What Are You Hungry For? Networking Don’ts and Do’s

Networking event hosts often use good, if not great food and drink (alcoholic, that is) to attract a crowd. Not a bad strategy if you are the host… However, if your survival as a company or individual depends on sales, here’s my advice: Don’t eat, drink or “sell” at networking events. What, you say? Sounds pretty radical, I know…

Let me assure you that I love food, enjoy an occasional adult beverage, and I make my living at sales. So what’s the problem? Serious business people attend networking events to meet people they don’t already know. In a nutshell, you only get 5-10 seconds to make a good first impression: Eating, drinking adult beverages, and selling are first-impression busters. For that reason, I recommend that you:

• Don’t eat: Why not? Food always gets messy. Tables are rare at these events, so you have to hold your plate at all times. Utensils, if there are any, are usually plastic and are prone to break. Try shaking hands with someone while juggling plate, fork, drink… It’s impossible. Eating with your fingers is fun, but not when you have to shake hands with a bunch of strangers! Every time I break my own rule and try to eat, invariably someone asks a question leaving me to either chew quickly (awkward) before answering, or worse yet, be tempted to talk between bites. (Oh, so attractive…)

• Don’t drink alcoholic beverages: Why not? The physiological reality of alcohol consumption is that it lowers one’s inhibitions. This causes people to say and do things they wouldn’t normally say or do, even among friends. For this reason alone I advise that you stick with any other type of beverage. If you feel “left out” you can always ask the bartender to give you soda water with lime and pretend.

• Don’t sell: Why not? No one likes to be “sold,” especially at a social event, even if “networking” does appear somewhere in the title. Networking is about meeting new people, expanding your circle of influence, connecting with and relating to others. If you are trying to sell ‘on the floor’, you violate the spirit of the gathering and will surely alienate vs. attract those you need to meet. So if you can’t eat, drink or sell, what are some constructive activities to engage in at networking events?

• Go with a purpose: Always create a goal for attending a networking event. If you dislike the whole networking scene, but ‘need to do it’, having a specific goal lets you to give yourself permission to leave once you’ve reached it! If you tend to be ‘too social’, having a goal can keep you on track with your real purpose for being there.

Realistic goals include:

  • Meet people from five companies you don’t do business with yet.
  • Have four 5-minute conversations with four people you never met before.
  • Find two people who are interested in meeting with you at an agreed upon time/date to learn more about each other’s products/services.
  • Reconnect with two of your clients, and be sure to tell them how much you appreciate their business.
  • Get your friends to introduce you to 2 specific people you have decided that you want to meet.
  • Have specific questions prepared. Create a list of 2-3 questions that help you get conversations started, which are also relevant to qualifying people as potential clients.

Examples of good questions include:

  • Business Consultants: What has been the biggest change you’ve had to make in your business the past couple years?
  • Marketing/Web Designers: What kinds of things have you done to make your website more effective at driving leads to your sales team?
  • Professional Services: I’m doing some informal research and was wondering, what quality is most important to you in the (Architect, Lawyer, Accountant, Financial Planner) you would choose to work with?
  • General: How is it you ended up in your current line of work? What do you enjoy most about your job?

• Employ the 3-Foot Rule: What is it? The rule is you must introduce yourself and ask someone their name, company and position at that company if they are within 3 feet of you. Use your prepared questions to help ‘break the ice’. Be proactive and approach people who are standing alone. They will be grateful that you took the initiative. If your friends are in range, ask them to introduce you to someone they know, but you don’t. That way you engage your friend to help you advance toward meeting your networking goals.

If we run into each other at future networking events, you should be able to catch me following my own advice. Though I must admit, the infamous sticky buns at Allenberry usually get the better of me… Happy networking!

Originally published in the Central Penn Business Journal.

Deborah L. Brown is the founder of Sales4You, a Mechanicsburg, PA business development coaching firm that specializes in helping people have fun breaking through to higher profits. Deborah can be reached with comments or questions at Deb@SalesFourYou.com.