Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

A New Approach to Networking

We have a few tips to prepare you for your next venture in networking.

Sales reps know that networking is a key part of their careers. In order to you’re your business and make sales, you need to get out there and make connections. As a result, sales people are continually keeping an eye out for networking events and opportunities — like the Chamber of Commerce’s after-work-hours mixers and the BBB’s business card exchanges — in order to expand their rolodexes.

However, the real battle with networking lies in your approach. Here you are, in a contrived social situation simultaneously trying to make connections as naturally as possible, because if you’re coming on too strong, you’ll turn off prospects. This involves some nuanced maneuvering, and we have a few tips to prepare you for your next venture in networking:

Target the Right People

If you’re in a crowd of professional peers, it’s relatively easy to start a conversation, because you come from similar ranks, backgrounds and experience. However, if there are others in attendance who are perhaps above you in rank and experience — like high-powered executives of big-name companies — it’s important to swallow your pride and proceed with caution. However, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t proceed at all. The important thing is to first assess the power dynamics in the room and the status of others in attendance in relation to your own. If there’s someone in the room who is perhaps above you in professional status, but you still want to forge the connection, you need to make a good case for yourself. Therefore, throwing a business card their way won’t do the trick. Before approaching, think critically about what you can discuss that makes it worth their time — not just yours.

It’s a Two-Way Street

In many networking situations, we’re asking someone to give us something: time, consideration, business and so on. This contributes to why even willing networking participants feel weary and build up walls against being approach — there’s a lingering sense of a bottom line. Therefore, it’s important to take the plunge and ask for a prospect’s time, but you may find more luck when asking for it in a way that’s constructive and creative. Sometimes it’s as simple as offering to foot the bill for a coffee or lunch date. However, you may want to go above and beyond by offering a prospect something in return for their time besides lunch or drinks.

As an employee at the newspaper, you have a unique opportunity to offer prospects insight not only into advertising opportunities, but insight into the expertise you’ve gathered throughout your career. As a sales rep, you know the ins and outs of your community. If you want a prospect to meet with you to discuss their advertising, offer them some freebies. Tell them about community events, social media tips or other opportunities that would be relevant and useful to their business. This will give them a sense of what will be in store for them if they commit to do business with you, and it will also make them more willing to sit down and speak about their advertising needs at length.

Don’t Pass Out Business Cards

This will perhaps be the most startling piece of advice, after all, business cards are a staple of networking events — we even suggested the BBB’s business card exchange as a prime networking opportunity. Of course, in those scenarios, where bringing a business card is a key and foundational part of the event, then by all means, bring your card. You don’t want to seem ill prepared. However, if you’re simply attending a networking event, business cards aren’t necessarily the end-all be-all the have been made out to be.

In fact, business cards have gathered a negative connotation, because so many professionals have come to pass them out without discretion — another aspect of selling themselves too hard. As a result, the recipients put on a good face, accept the card, but often forget about it or — even worse — throw it away later.

Instead of offering your card up front, try to naturally connect with people by slowly introducing them to your services in a way that’s individualized to their needs. You may find that if you’re doing this well, they will ask you for your card rather than you trying to force it on them. If this happens, Inc.’s Kevin Daum suggests asking for their email instead of giving them a business card. Then, follow up a few days later with your contact information and something useful, interesting and relevant to their business. Daum recommends including a link to an article or book.

This approach is effective, because first and foremost, you have actually received the person’s approval and established a desire for the connection, rather than forcing it. You’re also offering them something more dynamic than a business card. You’ve put thought into the email by including a relevant article or information customized to their needs and business. You’ve proven that you’ve taken the time to get to know them as an individual, rather than one of many people you threw your card at.