Networking is usually thought of as a solo activity, but this isn’t always the case. 68% of companies use networking events of some kind to draw in the bulk of their sales leads. Strategies like this mean that networking has to be a team effort. If you’re getting ready to lead your team into a new networking event, it’s up to you to prepare them. This four-step plan is a great place to start.
How to Coach Your Team Through All Networking Events
Start With Clear Goals and Plans
As a leader, it’s up to you to know what you’re doing and how you want to accomplish it. If you’re not quite sure what the company is trying to gain by holding this event, you won’t be able to inform your team of this either, and they’ll be left with no sense of direction to guide them.
With that in mind, give your motivations some thought. Is this event purely about getting more sales? Are you trying to get a better sense of what others in the industry are doing? Maybe you’re looking for some new partner firms to help you tackle new projects. Whatever the primary purpose of your networking events might be, you should have a crystal-clear understanding of it and be very confident in your ability to explain it to others. Ideally, you should also have a profile of your prime networking target: the type of person you would be most happy to have as a new contact from this event. This will make it easier for you to come up with a concrete plan for how you want to handle things going forward.
To round out your planning, don’t forget that networking events are about more than just what takes place during the event itself. The contact data you’ll be getting is worth its metaphorical weight in gold, even if it’s just updated information for an existing contact – that’s a big part of contact data management, after all. Part of your goal-setting should also include a solid data strategy to ensure that this information doesn’t go to waste. Make sure that there is a standard procedure in place for handling all business cards both during and after the event, since that’s where you’ll find the bulk of the data you’ll be using. All information on them should be transferred into a database or CRM as quickly as you can possibly manage it. It’s generally recommended that follow-up activities begin within just 24 hours of the end of networking events, so it’s vitally important that all contact data be reviewed and stored promptly so that this process can get going.
Follow With a Meeting
Once you have determined a good trajectory for your event, the next step is to lay everything out for your team. You’ll have far less control over what goes on once your networking events start to unfold, so take advantage of the time just before the event to gather your workers and discuss what should be happening.
As previously mentioned, you want to tell your team all about your specific intentions for this event, and you can also talk about some basic targets that you’d like to see met. Since networking events should be more about organic interactions and camaraderie than hitting specific quantifiable goals, it’s best to avoid imposing specific quotas on anyone. Ballpark numbers are okay, though, and they help your team members determine the level of intimacy they should be aiming for. If you want a team of 10 people to make 50 contacts between them, that indicates that you want them to be thorough and really take their time on each one, coming away with a strong connection with each one. If you ask for 200 contacts instead, that should be taken as a sign to keep things a little more cursory.
Use this opportunity to set expectations for behaviour at your event – should this remain a low-key affair, or is it okay to get a little rowdy? The type of atmosphere you want to encourage will depend on what type of corporate image you’d like to establish in your potential clients’ minds. While it’s beneficial for some firms to project a relaxed image (particularly if they have a large concentration of young people in their ranks or are providing products and services that cater to the young), not every company wants to be seen that way. There are other potential interpersonal obstacles that you can address at this point, too. For instance, if you know you will be meeting with people of other nationalities, it might also be helpful to go over some basic guidelines regarding how to successfully communicate across cultures. It’s up to you to set the stage for everything to go as smoothly as possible.
Finally, you should take this time to ask for some input from your team members. What are their expectations or concerns regarding this event? Is there anything they would like to bring up now before they are expected to perform? Getting these things out of the way early will clear up any doubts that any individuals may have and maximize the productive time you all have at the networking events themselves.
Motivate Your Team
Motivation is always important when trying to accomplish a group task like this, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Providing positive reinforcement is generally more effective than imposing negative consequences – sometimes up to 9 times more effective. This is particularly true of networking, a task whose outcomes are always unpredictable due to the fact that you’re dealing with other humans. Since one can potentially do one’s best to connect at networking events and still fail, punishments are likely to feel unfair.
Successful networking events are built on positive feelings. To that end, it’s best to use carrots rather than sticks; that is to say, you should encourage your team to put themselves out there and interact with as many people as possible during the event, but you should not threaten repercussions for those who don’t comply. Doing the latter will only sow fear and anxiety within your ranks.
One of the most direct ways you can keep things positive is by offering prizes for achievements like collecting the most business cards over the course of the event – even if the prize is just having their name printed in the next edition of the company newsletter, many people will want to win it purely to show that they have the skill needed to do so. An even simpler but still very effective approach is to just offer small bits of praise and encouragement while to those who you see doing well at the events themselves. Evidence suggests that just hearing people be praised around them drives people to do better even if they don’t receive any commendations themselves, so there’s no reason not to give these kinds of ideas a try. They cost very little and may have effects that reach across your entire team.
Identify and Cover Weak Spots
Some members of your team (particularly new, untested additions) may need a little more support in order to be at their best during networking events. If you can pick these people out before the event unfolds, you can make sure that they get the help they need.
Aside from individual coaching, perhaps the best way to help these individuals is to pair them up with a buddy for the duration of the event. Doing this helps to improve motivation in several ways. Networking in twos allows the focus of the person being approached to be split two ways, making it a less intimidating experience that many people will find much easier to undertake. This is especially the case with introverts who might otherwise struggle to engage with anyone at all during networking events. This strategy works even better if the introvert’s buddy is someone with whom they already have a comfortable working relationship. If they already feel very at ease around that person, this can help to counteract the nervousness brought on by the event.
Pairing people up doesn’t only help with nervousness, though; it can also be a great way to keep wayward participants on track. The nature of this structure means that every participant is accountable to their buddy. Having someone to be accountable to makes people up to 65% more likely to follow through on the commitments they make then they would have been if they had to go it alone. One can imagine that this tactic only becomes even more effective when the person to whom you have made that commitment is right there next to you during the entire time you spend working toward that goal. This usually wouldn’t be feasible, but since networking events only last a few hours, it’s easy to keep that support going during the entire endeavour.
Do More With Team Networking
A networking event where every single member of your team is performing at the top of their game is an incredibly productive affair. If you’re looking for a new set of high-quality contacts to pursue, there’s no better way to get them. Every team has the potential to excel in this way - all it takes to make this happen is a little planning. Here are some insights from our experience:
When we return, we will provide more details on the best follow-up processes after a networking event. If you are interested, why not join our network of professional sales and marketers?