If you are like most MSPs, more new business comes through referrals than any other single source of leads. You’re also not alone if you think going to a networking event is on par with a trip to the dentist. With a few simple strategies, you can make your trips to the meetings less stressful…and maybe even something you come to enjoy.
1. Set your long term goals
Just like every business process, you should decide how networking fits into the overall growth of the company. In general, the goal of networking is to build referral business. But, consider different approaches you can take to expanding your referral network, including:
- Expand your connections within the local business community,
- Connect with complementary partners for reciprocal referrals and shared opportunities,
- Build your reputation as an expert in a specific industry.
Of course you can take more than one approach, but it’s better to get deeply involved in one organization than to spread yourself across too many. Shaking hands and trading cards is not enough to build enough trust for someone to be comfortable referring business your way.
2. Choose your professional organization
Your long term goals should define the types of professional groups you want to tackle first. Research your options to identify the most active organizations. The number of members shouldn’t be your sole measure. A small group of committed individuals that meet regularly can be more helpful than a large group that meets occasionally.
Groups to consider include:
- Your local Chamber of Commerce is the obvious place to start if you want to connect with local businesses. Most regional Chambers hold regular networking meetings and many sponsor special interest group meetings. “Women in Business” and “Technology” subgroups are a great place to start with a small, targeted group.
- If you would like to work with other technology providers to share referrals and bring your specialty to a broader set of clients, there are multiple avenues. SMB nation peer groups are the best place to start with demonstrated value to participating partners. There are active chapters of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) in most of the larger metropolitan areas. Through IAMCP, you can connect with Microsoft partners with complementary competencies.
- For an industry focus, research the related professional organizations. Getting deeply involved in an established industry organization, like serving on the board, builds your status as an expert. Share your knowledge freely through programs and presentations to expand your connections and enhance your reputation.
3. Set small goals
Many, if not most, technical people find walking into a room full of strangers very stressful. If you feel that way, set small goals to ease your mind. Commit to attending at least five consecutive meetings to determine if the organization is a good fit to meet your goals. You will feel more comfortable with each passing month. Before the meeting, set a goal to introduce yourself and exchange business cards with three people.
When you are at the meeting, start conversations by asking others about themselves. Focus on what they are saying, not on what you want to say to them. Try to spend 75% of the time talking about them and 25% about yourself. You’ll uncover much more opportunity by listening rather than talking. By asking questions and listening you may turn a conversation that seems to be going nowhere into a valuable lead.
While your internet presence is key to your marketing success, it doesn’t replace building relationships in person. If you have been avoiding networking because you are uncomfortable meeting new people, you’re not alone. Remember that many people you will meet feel exactly the same way. Make the commitment to get out once a month to build your referral business. You’ll be glad you did.