Infer Inc. takes the year’s second quarter by storm as they have recently acquired an impressive total of $10 million worth in Series A funding. This particular round was led by Redpoint Ventures. In participation as well were angel investors, Social+Capital Partnership, and Andreessen Horowitz. Sutter Hill Ventures also made an investment.
If you’re not attending conferences and events in your industry, you’re missing out on valuable opportunities to learn and connect with potential business partners. I’m always amazed at how many great contacts I meet at events, and while I don’t go to them every month, I make an effort to attend as many as I can each year.
Who You’ll Meet
Even if you go to a conference not expecting to meet a potential client, you’ll often be surprised at who you do meet. But the key is to talk! It’s hard to meet people if you don’t put yourself out there. At breaks, meals and mixers, introduce yourself to the people around you. Ask questions. Engage. In sessions, ask questions. Make yourself known. Get as many business cards as you can, and take notes on them with a few keywords to remind you what you spoke to this person about.
It’s not typical that you’ll walk into a conference and immediately make a sale. The important thing is to make connections and build them after the event. But sales aren’t the only thing you should focus on at events. You may also meet:
- A potential business to partner with
- Someone who knows a key player in a company you’ve been trying to connect with
- Someone you can help
Here’s another tidbit from The Connectors, by Maribeth Kuzmeski. I reviewed it recently. In the book, Kuzmeski talks about being a more active listener. She provides some fantastic tips.
What Listening Isn’t
We’ve all been there. You’re in a networking event and someone asks what you do. As you drone on, you see them glazing over. Okay, maybe you could give a shorter answer, but the point is: why ask questions if you don’t intend to listen to the answers?
Another “fail” in listening is asking questions people can answer with a simple yes or no. After all, the reason you’re asking questions is to get to know this person better, to see how you can help them or connect them to others. So by asking a yes/no question, you block off the possibility of getting them to open up to you.
How to Listen Better
Kuzmeski gives these tips to become a better listener:
1. Full Attention. My pet peeve is when people check their phones, or worse still, answer them in the middle of a conversation. You’re there to engage, so get off your Crackberry. Turn it off. Put it away. Devote your entire attention to the person you are with.
2. Focus. In a world of multitasking, it can be hard to focus on someone, especially if you’re not too interested in what they’re saying. But do your best. If you find your mind wandering, make yourself aware of it, shift positions and refocus on what your conversation partner is saying.
I’ve been blogging about trust lately, and one huge component of trust, in my mind, is connecting people to others. Putting them first helps build that trust. I just finished reading The Connectors by Maribeth Kuzmeski. It reinforces what I’ve said before about networking, but applies the concept to the wider reach of business relationships.
One of the best parts of this book is its interactive format. There are quizzes and sections you can fill out to organize your thoughts and learn more about what type of connector you are. For instance, there’s a useful quiz at the start of the book that teaches you just that. You’ll be one of these types of connectors:
- Power Connector: You have a need to connect people and engage with them.
- Energy Connector: You reach out to others, but not daily. You’re interested in others and want to connect, but don’t focus on this regularly.
- Casual Connector: Reaching out to others isn’t a focus in your business. You tend to focus on smaller numbers of people.
I think I was an Energy Connector. No matter what type of connector you are, you can use Kuzmeski’s Red Zone Connectors Formula to become better at connecting people.
- Develop a True “What’s In it for Them” Mentality. By providing benefit to others, it shows how you respect and care for them.
- Curiously Listen: We’ve all been caught with someone who only pretends to listen, and it shows. Practice active listening to really understand what people are trying to say.
- Important Questions to Ask That Attract Connections: Get away from yes/no questions and ask ones that get people to open up. Use skill #2.
- Get the Sale to Close Itself: If you’re doing the other elements correctly, people will want to buy from you.
- Create a Memorable Experience: Make people say “wow!” when working with you and they’ll come back again and again.
One of the hardest thing for many entrepreneurs to do is network. Show up in a room full of strangers and start talking. But it’s absolutely key to the success of your business. After all, the old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” only works if you know people!
What to Expect
If you’ve never been to a networking event, here’s the rundown. First of all, there are probably dozens of networking events and leads groups that meet in your area. Start by choosing one that’s a good fit (i.e. is in your industry or otherwise relates to your business’ interests).
