The Essentials of B2B Sales Networking
Business to business (B2B) sales networking is often simply called business networking. This is because many B2B leads are discovered through informal channels between professionals who regularly interact in a given industry.
The practice of good business networking can generate sales, so let’s review some tried-and-true tips that can make your business networking efforts more productive.
1. Business Networking Basics
What we call business networking is a collection of activities that connect businesses and the professionals who represent them. It can involve:
- Attending trade shows
- Attending Industry events
- Professional associations
But it also requires personal networking outside of those public arenas, too.
It can be demanding and awkward, but the payoff in long-term relationships with other businesses, which can turn into paying customers, is equally great. What makes business networking awkward is managing the formal and informal expectations at events that are ostensibly intended for sharing industry knowledge.
Here are a few tips to help you get into the swing of business networking:
Create a Visible Profile
Use all the tools at your disposal to raise your profile as a representative of your business. This means harnessing the same tools that are available for professional networking. For example, LinkedIn is as effective for business networking as it is for personal networking. Set up a page for your company and follow these proven ways to get noticed:
- Optimize your content: This means tailoring the content you share on your personal and company pages to include keywords your potential customers will be searching for.
- Engage with potential customers: You needn't stay passive on LinkedIn. Engage professionals at businesses that are potential clients.
- Keep your pages current: Regularly post relevant content to raise your company's profile and engage with the LinkedIn community.
Contribute to Your Professional Community
One way to raise your profile within your industry is to stay involved with professional associations and be willing to take part in knowledge and skill-sharing events.
When you raise your own status as an expert in your field, it boosts your business’s status and profile as well. Potential customers looking for new partners will be more likely to trust your products when the time comes.
Stay Involved with Industry Events
Attending industry events isn’t just about meeting new leads, though you’ll want to be open to that happening when it does. What attending these events does do is keep your business visible, and it keeps you on top of industry and market trends.
This is especially true for smaller businesses that only see a fraction of the business conducted in their markets. Hearing about upcoming tech trends and market news will keep your finger on your market’s pulse and help you avoid getting caught unprepared when customer expectations shift.
Build a Contacts List
As you meet other professionals with businesses that offer opportunities for collaborations and partnerships, collect their contact information into a file for future reference.
Stay in touch with them periodically outside of formal events to gauge interest and follow up on leads that may have happened. Sometimes one contact at a company can lead to referrals at the same or other businesses whom you’ve yet to meet.
Invest in Training to Build Confidence
Business networking can add synergy to your professional life and to your business’s existing partnerships, but you’ll need to exude the confidence needed to take advantage of opportunities as they appear.
If your sales and technical consulting team are just starting out, investigate training programs that are available to help prepare them for the challenges of business networking.
2. Engaging Prospects at Networking Events
Attending networking events can be awkward when you’re starting out. It’ll often involve manning a kiosk showcasing your business’s expertise and products, but it’ll also require you to mingle with other attendees to maximize your exposure to new business contacts.
You’ll want to brush up on your networking etiquette and social skills to make the most of these events.
Social science has found that more than half of human communication is appearance and body language. It’s especially important when meeting strangers because there’s no prior relationship to base an impression on. That makes it a priority to present yourself with a professional appearance and use body language that’s welcoming and open.
Sit up straight, avoid crossing your arms, and smile when you aren’t talking. It’s important to look interested in meeting with new people and eager to discuss industry topics.
Position Yourself as an Expert
Establish yourself as an expert in your field during conversations with other attendees. It may be a specialty within a larger industry, or a key technology that your company has mastered. This builds trust and gives a sense of authority to potential partners who are looking to collaborate with a company with your skill set and products.
This is where market research comes in handy. When you know what potential partners need in the market, you’ll know which types of expertise will lead to new prospects.
Show Respect and Interest
A pitfall of these types of business networking conversations is to slip into a sales pitch or personal promotion.
These conversations are better treated as discussions between colleagues and equals, so they require more give and take than a traditional sales pitch. Pushing yourself or your brand can backfire by making you seem too self-involved or just interested in getting new customers.
Getting Referrals during Conversations
The way to get prospects and referrals during formal and informal conversations at business networking events is to watch for moments when a quick elevator pitch is called for, such as when an attendee expresses a need that your company can fill.
You might also encounter times when you meet a representative of another company that would make a good collaborative partner. Don’t be shy about mentioning that your company is looking for a partner in their field of expertise. The relationship could lead to referrals down the road.
Make the Conversation Event-Related
You’ll want to keep the event’s theme or function in mind when you interact with other professionals. If the event is primarily to help businesses share their knowledge and showcase new trends, then self-promotion may not be appropriate.
Other networking events may be designed to help connect businesses to new customers, in which case brand marketing and product promotion will be expected.
3. Following Up After a Business Event
Most of the time, you’ll discover new prospects and leads after business networking events. Strategically placed elevator pitches and expertise sharing can lead to contacts reaching out after everyone goes back to the office and discusses new contacts with their managers.
This is the reason it’s important not to be too heavy-handed with your pitches at the event. You don’t want to alienate prospects before they report back to decision-makers. One way to help the process along is to follow up with contacts that seemed interested in working with you.
Persistence doesn’t mean harassment, however. Stay professional and friendly when you follow up, but let your contact choose not to respond if they aren’t interested. If it’s a company that seems well-positioned as a partner or future client, offer to put them on a periodic mailing list.
Keep your follow-up emails or phone calls brief and concise. Hit the key points quickly and don’t waste your contact's time.
If they’re interested, your follow-up should just serve as a reminder to reach out in the future. If the prospect starts a conversation when you follow up, then you can begin your full-blown sales process with them at that point.
Use follow-ups to briefly remind your prospects why your company could be a good partner. Sometimes contacts can forget exactly who it was they were talking to about what topic, so a reminder of your company's expertise can help refresh cloudy memories.
Avoid Guilt-Tripping Contacts
Never use a follow-up message to express disappointment about not hearing from them. They may have a legitimate reason for the delay if they were interested, but your social shaming can cause a negative impression and alienate them.
In conclusion, business networking is becoming one of the most productive ways to generate B2B sales as informal relationships continue to drive collaboration and leads. The old adage that it's who you know and not what you know is still true. You can give your company's B2B sales a jump-start by putting these business networking tips into practice.