This post will eventually devolve into a diatribe about sales tactics and techniques. That process is inevitable, as I see it, because the primary goal you are trying to achieve when networking is to get others to “buy” you, buy your brand, and establish you in their mind’s eye as an attractive source for what you’re selling. The process might be a gradual one, but that is your end goal.
Yep, it’s a sales thing. I say that with no small amount of trepidation because I consider being a “salesperson” tantamount to having every hair in my head plucked out while being forced to watch Brady Bunch re-runs. Yikes.
Choosing the right networking venues can alleviate some of that experience, to be sure: mixers, Business after Hours events, social-cum-business gatherings where barriers can come down, you can apply a bit of liquid courage if desired, and so on. Nevertheless, once you’ve met and chatted up enough people eventually you have to cut to the chase: you are selling something and at some point in the future you’d like them to either buy it or be instrumental in someone else buying it. Probably not today, but eventually.
The very first weapon in your “buy my stuff” arsenal is, as I see it, your elevator pitch. Now, I’ve linked it but I think the concept is important enough to spell out as well.
What is an “Elevator Pitch”?
An “Elevator Pitch” is a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description about your company that your mother should be able to understand in the time it would take to ride up an elevator.
What an “Elevator Pitch” is not:
It is not a “sales pitch.” Don’t get caught up in using the entire pitch to tell the Investor how great your product or service is. The Investor is “buying” the business, not the product. Tell him/her how you will run the business.
That definition comes courtesy of the article How to Write an Elevator Speech which I highly recommend you read. It not only explains the concept well, it also provides a nice little checklist for writing yours.
Now, that being said, here comes a rant: I abhor the “hard sell.” I know full well there is a school of thought out there that advocates meeting and refuting a prospect’s objections, how to turn them into opportunity to keep your pitch going, and so on. What these advocates seem to neglect is adding how this approach is fraught with risk, and requires a finely-honed instinct for recognizing when you are just being obnoxious. In fact, I was just reading an article on the subject as a refresher before I wrote this blog post and I found myself getting angrier at every bit of “advice” on how to get around “no.” If I’m your prospect, all you have done is annoy the crap out of me and present a very negative image of your brand. Case study? The only people who have ever succeeded in selling me a car have been the sales reps who get this, and who quickly backed off and “let me drive.” Those were the ones I didn’t cut off and walk away from in search of someone I could deal with—at a different dealership.
I may not be a typical person in this regard, but I am certainly not rare, and you had best know how to recognize when I, or someone like me, meant “no” and now I’m just trying to disengage politely. If you persist, the politeness just might fade.
In networking terms? Don’t behave like this. Ever. I’ve hit the “they are there because they want to talk business with people like you” nail more than once, but also realize there are limits. They are also wanting to enjoy talking business in a relaxed, informal and social atmosphere and if you start running down your checklist of how to keep the prospect talking long after they’re clearly not into your stuff you are probably going to fare badly. As in the quote above: elevator pitch, not sales pitch. If they show any sign of flagging interest or wanting to change the subject your role is to respect that and either follow suit or politely disengage and move along.
In short? Don’t be “that guy.” Nobody likes a pest, especially at a social mixer. With even a moderate level of social awareness you should have no problem picking up on the appropriate cues—just make sure you’re looking through a social lens and not sales sights.
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