A guide to effective networking

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing and sharing a basic guide on Effective Networking that was developed by Steve Royal of Royal Associates.

His company provides a unique problem-solving process called “Prioritized Problem Resolution (PPR).”  As experts in problem solving, the organization provides the process to the people who are experts in what they do. Together, problems are resolved in a way that they will never occur again – maybe we will see evidence of it in his guide!

Steve, why did you develop the Effective Networking Guide?

Having attended numerous networking events without much success in generating leads for my business, I used several ideas learned in a training course I attended in “non-traditional” sales techniques. I applied these techniques in the development of basic networking techniques.

The networking process which resulted is designed to be used if a person is truly serious about generating leads by networking with a group of people who he or she has never met. This process virtually guarantees success in providing appointments or other follow-up because the consultant (or anyone else) can help solve the prospect’s most serious problem.

What other kinds of situations can someone use this approach in?

This networking process can be modified to fit any situation if a desired outcome is specified ahead of time. The questions can be changed to lead the other person to express his or her need or want, after which the consultant can indicate that they will be able to help in attaining that result.

If someone just wants to chat with me what do I do?

If someone doesn’t want to give you an appointment, that’s fine. There are other acceptable options, such as setting a time to call or to ask the person what they think should happen next to resolve their problem. Or, you can excuse yourself and move on to the next prospect.

What do I do if someone just doesn’t want to give me an appointment?

If someone is very reluctant to give you an appointment, you can just tell the person that this is OK. You can also ask them when would be a good time to call, or ask them if they think it’s worth getting together with you at all. If not, excuse yourself and move on. You can also indicate that you’re glad it’s their problem and not yours, and wish them luck.

How can I move on gracefully to the next person?

Exiting a conversation gracefully is an easy three step process.

  1. Start with, “Thanks for talking with me.”
  2. Provide an urgent transition, such as, “I’ve got a call to make,” I am supposed to meet my wife,” “I’ve got an appointment,” etc.
  3. Suggest something as a follow up, such as, “Here’s my card, call me,” or, “If I run across anyone who needs the kind of services you offer, I’ll refer them to you,” or “I’ll catch you at the next networking event where we meet,” etc.

How many appointments should I get at an event? Do I go after quantity or quality?

If you have followed the networking process carefully and successfully, you will have found where the prospect’s real issues are, especially the one causing the most pain. If your business can truly help in relieving that pain and the prospect asks you to help them, go for it. That is a quality lead. Close on just a few of those and you’ll have plenty of work.

You could go on many appointments, but if none of them lead to work for you, it’s likely you haven’t perfected the networking process yet. The best thing to do is to keep networking and keep practicing until you improve the quality of your appointments.

Steve has generously agreed to share his effective networking process with us here today.

Effective Networking – A Basic Guide

©Steve Royal – Royal Associates 2011

The Scenario:

You are at a networking function with a large group of people, most of whom you have never met.

Your goals are:

  1. To make as many appointments with prospective clients as possible or
  2. To make an appointment to call them or
  3. To identify the best possible way to contact them later.

The Reason to Attend a Networking Event:

People at this networking event are there for one reason—to meet other people and develop relationships that might lead to solving their problems.

Who Are All These People?

The people attending this event are all different. While many of them may all have the same objective, very few have the networking skills that you do.

Skills, What Skills?

You will know exactly what you are going to say when you meet somebody new.

THINGS TO REMEMBER

The only goal is to strive to set up an appointment—no more than that.

  • DO NOT get into the details of your business!!! You will tell them what you do at the appointment.
  • Find out what they need. Keep asking until you find some real PAIN.
  • Prospects buy based on their emotions; then they justify it later.
  • Your product knowledge is worthless if it doesn’t solve the prospect’s problem.
  • Your presentation comes at the next interaction with the client, NOT at this networking event.

BASIC INTERACTION PROCESS

  1. Create Bonding and Rapport
  2. Find their PAIN
  3. Offer to Help
  4. Make an appointment

EXAMPLE (for a gathering of college students)

Your goal: To be in total control of the conversation at all times!

