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Tips for Sending your Copier & Managed IT Reps to a Networking Event

10 Sep, 2014

“I need you to go to this networking event next week.”  These words can strike fear into the hearts of copier dealer sales reps. I’ve seen it first hand. Upon hearing these words, some copier dealer reps experience less than desirable symptoms. Sweaty palms, huge lump in their throat, quickened pulse, etc. Networking isn’t a “natural” thing for everyone.

Often, I work with sales reps at copier and managed IT services dealerships who aren’t used to attending networking events, so they chalk it up to something they just have to do when ownership requests they attend. The result? Wasted company money on a rep who hides in the back of the room and doesn’t engage with anyone. Its a harsh reality, but a reality none-the-less. 

Networking is not a waste of time or money...if you have a plan

Networking shouldn’t be cast aside as a waste of time, money and resources. At its core, its still one of the best ways to expand your network. If you go into the event with a plan, you’ll get more out of it. You need a strategy… a goal for what you’d like to gain from attending the event and an action plan for getting there. 

Here are my top three recommendations for incorporating networking into your sales strategy.

#1 Have a goal - and make it realistic

There’s a reason for attending an event - you want to gain something from it. Clients, knowledge, connections. When you find an event you feel is beneficial to attend, be sure you keep the following two things in mind: 

A.) Look for quality folks to connect with. Its much better to spend a good amount of time with a quality person than to play the “who got more business cards” game. Have a goal to connect with two or three people. These people should be either direct prospect or people who can make referrals to you once you get to know then and provide value. How can you know if they’re meaningful? Contact the event coordinator. Ask for a list of attendees without their contact information. Asking for contact information, while tempting, probably won’t fly with the event coordinator. If you’re a CEO and attend an event, would you want the event folks sharing your contact info with every Tom, Dick and Harry so they can inundate you with calls and emails for you to buy a product? Yeah - neither do the folks attending this event. Request the list of names and ask for the introduction. Take the names you are able to get and research them via LinkedIn. You’ll get their career life story and more insight than you thought possible. 

B.) Make it more about them and less about you. Its not only about how they can help you, but how you can help them. It makes you more genuine and lets them know you’re about relationship building. Discover that person’s business and offer to make connections for them or offer advice if you have helped solve similar issues that they are experiencing. Chances are, when the moment is right, they’ll remember you and want to return the favor with an introduction or referral. 

#2 Select the RIGHT Networking event to attend. 

Too often, I’ve spoken with reps who have attended an event and remarked about how they found no prospects and no value. Again, there’s homework to be completed here. 

A.) Find out if your target buyers will be there. Look at photos and reviews from the previous year’s event and see if its the right event for your target market. 

B.) Does it support a top client? If you have a great client with a CEO or employee being honored, its a fantastic idea to attend in support. What a great way to build and strengthen that relationship. And as an added bonus, you could be introduced to other high-level folks in your target market by the client you’re there supporting. 

C.) Do some snooping. You can find out almost anything online these days. If you’re able to acquire the list of attendees, start looking them up online via social networks. LinkedIn is a good start. Don’t connect with them right away (you’ll do this AFTER you meet them at the event). Just have a look at their profile, their company LinkedIn page and find ways of engaging in conversation at the event with them. Meeting these potential prospects and engaging in a conversation that is of interest to them will begin to build a relationship of trust. Let them talk. People love to talk about themselves and their company, so engage them and encourage them to do so! 

#3 How to engage with people if you don’t know anyone at the event

Personally, I love to network. I had a boss at the copier dealer I used to work for who said I would talk to paint on the wall if there was no one around. I took that as a compliment. Put me in a room with 300 people and I’ll find a group to insert myself into and make myself comfortable. Its not that way for everyone, so here are tips for inserting yourself into a conversation. Feel free to laugh at some of these, but I used to tell the reps at my last dealership to do this. They’d come back to me and excitedly tell me how effective these tips were. 
A.) Get a drink - coffee or cocktail lines are wonderful for striking up conversations. While you’re waiting in line, converse with the people in front of you or behind you. I’ve made amazing connections this way. At large events, do this multiple times - to maximize opportunities to meet people. Just be careful not to drink too many cocktails! Switch up to soda or sparkling water if need be. 
B. Cocktail tables - If the event has cocktail tables, grab a drink and a plate of apps and head out to scout a good looking group to join. Be sure to make eye contact and smile before walking up. An intense conversation at a table doesn’t warrant an interruption and might come across as rude. Casual conversations with laughter tend to be the ones I approach. 
C. Go to the bathroom (ladies only) - I've met some incredible women while applying lipstick in the bathroom. Just whip out the lip gloss, look in the mirror, and make eye contact in the mirror with the woman next to you doing the same. Strike up the conversation and guide them towards chatting it up about their business. 

Final piece of advice - create a lasting digital relationship
Bring it all together digitally with social media. LinkedIn is the perfect business tool to use to stay connected with folks you meet at events. Building a digital relationship with folks you meet at events is so important with today’s evolved buyer. They’re online researching, exploring and engaging with others. Be sure you’re one of the connections they engage with digitally. Take those business cards and send personalized LinkedIn invitations to the folks you met who were good solid connections. LinkedIn even has a place for you to tag your connections and make notes so you don’t forget where you made the connection. 

And above all, try to enjoy yourself. If you’re relaxed, you’re more likely to attract great connections who could turn into amazing clients. 

Lindsay Kelley is the Chief Marketing Strategist with Dealer Marketing, a full service marketing agency focused on copier and managed IT services dealers. She has experience in the execution of integrated marketing campaigns, inbound marketing, digital marketing, traditional and social strategies including social selling strategy, content strategy, and website builds. She has served in a marketing function for over 17 years including working with as the Marketing Lead for a large copier dealer. Lindsay holds a Masters degree in Marketing and BA in Communications.

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