Networking is a key component in the world of custom software consulting. Businesses typically take months to determine whether or not they want to overhaul the systems that power their operations and workflow. Custom software ain’t cheap. Once business owners determine that the cost savings of efficient systems offset the investment, and after they’ve met with potential providers, they’re usually ready to partner up and engage in the project. However, this process comes on the heels of months of discussion. The sales cycle is long and a lot of things have to be in place for a successful project. Who will take ownership at the client level for implementation? How often will iteration meetings be held to ensure that the work mirrors the business need and stated intent? What kind of maintenance may be required?
Lots going on here! Software projects are not typically won by going door to door and asking for business. Software consultants need to be top of mind in the business community and networking, especially in places like Omaha, is one of the most effective ways to win these types of projects.
There is a protocol to effective networking that is more often ignored than followed. Below are a few tips that may help:
- Follow up with everyone. If you’re at an event, meet someone and exchange business cards, send a follow up e-mail as soon as you can, stating a specific point brought up in the conversation. Contacts can be leads, influencers, potential friends or sources of information. Don’t dismiss anybody out of hand that is not a potential sale.
- Don’t hand out business cards to anyone you have not met personally. Be judicious. A card is to be exchanged when a meaningful interaction takes place and it is determined that some kind of follow up might be a good idea. Don’t diminish your value by dispatching your business cards out like a Vegas blackjack dealer and don’t take anyone seriously that does the same. It’s lazy.
- Be strategic where you go. Understand who your market is and position yourself at events that seem to have the most relevance.
- Be personal. The business world is filled with clichés, templates and the banal, obligatory language. It’s refreshing to take and be taken out of this tradition and reminded that we’re humans with personal passions and interests. Take time to find those in others and be confident enough to share yours.
- Proactively seek ways to help your contacts and partners. This is a slow burn and takes discipline but putting goodwill in the bank with partners who reciprocate is always a good thing.
- Don’t drink too much. Drunkards struggle for credibility at many events and become memorable in the worst way. There is a time and place and cocktails can be a friend and an enemy.
- Drink too much. Sometimes alcohol is a necessary inhibitor of conversation and can break down walls between you and the client. Know when to bob and when to weave. See previous bullet point for timing.
- Make an effort to empathize with and understand others’ product, position in the market, industry and motivation. When you can draw parallels and relate, you gain trust.
Entrepreneur.com has some great tips as well http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/223468, some of which I think go without saying but are worth repeating. I was at an event recently and met a small business owner in the printing sector. We sat together for 10-15 minutes and had a nice conversation. We exchanged cards and agreed further discussion into each other’s models and potential partnerships was warranted. I sent a nice follow up e-mail that afternoon and did not hear back from him. I did however end up on his e-mail blast marketing list. HUGE pet peeve. I unsubscribed and labeled him in my CRM as a “poor” contact. He may have a good business but his etiquette suggests that he’ll fail as a partner.
My best contacts are people with whom I like personally and am comfortable enough around where we can both exchange information that could help each other. Ideal meetings become a mad caffeinated scramble of tablets, phones, business cards and “tell them I said you two should talk.” Unapologetic interaction. At times it may feel like an informant discussing observations with an FBI agent but that kinetic level of conversation is earned and can be very beneficial.
I have not touched on the social media networking etiquette, which is equally important. Writing preachy blogs is probably breaking one of those rules but hopefully these tips will help. I would be interested in hearing about your worst networking experiences.