So, What Am I Going to Say?

Limit the small talk—it takes too much time and is not productive.

Create Bonding and Rapport

You: “Hi, how are you this morning/afternoon/evening?”

Prospect: “Fine, how about you?”

You: “I’m doing fine, also. What brings you to this gathering?”

Prospect: “I came for the presentation; I’m looking for learn something; to meet people; (or whatever).”

You: “Really, how interesting. Tell me, what are your specific interests at this meeting?”

Prospect: “I‘m interested in the (whatever) subject (+ blah, blah).

Find the Pain

You: “Very good! The fact that you’re here must mean that you’re looking for something. What is your biggest problem right now?

Prospect: “I need more sales, better marketing, (or whatever they say).

You: “Let me ask you a question, “What would you say if I told you that I am in a business that might be able to help you solve your problem?

Prospect (hopefully!): “Gee, I might be interested.”

You: “Tell me a more about your problem. (Wait for the answer). Then ask, “What have you done to deal with this problem so far?”

Prospect: “Nothing;” or I’m thinking about it,” or I don’t know what to do.”

You: “So it sounds like you could use some help?”

Prospect: “Absolutely,” or, “It might help,” or “Maybe”.

You: “So, you’d really like to solve this problem, RIGHT?”

Prospect: “Yes, I sure would.”

Offer to Help

You: “You know, I really think that I might be able to help you solve your problem. What do you think about that?”

Prospect: “That would be great. And just how could you do that?”

You: “Well, let’s just say that I have helped people with problems like yours in the past. This is probably the wrong place to discuss how I could help you, though. It might make sense for us to get together later to talk about it—what do you think?”

Prospect: “Why don’t you tell me what you do?”

Make an Appointment

You: “I could spend hours telling you what I do, but I think that your time would be better spent if I made sure that what I told you would be related to your needs.” How about if we get together later this week (or next week) to discuss how my company can help you solve your problem?

Prospect: “OK.”

Do this NOW

  • Make an appointment immediately (preferable) or
  • Make an appointment to call the prospect to set up an appointment or
  • Get his/her business card and ask what the best way would be for you to set up an appointment.

Follow up, follow up and follow up!

Steve and I will also be using the process at an upcoming Networking Program with the Rochester Professional Consultants Network on May 13, 2011. Join us – for more details and to sign up go to the RPCN website.

Safe: At Home

The notion of becoming safe – what does it mean to you? Does it involve being at home? Not just physically at home, think about emotionally being at home….with yourself.

While I was climbing the corporate ladder, I always thought I was at home, but I was not. I was more caught up in the excitement of the moment or striving to do what the company or my boss wanted.

My life revolved around my work. I had very few outside friends and activities because I was a workaholic and an over achiever. I thought everything was great.

Don’t get me wrong. I made those choices. The work experiences laid the ground work for my business today. It also led me to being at home too.

In 2000, I made the decision to become an entrepreneur. I thought it would be a good challenging next step. Physically, intellectually and financially, I was ready. Emotionally, I had some work to do.

There was a shift from having a support system at work to being alone and working at home. Gone were the people you managed. A network of colleagues became critical to my success – business owners – and I had to build mine from scratch in a city where I had relocated the previous year. That was tough – a new business, new city and no connections.

A new sphere of influence emerges when the power of having a recognized company or organization behind you is gone. Alone, you have to find your purpose, your mission and your voice. It might sound easy, but it is not.

What you say becomes more important. What you say and do is what you stand for. You will be tested and face some of your most difficult decisions. When you are facing a dwindling bank balance and someone dangles a lucrative deal in front of you that compromises your principles, you will learn a lot about yourself.

Earlier I said it was not easy. Here is why. You have to overcome self-doubt. When you show more of yourself, some people may not like you or the decisions you make. If you are a pleaser or a chameleon, I would venture it is hard to be at home.

