The IT Marketing Crash Course

Written by Raj Khera
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Chapter 6: Networking Tips

"In sales, a referral is the key to the door of resistance." — Bo Bennett

What Every Business Owner Wants: A Live Lead

There is one networking strategy that works like magic: giving your new contact a live lead. It is by far the #1 way to get someone to return your call or reply to your email. Every business owner wants a qualified lead that helps them make more money. Providing the gift of a live lead will make a lasting impression and start a dialog where none existed before.

Where do you find leads to share? It's a lot easier than you might think. Here's how:

Suppose you come across someone who is looking to hire a graphic designer. Maybe you saw a posting on LinkedIn or someone mentioned it at a networking event. If you are a managed services provider, then graphic design might not be in your roster of services. But, someone in your network or extended network might know just the right person to fit the bill.

Instead of letting that casual comment about someone else's need fall by the wayside, you can use the opportunity to reach out to someone you would like to connect with. Can anyone in your circles in LinkedIn, Facebook, professional groups, or your client or prospect base provide graphic design services? Finding someone in your prospect base is ideal because it creates a unique opportunity for everyone involved.

Once you identify several companies that might be interested in the opportunity, reach out with an email. The subject line should simply say, "Can you help with this lead for graphic design services?"

Your email can read like this:

Bob, I just came across a business lead and I thought of you. A colleague of mine is looking for graphic design services for his new website. If this might be a fit for your business, please let me know and I'll connect you. If not, no worries... I'm happy to send along other leads as I come across them.

Next, send an email to the person in search of graphic design services. It could say this:

Jody, I know of a couple of companies who might be able to help you with your graphic design requirement. Let me know if you'd like me to connect you.

What usually happens next is pretty amazing. If you send this lead to a prospect, they are extremely likely to reach out. In other words, that prospect who you've been trying to get in touch with for months will likely be contacting you.

The key is not to give away all the lead's information in your email. Your goal is to get that person to reach back to you so that you can establish a personal connection. This method works because you are giving someone business, or trying to solve an issue they are facing. These things show everyone you connect with that you are looking out for their interests, even if the opportunity doesn't work out.

This also affords you the perfect opportunity to create a dialog with your prospect and work the product or service that you sell into the conversation.

So, if you're having trouble reaching out to someone because they aren't returning your phone calls, find a lead to send them. It's a very successful tactic that gets attention quickly. You can find opportunities to share everywhere; you just have to keep your eyes peeled and your ears open. Whenever you hear about a need that you can't fulfill, find someone who can and make the connections.

There are several other ways to get a newly found networking contact to connect after you meet them. Offer something they need:

  • A way to make more money
  • A way to cut costs
  • A way to save time and increase productivity
  • A way to achieve peace of mind

You can read more about these strategies in the full version of this guide: The IT Marketing Crash Course.

Networking in a Nutshell: Be the Connector

Cultivating a rich network that provides new business takes time and effort. Your energy is best spent on targeted efforts that have a deliberate outcome.

What do you do when you meet someone who is looking to get advice or to have work done? Just being the connection between two people can position you as the person who can help others find resources.

Where to Meet Prospects

Join organizations that your customers belong to. Don't just join associations filled with the same types of companies as yours.

Remember Ed Mana of Technology On Demand, who I introduced to you in Chapter 1? Since Ed is an MSP, he is likely already involved in a professional organization or two that focuses on the types of technology services he provides. But, his target market is not at the networking events Ed attends.

Ed's best bet for prospecting is to join an audio-visual association in his local area. Attending those meetings would place him directly in front of a pool of targeted prospects. If a couple of these prospects become clients, Ed can easily expand his reach since these business owners are likely to talk to each other. Just by getting involved in a wider association network, Ed could become the MSP provider of choice in his niche.

What to Do

It is not enough just to join a bunch of associations — you need to be active to get the most bang for your membership buck. I only join an association if I know that I will become an active member in the very first year, and I will get on the board within the first few years.

Once you become an officer or board member, the connections really start to happen. Other members come to you to find ways to get involved, etc., and you become a hub and will meet many more people than if you were the type of member who just occasionally shows up for meetings.

If all you do is attend meetings, you are selling yourself short and missing out on ready-made opportunities to expand your MSP marketing to a broader base of prospects.

What to Say

Once you have the opportunity to speak with a prospect, what you say isn't as important as what you don't say. Don't start pitching your services or just talking about yourself. Get them to talk about themselves by asking questions and focusing on what they have to say.

When I meet new people, I like to ask the following question:

What kind of issues are you facing right now as you grow your business?

