Ad Hoc Networking – Make it Work for You

In the last 15 years networking has become popular as a lead generation strategy. I generate at least 2 qualified leads from every business event I attend. I call this ad hoc networking.

Ad hoc networking is attending any business event to meet business people and uncover business leads. A business event is any meeting of business people, from seminars to briefings, from exhibitions to socials, from breakfast to dinner. This article is not about relationship networking, in which you nurture relationships with the hope of receiving referrals: with ad hoc networking I am in control of the number of leads I generate.

The objective of ad hoc networking is to foster interest in your product/service by getting the promise of a meeting with, or a warm referral to, the person in a business who can further your sale. You don’t actually sell when you’re networking, selling comes later.

Let’s look at this from preparation to execution to follow up.

Preparation: define what your target customer looks like and where he can be found as this will dictate the business events you attend. Next develop a portfolio of general business questions you can ask your prospect (to give you credibility); and develop a slick escalator pitch that focuses on the benefits of your product/service and your competitive edge. Practise both to fluency.

Execution: target the number of leads you want then be among the first to attend the event (and the last to leave). Target the people you want meet (including any sponsors and speakers). Scrutinise the delegate list. Otherwise approach individuals who are on their own, or look for people on the edges of groups, they will welcome your attention. But NEVER EVER interrupt 2 people in earnest conversation. This interrupts their flow, is irritating and plain rude.

Once you’ve found someone to talk to, establish your credibility by asking them about their business. Your interlocutor is there to make business connections too so there’s no need to mention the weather or the war. Qualify the prospect and keep subtle control of the conversation by asking questions such as What does your business do? How large is it? How long has it been established? Show curiosity but don’t make them uncomfortable; listen intently and make appropriate remarks, and praise them genuinely if you can. Try not to talk about yourself or your business.

When you’re satisfied you’d like to do business with them, ask a question related to your product/service, such as does your business need/use X? Now, ask them for permission to tell them what you do. Invariably they will say yes so deliver your escalator in a way that doesn’t sound like a script. Ask them if that sounds interesting and on getting yes ask them for a meeting or to refer you to the appropriate person. Finally exchange business cards and tell them when you’re going to call to arrange the meeting (with them) or get the referral’s details. Thank them and move on.  About 5 minutes is all it takes.

Then follow up when you said you would and be persistent until you make contact. You’ll be amazed at the number of meetings you book.