Networking Tips

Talking sales at a networking event

When can you talk about sales when going to a networking event? I know the feeling. On the one hand, you have this burning need to make new sales, on the other you don’t want to scare off the newfound contact at a networking event with a sales pitch. Sounds familiar?

How do you make known that you have something to sell?

I am happy to admit I have done this wrong a couple of times in the past. And I have witnessed so many others trying to sell to me on the networking floor too. The problem with bringing up sales on the networking floor is that people feel pushed to show interest and say something positive, whilst they are not ready to start a sales process right there and then. People with a lot of purchasing power get approached all the time already in their professional life, and when winding down with a glass of wine at a networking event, they are not entertained by hearing another sales pitch.

And when you are trying to ‘close’ or push, a bit of a nasty after taste is left when interacting with you. It will be much harder to open up that person again to do business. And even harder to get introductions via that person. After all, you wouldn’t introduce someone who annoyed you with an unsolicited sales pitch. 

Your sales objective is clear already

People already have a good grasp what it might be that you are after from the initial conversation, even without you saying it. For example, a personal financial advisor doesn’t need to say they are looking for people above a certain income threshold to manage their finances; a social media consultant doesn’t need to say they are looking for companies who might need help with their presence on social networks, etc. For most professions, it’s already clear what type of clients you would like to have. People have already made their decision on whether your particular service is for them, and an on-the-spot sales pitch doesn’t change that. So you can spare yourself the effort of making the pitch, and potentially annoying your conversation partner too.

Think of the more exciting objectives to get out of networking apart from a sale: getting introductions and invites; finding a mentor; getting in touch with the right people for that job opportunity, etc.

Cultural nuances

It depends a bit on culture, whether bringing up your objectives is appropriate. Some cultures are more direct than others. Within each culture, the nuances differ per type of event and whether they regularly see each other. Some people prefer talking business directly on the networking floor, whilst others prefer emails or LinkedIn messages afterwards, or would instead bring up the business later via a phone call or lunch catch up. It is hard to give a definite rule of thumb here. In any case, you would want to ensure that the feeble professional relationship you just started moments ago, is not bruised by the annoyance of a pushy sales pitch.

The key to bring up sales when networking

If it feels appropriate to bring up the sales objective, the key is this: present your sales objective as if it were not directed at them. You could say something along the lines of:

‘Are there people in your network or in your industry, for whom this might be interesting?’

That way, the person you are speaking with, doesn’t feel sold to. You are, after all, talking about other people, not the person in front of them. If the person in front of you is interested to buy, they will bring it up. If they don’t, you can safely assume that they are not ready for a sales trajectory at this stage.

This approach only works if it shows from your conversation that you got your ACT together: Accountability, Comfort and Trust (see this blog). If that is not built up strongly enough, discussing sales or other objectives will likely not bear fruit at this stage.

I have applied this approach myself successfully and witnessed others saying similar things to see if my network could help them. An interesting additional line I have heard is:

However, if this is not of interest [to the companies they want to be introduced to], that is okay, I will respect that decision.’

Saying that additional line reassures trust and respect.

You could also add something along the lines of:

And if there is something I can do for you too, please let me know.’

Networking is a two-way street, after all. If you are only there to get, people aren’t that keen to connect with you or actively help you. So if you are after a favour or introduction from someone, you could already think of ways in which you could help them too. Even if the favour is not of equal value or like-for-like, it shows care, sincerity, and you are building on the quality of that relationship.

Bonus tip on networking with referral and sales objectives

A returned favour is ideally an actual favour, preferably not a commission. I give this advice for several reasons: it is hard to determine the value of a deal upfront, plus people can feel ‘bought’ or ‘paid-out’ instead of intrinsically valued for their kind help. Plus, it changes the relationship: one holds the money, the other needs to prove they have done their part and qualify for the commission. If possible, try to arrange an initial favour and counter-favour with closed wallets (but do pick up the tab when this is arranged over lunch). If it is inevitable that money is going to be involved to get a favour, be generous and fair. That makes it their priority and a positive experience for both.

Please bear in mind that most often, it are not the people you meet at networking events who will be your clients; it are often the people they know who are your potential client. Hence it is of utmost importance to keep the relationship healthy and positive, more so than going in for the sale. Think of the network behind the network and which value that might bring.

When I meet people at networking events, I never think of whether I could sell to any of the attendees. I think of how I could help and whom I could learn from, who might be able to help me at any point in the future, and whom I reckon I would have an exciting conversation with after the event. Those are the ones I want to connect with.

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