By Greg Miller, Industrial Equipment Sales for the Syracuse area
In the sales world, networking is mentioned often but rarely discussed in detail. I’ve utilized several versions of networking in my career and the net goal is to find opportunity in it’s most valuable and hidden place; in the mind of another person. However, there is a greater value to networking in that it can better position you in your market to beat the competition.
When I was in between jobs early in my sales career I was exposed to a form of networking that was formal and specific. Find someone with a problem that hiring me would solve. It required careful planning to put together a powerful resume that would open conversation with each interview. I then followed a regimented process. Every contact was the result of previous contacts recommending me to someone they thought would be relevant. Therein lies the power of networking. In the end, I found a branch manager who was going to lose one of his best inside sales people to another branch who needed an outside salesperson. Getting me hired in the other branch was the solution to his problem and after he arranged formal interviews with the other general manager and the VP of the company I was hired. I had no competition, the company never advertised for a position, I found the opportunity when it was just a conversation between several branch managers.
In my current sales role, my networking isn’t as formal, but it’s just as purposeful. These days I use networking to stay aware of activity in my territory and develop a peer base who are on the lookout for opportunities for me. It’s a reciprocal arrangement and I must do my part in sending referrals to others. The key here is to have a potent offering; you must be clear as to your marketing message and make sure your network contacts know about you, your company and your area of expertise. Also, they must know what companies you are targeting. Joining trade organizations and civic groups is a good way to become exposed to good network contacts. My goal is to align with people who are looking for the same situations as I am but also don’t directly compete with me. For example, I look for organizations that are moving into the area, relocating within my territory, having personnel changes, expanding or being acquired by new ownership. I network with folks that are looking for the same market activity. You often find early stages of situations that may require material handling equipment so making contact at this point puts me at a competitive advantage.
So, it’s not enough to just go to trade events and pass out business cards and wait for the phone to ring, there are ways to leverage any acquaintance. If you feel there is good synergy with a person, try making a lunch appointment to explore mutually beneficial situations. Arm them for the meeting, always have 5 target accounts that you would really like to penetrate and ask the other person to have some of theirs in mind when you meet. Start by exchanging elevator speeches and let the conversation take off from there. This is a great way to build a robust network. Over time you’ll develop personal and professional friendships. If you do it right, you won’t think of it as work it will become an extension of your social life, but with benefits. This is a powerful way to elevate your presence in your market.
Networking, it’s not something you do, it’s who you are in your market.