Safe, being at home to me is knowing who you are, what you do well and being confident to express it publicly – it is your personal brand. It means standing up for judgement and feeling good about it, even though it might hurt.

Many thanks to Dwane Lay at Lean HR for hosting this month’s HR Carnival. You can read how other HR thought leaders responded to writing about the title: Safe at Home on his blog.

My 10 website pet peeves and ways to improve your online presence

I look at a lot of websites every week. There are a number of reasons I go to someone’s website -I might be getting ready to meet someone in person, have a conversation by phone or I am researching a company for my new AssessmentRatings.com website.

Regardless of the reason, there are a number of things I notice that tell me something about the person or business and how they treat their brand. Your web presence is a direct reflection of how you communicate to your customers. Here are my top ten pet peeves:

  1. Who are they interested in? Your landing page says a lot about your business focus. Is your home page all about you or your client/customer? It takes less than 10 seconds for someone to decide to stay longer or leave. You decide which is more important.
  2. I have to hunt for your contact information and a way to get in touch with you. There is no phone number or email address, only a contact form which does not get answered – weeks later.
  3. Your email account is a gmail account. If you own the domain, establish your email through your domain. Why miss a personal branding opportunity? You can continue to use gmail by using google’s free apps and have your domain name prominent.
  4. Technology is your business and your website stinks. The story about the cobbler who forgets to make shoes for his kids because he is too busy with his customers is no excuse. Your site reflects the work you can do. If you don’t care enough about your business, what makes you think I believe you will care about mine?
  5. You do not have a website. Believe it or not, there are some people who think this is a selling point. You just lost my sale. I lose confidence in someone who is afraid of making a clear open statement about what they do.
  6. There is no search option. How can I find what I want without having to go through all your pages? If that is your intent, I probably will go somewhere else before I spend the next 15 minutes trying to find it.
  7. Who owns the business? There is no mention of an owner, CEO or president – only the word “we” which tells me you are actually running it solo and trying to make it seem like you have a kingdom.
  8. You have a blog that is defunct. You might have a post or two or you abandoned writing for it months ago. Get rid of it or archive the posts into articles if they provide valuable information.
  9. There are social media icons plastered on your site; however, you do not use them effectively. Your profiles may be outdated or they are not in use.
  10. Your website has not been updated for years. The links are broken. The site looks tired. It makes me think you might be tired too.

What are your chances of picking up the phone to contact someone? I will be you have a few pet peeves – what are they? This could get interesting.

Language that sells

language of new product development processesYou may have the greatest new product or service in the world, but if you can’t get buyers’ attention and communicate in their language, you will struggle with accelerating new product development.

Here are four levels that your marketing and sales must follow to effectively capture customers’ attention and lead them through the buying process.

1. Strong Benefit
Research shows that multiple benefits weaken the effectiveness of a benefit statement. A single strong benefit is always more compelling.

What is the primary way your product or service benefits the customer? What problem does it solve? Does it helps them sell more, free up working capital, or reduce operating expenses?

In consumer markets, convenience and stress reduction are hot benefits. What can you do to free up time for your customers?

2. Unique Advantages
Why is your product or service able to deliver those benefits better than the competitive alternatives? How is it both different and better than everything else out there?

If your product creates a new category, you must also explain how your product relates to the old way of doing things and what”s different that makes it better. For instance, a smartphone is like a cellphone but more convenient because it integrates your calendar, contact manager and email.

3. Features
What creates the advantages of your product? Features drill down into the advantages showing how they are achieved. Customers buy benefits, but features help them understand how you achieve an advantage in delivering the benefits.

4. Functions
How do users interact with the features of your product? What will it be like to do their job using your product.

You can tell them, but it’s always better to show them. This is the role of demonstrations, pilots, or test drives. Social media is becoming increasingly important here as more and more users share their experience.

