How To Make Networking Boost Your Sales Success

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Many self-employed individuals and people aiming to earn more sales commission think of networking as a form of prospecting. They enter networking mode ready to smile, to meet people, and to give out their business cards. They focus on coming away with qualified prospects, good referrals, and even new sales. Too many reap frustratingly mediocre results, though, because their own common sense works against them.

elevator speech essential
Especially at events known up-front as networking events (e.g. a chamber of commerce mixer), many view a good elevator speech as an essential tool to get others interested in what they offer. They view their elevator speech as a critical step toward getting people to recognize how valuable and important their product or service must be. They expect this to generate the interest that leads to business opportunities. Yet, even the much-rehearsed, ever-developing elevator speech typically under-delivers because of faulty underlying assumptions.

the common sense minefield
Conventional wisdom dictates that an elevator speech must last 30 seconds or fewer. Nothing faulty in that. However, this leads to the counter-productive application of other common-sense assumptions:
• When somebody asks you a question, you should answer it satisfactorily.
• When you speak about yourself, your products or services, or your company, you must get straight to the point succinctly.
• The straight and simple truth about the value you offer should attract people who seek that value.

how common sense proves faulty
Many who abide by those assumptions as guiding principles for their elevator speech find that too many people, instead of responding with interest, respond with silence or change the topic. For an elevator speech to lead to business opportunities, it must not end the conversation. Instead, it should compel listeners to share information about themselves. After all, sales success follows from learning about people who share information freely about their relevant interests. Sales success does not follow from conversation cut short by succinct straight-talk about yourself.

recognize the pivotal moment
Of course, the golden moment to deliver an elevator speech occurs when somebody asks, “What do you do?” In most situations, a direct answer to a direct question exemplifies good communication. Indeed, getting straight to the point with a succinct answer seems more respectful of both parties. Even so, in the context of person-to-person networking, when somebody asks you what you do, a direct, succinct response too often squelches meaningful dialogue.

blue-ribbon winners that lose sales
Consider these conversation-enders:

• “I work with people who want to accumulate wealth by investing in undervalued stocks.”
• “I help couples to furnish and decorate their new homes in a style that’s all their own.”
• “I work with growing companies that need to find talented people so that they may continue growing and become more successful.”

Each of these examples excels at answering the trigger question, “What do you do?” more directly and succinctly than most. Indeed, to call any of these a ‘speech’ seems to misuse the term. Nevertheless, these exemplify what many who deliver a more lengthy elevator speech aim for: a bullseye hit answer.

pivot 180 degrees
When people ask you what you do, do not get straight to the point with a succinct answer. Rather, aim for your elevator speech to engage them in a compelling conversation more valuable to you both. Your elevator speech should get them to open up with information necessary to discover business opportunities.

elevator speeches that compel conversation
Imagine saying these instead:

• “You know, a growing number of people worry that they might outlive their savings. They find persistently low interest rates aggravating. Many fear the fees and the risks of investing in the one place where, historically, long-term savings reliably grow: the stock market. How would this interest you, if at all?”

• “You know, many couples find themselves unexpectedly frustrated about how to furnish and decorate their new home. They struggle to agree on what they consider the right style for each room and for their home as a whole. They get aggravated as they consider paint versus stain or wallpaper, payment plans, and an endless supply of furnishing and decorating tips from too many sources. As a professional interior designer, I can make it all easier, more rewarding, and more economical. You don’t know anybody who would relate to that, do you?”

• “You know, there’s a lot of people worried about their career, these days. They struggle to find a good a company with a good future that needs them. Some feel anxious that they might never have a truly fulfilling job. As a Certified Human Resources Professional, I help them to find that – sometimes more easily than expected. How would that mean anything to you?”

formula for a compelling elevator speech

1. inclusive opening (e.g. “You know… “).
2. three problems you solve described emotionally (e.g. fear, anxiety, aggravation, worry).
3. that you solve such problems (positioning you as a rescuer).
4. a retreating hook question (e.g. “This wouldn’t matter to you, would it?”).

how to make it work for you
When in networking mode, either attending events meant for networking or simply where networking opportunities arise, think of children in schoolyards who playfully ask, “What’s your favourite colour?” This memory in mind, ask others, “What do you do?” Listen to their responses carefully to inform you what to say as you tailor your response when asked the same question reciprocally. Then, apply the four-part formula above for a compelling elevator speech. Aim to generate a conversation in which you get to learn about each person you’ve approached. See how many more ask for your business card, then how many lead to new sales.

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