Earlier in my banking career, I was redeployed to the sales unit without requesting for it and on short notice. Even though I like to believe that I love taking on new challenges I took on the redeployment with a lot of anxiety and trepidation because all my years in banking, I had been told that sales was the most difficult job function to excel in as the market was saturated with several commercial banks selling the same products to the same customers.
My manager at the time tried to calm my nerves down by giving me a prep-talk by sharing some nuggets that had helped her excel to become a star sales person with several promotions and awards to show for it. She explained that like me she had been thrust into sales but that she was able to succeed by leveraging on the strength of her network. She advised me to take advantage of the people in my social circles and to always be prepared by having my call cards and a couple of account opening forms I would never know when the opportunity to meet a prospective client will come.
Armed with the “secrets of banking sales success” and having only a handful of friends who also doubled as colleagues, I called up my social butterfly cousin and told him that I now wanted to run in his social circles. He was more than pleased to include me into his circle and promptly asked me to join him to a barbecue party that was scheduled to take place the next weekend as a right of passage into his circle of high flying executives and business owners.
Armed with my business cards and a dozen account opening forms in the back seat of my car and dressed down in a cropped t-shirt and jeans I drove down to the venue of the party with high expectations. As one would expect, I left the party without opening any accounts or making any meaningful business connections although I met a few people that I am friends with to this day.
You see it would take me several months of unsuccessful networking attempts to learn that there is an art to networking and if I was going to succeed at it I would have to follow some laid down rules some of which I have outlined below:
Know your event and plan accordingly; looking back I realize that it was a networking faux pas to have gone to a party that was filled with what would be total strangers and try to get them to open accounts with my bank. I should have taken into consideration that a barbecue party is more relaxed/casual social event and as such most guests are going there to unwind and not looking to make any serious business deals or connections.
I’m not saying that you can not have success by networking at a social gathering full of strangers but your chances of succeeding at such events are slim. Some great places to network include conferences, trade shows, associations, leads groups and events specifically setup for networking.
Before going for the event, get as much information as possible, such as who would be attending and if possible their sitting arrangements, the aim is to be strategically positioned such that you can meet the people you plan on bringing into your network without too much hassle.
It also helps if you get to the event early/before the events kicks off.
Dress Appropriately: Dress as you want to be addressed, we humans are visual creatures and as much as we are told not to, would often judge a book by its cover. If you want to project the image of a serious professional capable of managing a 6-figure portfolio, you would need to dress the part.
I now realize that even though I was dressed appropriately for a barbecue party, my outfit did not project the image of a banker, one whom a client is expected to entrust their investments with hence my failure to launch.
Have your elevator pitch ready; Every sales person is expected to have an elevator pitch, a 60-second succinct and persuasive sales pitch that should use to sell yourself/products or services. It’s called an elevator pitch because it’s basically giving a brief of your business to get your concept across to a person in the time between floors in an elevator. When networking, time is very important so you don’t want to waste your time or that of your subject by beating about the bush or making meaningless small talk.
Read and speak body language fluently; to network effectively, you need to be a master on interpreting body language and unspoken cues. You are better off not making an impression than making a bad impression. Study your person of interest from a safe distance to determine if they will welcome a chat with a “stranger” and once you determine that they may be open to talking to you be sure to know when to it’s time take a friendly exit.
Follow-up: Send an email or put a call through expressing how much you enjoyed meeting the person and ask if you could get together and share ideas. I personally like to make my follow-up call within 24hrs of the meeting when the event is still fresh in the mind of the prospect.