How all 4 of these relate to the buyer’s problems

It’s critical that you articulate any of these 4 levels in a way that resonates with what the buyer is paid to manage and the problems they experience in doing it. So if you are selling at the executive level, that means problem/benefit statements must be related to corporate measures like net profit, earnings and shareholder value. Start talking to them about reducing cost per unit and you’ve lost their interest.

On the other hand, middle managers’ pain is focused on the line items in their budgets. Start talking about increase in earnings per share and you won’t connect with them either. It’s all about tailoring the message to the audience.

As a rule of thumb, the higher your product is sold in the organization, the less deeply your marketing should go into features and functions. That doesn’t mean the information shouldn’t be communicated. You just shouldn’t lead with it.

Simple Bottom Line

For maximum impact, build your marketing message around customer benefits and then offer the ability to drill down layer by layer into advantages, then features, and finally functions. Also, speak in the buyers language meaning that benefits might be at an executive or middle management level, but features and functions should be directed towards the users and other functional experts that will interact with your product.

This article appears by permission of the author and was originally published on his Simplifying Innovation blog.

Dalton on Innovation

Mike Dalton is the author of Simplifying Innovation: Doubling speed to market and new product profits – with your existing resources


Project delays test perseverance and commitment

Lately, I have been challenged by a problem. The trouble with it is that it is something I really want to do and I keep running into roadblocks. When is the last time you faced something that seemed to be impossible to conquer? Do you find that you doubt yourself?

In the past, my motto has been to go with the path of least resistance. Roadblocks might be telling you to move on. The energy you expend making something work that is unworkable can very draining. Then there is the adage, nothing good in life is free, meaning you have to work at it.

A colleague encourages me to keep going. “Everyone you have talked to says this project has value. It is not the project; your problem is finding people who want to do the work.”

It is hard to believe with unemployment so high, but true.

So here is the situation: I want to launch a new website. The idea was conceived in early 2009 and it has been nine months since writing the specifications for the site. Since then, I have been through two Drupal website programmers.

The first one was probably overqualified and my site does not fit the profile of his clients. It took us about two months to figure out it was not a good match. His projects usually run $75,000 and up.

After we parted ways, I stepped back and decided to teach myself a bit of Drupal. First, it would give me a better way to communicate with the programmer and second, to gauge the kind of programmer I needed for the project.

Several months into the learning curve, I was starting to develop the test site. I fancy technology.

Knowing that I can be an overachiever, it was important to step back and let someone else do the technical parts. There is more to a website than the framework and structure and content needed to be my primary focus.

Fortunately, the first Drupal programmer and I left on good terms and he offered to refer someone who would be a better fit for the size of my project. That was about three months ago.

The new programmer and I come to terms. He begins work on 6/24 to develop the “test site” within 3 weeks; an estimate of 20-25 hours of work.

Several weeks later, I called to find out how things were progressing; I had not heard from him or seen anything. Were there any questions?

He responds that quite a bit of work is done and he’s plugging away at it.

A week goes by and I have not seen anything. I am beginning to get a bit concerned and I follow up with him.

Six and a half weeks into the project, I get to see progress on the site; development is severely handicapped.

It’s time for a conversation. He has been ill and there have been family issues over the last month. He is embarrassed that the project is not done. He offers to let me find someone else or if I want he will continue to work on it.

At this point, the thought of looking for yet another programmer is not my first option. If he will invest the time (remember this is a 20-25 hour job), I am willing push through with him.

A question nags at me though, why did he not tell me about the delays earlier?

He says he’s going to focus on the project for the next few days.

It remains dormant for the next few weeks.

Almost 60 days into the project, I call again on a Friday.

On Monday, there is an email notice from his bank sending a full refund of my deposit due to a project delay. To his credit, he did what was fair.

Perseverance is another one of my strengths. I think my colleague is right, it is not the idea. There is something about my selection process that is not working.

So now, I am in the market for an experienced Drupal programmer to get the test website in action. Some key attributes and skills: technical know-how, accountable, manages project and time efficiently, problem solver, ethical, enthusiastic, easy to work with and most importantly- a proactive communicator. Recommendations?

