in for a close. Not only will this not close a deal. It will close off the relationship for all time.
I am chairing the Rotary Builds Business effort here in Southeastern Connecticut. Networking and community service used to be hand in hand in Rotary until the 70s and 80s brought a generation of Desperos and Ned Ryersons in to clubs across America. In response to a wave of desperate salesmen, Rotary became a “no networking” organization.
It solved the immediate problem of people trying to push their wares in Rotary meetings, but ended up weakening the organization over time. It diminished the ability to tie together the greatest needs of the community with the most important members of the business community. This is why, after many years, we’re carefully trying to reintroduce the power of networking to Rotary.
Desperos harmed one of the greatest forces for good by a terrible networking approach. So don’t be Despero. Don’t be that guy.
A better networking approach
If you’re not hustling a sale, what should you be doing?
Everyone is eternally interested in solving their own problems. They are only secondarily interested in solving yours. So, get them to talk about their problems. Get them to tell you everything in their life they would like to solve.
Then put your thinking cap on and find a resource you have that solves that problem. The resource could be someone in your network. It could be a piece of advice. Or, perhaps, the solution may, in fact, lie in something that you do sell, at which point it is entirely appropriate to mention it.
The difference between the Ned Ryerson approach and suggesting your product to solve a known problem is profound. You are not being pushy. In fact, were you to refuse to mention that your product solves their problem, wouldn’t that be a bit rude? After all, you have a solution. Why would you not share it.
They would not feel they are being sold. They would feel that you are trying to help, especially if your approach is gentle and consultative.
Even if they do not have a need to which you sell a solution, it is still quite beneficial to solve their problem. Naturally, it is beneficial to them, but it is also beneficial to you. If you have started a relationship by solving a problem, it is a much stronger relationship.
You could later call upon this individual to solve a problem of yours, or to offer you referrals.
Not quid pro quo
While most people will return the favor when you assist them, not everyone will. Perhaps they do not feel obligated. It is also possible that they simply forgot. It happens.
Don’t keep score.
If you do enough good things for others, good things will come back to you. Certainly, if you have solved a problem for someone and they are able to help you, you may gently remind them of your assistance. Don’t do it like you’re calling in a marker. Nobody likes to feel beholden. You’re not the Godfather (I assume). A gentle reminder is sufficient.
What do you do if they don’t reciprocate? Don’t worry about it. Keep solving problems and doing good in the world. It all works out very well in the end.