business networkingThere are many ways to generate new business, particularly online. Driving traffic to a website is easier than ever with improved SEO content, social networking, and inbound marketing. Networking has become a buzzword for utilizing leads and prospects generated from your website. But what about networking in person? Is the good old handshake a discarded old-fashioned tactic in today’s world of email and social media, or does it still work to generate leads and increase sales?

Who does it? Any entrepreneur, sales person, business owner, or company representative should consider the opportunities that abound for networking at trade shows, conferences, symposia, expos, and social situations of all types. Whenever there is a person-to-person encounter, there is potential for acquiring new clients. Nothing is more rewarding than presenting the features and benefits of your product or service to a live prospect. At public meetings, you have a captive audience. People congregate because they are potentially interested in what you have to offer. Your expertise will convert indifference into enthusiasm and subsequent purchases.

Networking may take place at a cocktail party or organized gathering that is informal and unstructured. However, it may also occur at a trade show booth or during a professional speech or panel discussion. Whenever you represent your business, you are selling. True, you are providing information, but you are also answering questions and meeting needs—overt or covert—that translate into sales.

Your role is to instigate thoughts and ideas in the prospect by offering solutions to their problems. For example, if you represent a manufacturing company at a trade show, you may target prospects by suggesting typical reasons for doing business, like the need for faster production, the ability to use various materials, better quality control, or lighter weight construction, etc. You might provide what is called a “general benefit statement,” such as: “Many of you are unhappy with how long it takes to bring a product from prototype to production.”

On the other hand, if you are engaged in conversation at a mixer, a prospect may simply have some questions or ask for literature. Listen to them, and ask light but probing questions to stimulate deeper conversation and draw out their needs. Your questions can uncover other concerns that will help you understand the prospect’s business challenges, and will present you as a thoughtful expert who can not only provide a solution, but is truly concerned about the prospect’s success.

Networking is not a game of cat and mouse. Be clear and forthcoming about what you do and how it will help someone achieve their objectives, long or short term. After all, it’s all about them. The more you talk about yourself and your product, the more they will tune out. You must uncover their interests and concerns and address them. Listening is the art of professional sales. People like to talk about themselves. They will tell you about their latest product ideas, their great website, their business plans, etc. File it away in your memory, ready to be recovered for future conversations.

Network to make connections. Don’t try to close the deal on the spot. Most networking involves a process of scheduling a consultation or meeting down the road. It is not just about exchanging business cards, but getting a real commitment. At the very least, you can gauge interest and acquire contact information, such as addresses, emails, phone numbers, etc. for your prospecting database.