Four questions new consultants ask

Being a consultant is one option that many people consider when going through job changes. They reason, if I can’t find a job, I might as well get some pick up work until the right job comes along.

It is usually about this time that someone wants to sit down and find out more before they jump into the cesspool.

The questions are almost always the same – here are a couple of them. Hopefully, you can benefit from them and add your own 2 cents.

Where do you get clients? This is the million dollar question. Your clients will come from several sources:

  1. Personal networking
  2. Referrals
  3. Website
  4. Blogging
  5. Advertising
  6. Speaking engagements
  7. Publishing a book
  8. Publishing articles in trade journals or other print media
  9. Social networking

When you start out, pick 2-3 initiatives that you believe you can do well and follow through to completion or for at for the next year to see the results. Most of these strategies accomplish similar things – increasing visibility, building credibility, building relationships and expanding your audience reach.

Don’t get discouraged if you fail to see results immediately. Think of it as leaving a bread crumb trail that follows back to one place – you.

If you try to do them all at once, you will either give up too early, fail or do them poorly.

Ten years ago, my initial thrust was networking and speaking engagements. My strategy was to cover a three state networking circuit before taking on any projects. During my networking sweep I was offered my first consulting gig.

A critical piece of feedback from my network was to get a website in place. They were very clear – websites effectively replace the paper marketing materials and becomes your virtual calling card.

The advice was dead on – a client found me on my website because I was an HBDI practitioner and they needed someone in a pinch and they became a repeat client.

Depending on your business focus, you may find it essential to network beyond your first level connections. Hopefully you have a good starting base in your personal network, if you have less than 300 people, start building it here.

There has been substantially more business from second and third level connections, casual acquaintances or strangers. Inherently, I think people want to separate business and personal relationships unless you are in an embedded community.

What do I charge? It depends on a number of factors:

  1. your skill set
  2. how much you want to work
  3. who your clients are
  4. where your clients are

If your work is local and with small businesses, what you can charge will depend on how saturated your competitive market is for your services. If you have unique skills or capabilities, you will be able to demand a higher fee structure.

It can be difficult to ascertain your own worth without doing some research. Inquire what others are charging. Some may share it, some will not.

One of the best sources for figuring out what to charge is in Alan Weiss’s book, Million Dollar Consulting or any of his follow up books such as Value-Based Fees: How to Charge – and Get – What You’re Worth.

Can I make a living? Being successful will take time. Unless you are walking out of your company with a consulting contract, you can expect to fund your business rather than take profits for the first year.

While you may have been successful in the corporate world, the reality is you are likely to start all over again. People associate you with the company you were with and in the job you were doing for them. Now you are a solo practitioner without a support system and they want to see if you can do it.

Clients can be risk adverse. They would rather choose a proven entity rather than take a chance on you. One fear is that you might continue to search for full-time employment and leave them in a lurch in the middle of a project.

Yes, it is a catch-22. You have to work to prove you can be reliable and do the work.

Hopefully, there is someone in your network that will believe in you and give you your first consulting assignment.

If not, the option is to do pro-bono work in exchange for some recommendations…and that’s why you have to be able to carry your personal finances for at least a year. It is important to get some kind of benefit out of the work you do for free to help you get established.

Can we partner together? This is a question that comes up a lot in discussions between consultants, and is not limited to new ones. What the other person is usually saying is one or more of the following:

  1. I don’t have a client
  2. I want to do the work
  3. Sales and marketing scares me

Running a business requires wearing a lot of hats. There is no corporate structure to tap into do the marketing, sales, accounting and delivery of services.

Outsourcing accounting is an obvious decision that often makes sense financially. As you evaluate who should do the sales and marketing, the decision to let someone else do it for you can cut deeply into your profitability.

If you are in business for the long run, it is best to learn how to do it. You can either elect the trial by fire method and business ramps up more slowly or invest in training or coaching on how to do it. Be selective about who you choose because there are many selling styles and approaches.

