With a career in sales or business, is networking an art or science? My response is, “A little bit of both.”
The old saying in any sales career is, “people buy from people.” That is more important today than ever before. The most successful people in sales and business are those that make a personal connection to others. As a Business Development Executive, I focus on establishing my relationship with clients and business partners. That is why it is so important to have a strong network of trusted people throughout your career.
Some best practices that I have found helpful in developing and sustaining a strong network is:
- Maintain names and contact information in your personal contact application, such as Contacts on your iPhone or Microsoft O365. With business cards a thing of the past, I post my contact information in the chat during online meetings and virtual conferences. Connecting on LinkedIn is also a good follow up after meeting with someone for the first time.
- Connect on a personal level. Ask, “what can I do to help you”? Networking is about collaborating by giving something to the network, which will enrich the relationship(s) and support the common goals and interests.
- Take notes. I usually ask, “Do you mind if I take a few notes?” The response that I always receive is, “No, I don’t mind.” Taking notes has several benefits when networking. It shows that you are genuinely interested in the conversation, and it also draws others into the topic. Note-taking is also very good for any recall later or follow up needed. Sometimes, I even share my notes after the meeting or call.
- Send annual card/email during holidays or special events. When it comes to making the yearly connection with family, friends, and colleagues, I still send holiday cards by mail. Mailing cards is undoubtedly becoming less popular with digital communications and the expense of printing, and mailing the cards is not economical. However, I still feel connecting to those on my holiday card list as part of my annual tradition. There is usually a text message back from someone I haven’t heard from in a while that will comment on my now-adult children or our dog. It is a small gesture that goes a long way.
- Participate in digital engagement and social collaboration. Online networking in 2021 is what we do, like it or not. Yes, “Zoom” meetings and happy hours are what we do in 2021. I do miss early breakfast meetings, crowded trade shows, and just talking to strangers while on “booth duty.” Social and digital networking is not new but learning how to interact and present yourself online is more important than ever. Some people are just naturals. When I participate in an online meeting, I focus on the speakers and the content (no multi-tasking), and I try to engage everyone on the call by asking a few open and closed questions. Bring energy and your online persona to the meeting and be “webcam” ready at all times.
- Volunteer. Some of my most rewarding personal and professional achievements have come from volunteering. My time spent with my teams and peers at local non-profit organizations brought both a sense of accomplishment and team building. In my personal life, I contribute to my local communities with many of the same skills I use in my professional career. The purpose of giving back for the greater good is priceless. The networking is secondary to the overall experience.
- Engage in professional organizations. Professional organizations are practically synonymous with networking with peers in a sales or business development role. Often, the organization will call for members to support committees and leadership roles on topics or planning conferences.
If you have other networking best practices, please post your thoughts and ideas. The exchange of ideas and points of view is the ultimate outcome of networking!
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