I am in Orlando at the InfoComm convention preparing for many, many meetings with colleagues, clients, and potential clients. This is my number one business networking opportunity of the year and I need to prepare to listen. Getting ready for listening is a key business development tool and one that I find very few “sales professionals” have mastered. I struggle with it myself, because I – like most of you – want to talk about what I know and how I can help. The good news is that your contacts will give you that opportunity – if you ask the right question.
What is the right question? Anything that will get the other person to talk about themselves and their business. “How’s business?” doesn’t count. It is a required social opener, but we all know that the answer doesn’t matter. Once I get past the niceties, I am going to try to ask questions that will help me learn more about business. “What kinds of things are you trying to help grow revenue?” “What has been your biggest epiphany managing a business in the New Economy?” “What do you know now that would have helped you starting out?”
The first question is just the start. You have to follow up their answer with a probing question – to dig a little deeper into the subject. “What do you think causes that?” “What did you try before you discovered that solution?” “What did your employees think of your idea?” The next response in turn should trigger another line of questioning. “How do you think a company like mine should approach the same problem?” “What most surprised you about how that worked?” “Who do you talk to when you need to vet an idea like that?”
I have been on both ends of this kind of conversation. In its worst incarnation, I have been asked these questions by people who weren’t genuinely interested in the answers. They feign engagement and congratulate you on your success, but are trying to deflect you from asking questions of them – because they don’t want to answer. A successful conversation is where both parties are interested in each other’s questions and answers. You may have to ask a few questions to find out if you will have that conversation, but as soon as you recognize that the other person doesn’t want to share and isn’t interested in what you know – then move on. Ask the other person if they could introduce you to someone else in the room, then start again.
Networking is hard work, but the potential payoff is huge. Keep an open mind about learning new things and you will be amazed at what people will share with you. Don’t share everything though. Try to end the conversation with, “I’d like to discuss that further. Can I contact you after this event so we can continue down this thread?”
Now it’s time to go learn something! Talk to you soon!