One way to handle this statement is to let the other person know that when they have a client and need some help – that’s a good time to call you; otherwise most of this is just smoke and mirrors. I have lost count the number of people who leave an introduction with that suggestion and you never hear from them.

If you are a consultant, let us know your thoughts on the above questions. If you are starting out and have a question to ask, leave it in the comment area. I’ll be addressing some other questions in a follow up post.

Two things set successful consultants and entrepreneurs apart

The excitement of being an entrepreneur…and the self-doubt of can I do it. It is easy to second guess ourselves. It takes more than an idea.

Today, Bob Lurz and I were at RochesterWorks to present “what it means to be a consultant” and to let the group know that the Rochester Professional Consultant’s Network (RPCN) is a place to 1) network, 2) learn and 3) find support.

The room is filled with about twenty people who are currently on the job market. Their choices are to find employment with a company or think about starting their own company.

We introduce ourselves and ask them to tell us who they are and what kind of business they are thinking of starting up.

The diversity of experience is amazing. The range of ideas we listen to include: retail store, digital imaging, gardening & landscaping, clothing store, regulatory affairs, digital video, fashion clothing line, music company, horse farm, administrative services and project management.

Bob shares the two things that are key qualities of a successful consultant: building relationships and trust.

It’s time to ask them what their greatest fear is in starting a business. Immediately, there are hands in the air. The list comes easily:

 

SWOT Analysis

Branding Your Business

It is important to ask “what sets me apart from my competition?” Do the research on your competitors. Conduct a SWOT analysis on your business and your competitors. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Use this information to elevate yourself from the competition. There is no reason to “bad mouth” them.  Talking your competition down will decrease your customer or client’s trust in you.

Know what your “niche” is and help people to equate you to this area of expertise. When someone has a problem, they want to find the expert, not the generalist to solve it.

If you are master of everything, no one will remember you for the one thing you really want to do.

Marketing Your Business

How do I get the message out? Visibility is important. The key ways consultants find customer/clients is through networking, speaking, writing and having a web site presence.

I share a story about when I started my first business ten years ago. I went on three marketing trips to visit people I had worked with in earlier companies.

My purpose was not to “get work”. It was to ask for feedback on my business plan and to raise awareness of my intent to work independently as a consultant.

Mike asked if I had a website. I did not. He told me that was a glaring omission. I listened to him.

Two years later, I landed a major client from my website because the company was looking for a certified HBDI practitioner and trainer to do sessions in their leadership development program.

If it was important then, it is essential now.

Networking Builds Relationships

“It is not my strength, is it necessary?” someone asks. Networking is at the crux of building relationships. It can be done virtually or in person. LinkedIn and this blog gives me access to people outside of Rochester, NY (that’s important if your business is global).

Networking is about the other person, not about you. When someone approaches you about what they do first, how receptive are you to them?

Overwhelmingly, the response from the group is “not at all”. There is a low degree of trustworthiness.

Consider the quality of your network over how big your network is.

Value Proposition

Can I sell my services for what I think I am worth? There are buyers at all price levels for similar services or products.

As an example, a car’s basic function is transportation. The range we are willing to pay for a car may vary because of brand, extras, service or any number of differentiations.

The gardener who doubts that someone will pay $25/hr. for her work simply has to show why someone wants to her to do the work and market it to the people who can afford it.

Would a website showing before and after pictures be an effective way to display her quality of work? If your clients talk about how they feel about their new gardens or the pride of ownership, will that inspire others to contact you?

When we tap into the emotional part of a decision, we can influence our buyer to act more quickly. Think about how you can engage their heart, soul and mind.

It ties Back to Relationships & Trust

Our relationships with our colleagues, clients or customers are built on trust. If they trust us, they will pay more if we can provide what they need.

They know they can count on us to be there or to back up our product or services. They know they will be treated fairly.

If trust is absent, it will not matter how inexpensive you are – the business will go to the competition and someone they trust.

I hope to see some of you at a future RPCN meeting with other consultants.