Most networking events start with everyone mingling. Here’s my best tip: you’re not the only one! Chances are there are many newcomers, and maybe some other newbies to networking, so don’t be nervous! They’re just people, and people who want to meet you at that. Read More
Your company’s most successful marketing tool might not be advertising, press releases or social media marketing. Attending and hosting events can be a great way gain exposure of your brand and increase sales.
The easiest way to interact face-to-face with other brands and potential customers is by attending networking events and conferences. Larger cities usually have industry organizations that list their events online. Many host weekly or monthly mixers or networking events, and these are a great place to learn and share.
Be prepared to ask questions at these events. People love talking about themselves and their brands, and a smart marketer knows that the way to a sale is by asking the right questions. At the end of the night, even if you didn’t talk much about yourself, others will remember you, simply because you seemed so interested in them.
Conferences are wonderful for establishing good business partnerships. Even if you don’t exhibit at one, by attending, you still get to meet key players in your industry, chat about their brands, and brainstorm on how to partner together. Invest in attending two to three industry conferences a year. If you’re into public speaking, even better. Speakers are known to get sales just by talking on what they know.
Host an Event
Even better than attending an event is hosting one. By putting your brand at the forefront of a successful event, you get mindshare of those who attended (and maybe even those who didn’t).
You can host a public event, inviting anyone interested to tour your facilities, or you can be more selective and choose bloggers, social media players and influencers in your industry who you hope will talk about their experience at your event.
Make sure your event is:
It’s not a live commercial for your product; it’s the opportunity to introduce new people to your brand or introduce those familiar with your brand to new products. It’s your chance to get feedback from customers on what you’re doing right, and what you could do better.
Plan your event well. Nothing will get a blogger’s attention faster than a poorly planned event. Set up a social network (Ning is free and easy to customize) or provide a hashtag so participants can connect on Twitter about the event. Provide plenty of information and resources so participants know exactly what they should expect at the event.
Analyzing the Event
Your event will have been in vain if you don’t bother to track results afterward. Give attendees surveys to help you plan the next event, and take copious notes if you’re opening the floor to suggestions and complaints. And then do something about them! Use customers’ ideas to make your brand stronger, and to show that you’re a company that cares.
If you have a database of business clients and contacts, you may be sitting on gold. Whether your list contains people you did business ten years ago, or people you’ve never done business with, these contacts are valuable. If you don’t already have a list of contacts, you should make a habit of forming one now.
The important thing about staying in touch with your contacts is that it keeps you and your business “top of mind.” By staying in touch with your clients and potential customers, you are reminding them of your company and the services you provide. When they are ready to buy, you will be the first company they think of.
When you receive any type of contact information from a potential client, such as a business card, keep it on file. Make notes to remind you who the person was, where you met, and what potential business you may have discussed.
How to Stay in Touch
There are a few ways to get in touch with your old and new contacts. You can be as casual as sending a quick email (or note on Twitter or Facebook if they work in that space), or you can be more formal and send them a newsletter along with a monthly promotional email each month.
The newsletter is meant to educate, so include useful tips and articles, as well as a small mention of your company and what you’re up to. Your newsletter should be something of value to your contact, not a commercial.
Influence potential customers to buy from you by sending out regular specials or clearance items that are available via email. You may even consider presenting your contacts with special offers that are not offered to anyone else.
Space out your newsletters and promotional emails. If you receive emails from the same companies repeatedly every week, are you likely to open each one? Probably not. Likewise, your clients are more likely to delete your emails if they are being flooded with advertisements and promotions. A good rule of thumb is to send out your promotional email approximately two weeks after your monthly newsletter has gone out.
Another marketing tip for increasing the open rate of your emails by clients is to pay attention to the day and time you are sending them. Did you know when it comes to businesses, emails are more likely to be read in the middle of the week? On Mondays, inboxes are typically packed and your newsletter doesn’t stand a chance being read among the others. Fridays, workers are often out of the office. Send out your emails Tuesday through Thursday and after noon, when your contact is more likely to read it.
During the holidays, don’t leave out your clients. This is a great opportunity to give a personal reminder to your contacts that you are thinking of them. Send out holiday greetings and birthday wishes to your contacts. They will appreciate the gesture and feel valued by you.
The key is to stay in touch. Show your contacts you’re thinking of them, if only by dropping a quick line to say hello. You’ll be surprised how far a simple greeting can go for future business.