This question sets the stage for people to share their business needs. Don't ask this superficially. If you really aren't interested, they will notice because you will likely appear distracted when they answer. I ask questions like this genuinely all the time. Putting an emphasis on helping the people you meet creates goodwill. If I find that they are looking for help in a particular area, I think about who in my network I can connect them to for follow up.

Most people enjoy talking about themselves and their issues, so when you ask this question and are honestly interest, they are likely to open up to you. It doesn't matter what your background is or your specialty.

When you listen carefully, you can spot opportunities to help people solve their problems. You can work your 30-second elevator pitch into the conversation if you feel you may be able to help them solve a problem by leveraging your network.

How to Follow Up

After you have made a connection and exchanged business cards at a networking event, don't let that connection wither away. First, add your new contacts to your email list and to your LinkedIn account.

Next, make yourself stand out from the pack by doing this one simple thing. I have personalized, folded note cards that have my name on the front. The inside of the card is blank. When I meet someone to whom I'd like to extend an extra "nice to meet you" or "thank you," whether they've given me a referral or invited me to a nice business event, I use these cards to send a quick note. I say something short like this:

Mike, it was great seeing you at the business social last week. Let's keep in touch.

When I mail a handwritten note like this, people tend to remember me because so few take the time and care to personalize a connection in this way.

Another way to use the handwritten note is to personally thank a speaker for his or her contribution and insight at an event you attended. Imagine that you are waiting in a line of about 25 people to shake hands and exchange business cards with a speaker at a networking event. By the time you get to the front of that line, you can bet the speaker won't be able to remember you from the next guy.

Use the note card method to reach out and personally thank the speaker for his presentation. Include your business card, and mail it out the next day. Add this sentence to your note: "Look for my LinkedIn connection request online." There's a very good chance that the speaker will remember you.

Speaking of business cards, be sure to include your vCard in all follow up emails, too. That way, the recipient has all your contact information immediately and you can become part of their contact list with a simple click.

When you supplement your in-person and electronic communication with the type of personal connection I discussed above, you are reinforcing any connections you make. It may not work with everyone, but it will make a memorable impression on those who are interested in networking as well.

Offer an Incentive

Paul Tomlinson, CEO of Mirus IT Solutions in England, encourages happy customers to talk about his company and send him more business. To get feedback, he sends automated customer satisfaction emails to his clients through a professional services automation tool.

When someone rates his company's service very highly, he sends another automated email asking for a referral. He offers an incentive. Anyone who refers a prospect to Mirus is entered into a monthly drawing for a two-night stay at a local spa and is given a bottle of champagne — regardless of whether the referral turns into a customer or not. The bottle is delivered personally by the client's account manager to reinforce the personal touch.

Imagine the warm feeling you would give your clients if you brought a bottle of champagne as an expression of gratitude on your next appointment. The client might not remember what you talk about that day, but they will always remember the kind gesture. They may also be motivated to send you more referrals.

Although Paul employs many different techniques to generate leads, referrals account for 50% of all new business. He gets about four new qualified leads from referrals each month and converts them into customers 90% of the time.

Tying It All Together

Here's a summary of what I have found to be the top tips for networking:

  1. Get actively and visibly involved in associations you belong to. Seek out ones that extend into your clients' industry focus so you get in front of others like your current client base — those are the people who could buy your services.
  2. When you meet people, get them to talk about themselves — be careful not to spend most of your interaction doing the talking yourself. Ask them what issues they are currently facing in their business, and think of people in your network who could help them if the issues fall outside your area of expertise.
  3. Once you have made a connection, follow up to be sure you are remembered.
  4. Most importantly, be a connector. Seek out and share leads so you can be that connector between someone who has a specific business need and a prospect who can fulfill that need — and with whom you can nurture your own business relationship.
  5. Say thanks when you get a referral. Whether you send a handwritten note or a bottle of champagne, acknowledge the person who thought of you, even if their referral did not turn into new business.

Checklist: Your Next Steps

  • Start leveraging your LinkedIn network, as well as your in-person network, to help people find what they're looking for, including: a live lead, a way to make more money, a way to cut costs, a way to save time and increase productivity, and a way to achieve peace of mind. Make a point to scan LinkedIn and other social networks for both business needs and people who could fulfill those needs, on a regular basis.
  • Look for organizations outside your regular network or industry. Are there any you could join that would connect you with new prospects?
  • Make a plan to become active in any organizations you join. Can you work towards becoming a board member or getting involved on a committee within the organization?
  • Practice your networking skills, and remember to ask open-ended questions that get people talking about their business needs and the problems they are currently facing. Could your listening skills need some fine-tuning?
  • Develop your own system for following up with people you meet at networking events. Besides exchanging business cards, would you benefit from sending a vCard or even a handwritten note?
  • Embrace your new role as a connector; seek out and share leads, and leverage your connections to help people you would like to do business with.