Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stop Going to the Same Networking Events


Why attend the same conference (or networking group) more than once or twice? I have found that most people will gravitate toward people they have already met when in a networking situation. Sometimes it takes more than one meeting to get to the point where you feel like you are “friends” with a few people.

Is this relationship building? At a mixer, you greet each other, exchange pleasantries, ask how business is, etc. Does this face time help you remember a potential vendor? Are you having meaningful conversations that will take that relationship to the next level or are you keeping the relationship warm just in case? We say that getting involved in the organization gives you the opportunity to takes those relationships to the next level. When you actually work with others on a project, event or committee, you get to know them a lot better than just saying ‘hi’ once a month.

You may be thinking to yourself that you are wasting time with the wrong connections. Now, I am a proponent of open networking. You never know when someone who is not currently a potential client will turn into a potential client. Or, you may meet someone “in real life” who is influential online. If you are not part of their circles or communities, you may be missing an opportunity and not know it. However, your boss may be asking you for the ROI of attending that event. How many business cards did you get? Are these qualified prospects? If you gravitate toward the same people you always see, are you missing out on new prospects?

So, in theory, it would be better to stop going to that conference or networking group if you find yourself seeing the same people every time. Find a new group or conference to attend where you don’t know anyone so that you can put more people in your funnel. What are the drawbacks? If your prospects don’t see you at that event anymore will they forget about you? (There are ways to stay in touch with the people you don’t want to lose track of.) It used to be that you felt like you had to exhibit at that tradeshow, even if you weren’t getting any business from it, because the perception of you not being there would cast a negative light. Do you feel that way about the networking events you are attending?

It is hard to always be the new person at an event (especially if the group doesn’t have people that reach out to new folks). That is why we naturally gravitate towards the people we know, it is human nature. If only it were easy to walk up to someone or a couple of people you don’t know and introduce yourself. I do it a lot but it feels awkward and uncomfortable.

What is social media’s role in all of this? Social media can expedite the process from newbie to friend status. I can see who is tweeting at an event and request a meeting with them, or see them at a tweetup at a larger conference. This is one way to meet new people at an event. Social media can also help you stay in touch with people you meet at a conference or networking group. If you “friend” them on FB, you will get to interact with them on things that really matter as opposed to just exchanging pleasantries once a month or once a year.

Speaking of tweetups, I find myself seeking out smaller groups who have organized themselves to meet in conjunction with a larger event. This happens at monthly programs as well as annual conferences. Not only do you gravitate towards the people you know, you want to make sure you see your “friends” at that event. These types of add-on events are great for having a more meaningful conversation with someone and taking that relationship to the next level.

As our industry associations try to keep up with the ways members create new relationships and nurture existing ones, it is important to remember that human nature doesn’t change just because the technology has changed.