Claire Barnouin
Executive Director
Monterrey Aerocluster

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Expert Contributor

On Purposeful Business Networking

By Claire Barnouin | Wed, 07/06/2022 - 12:00

I can safely assume that most readers of Mexico Business News’ contributions have been in more than one business networking event since the beginning of this year, or at least since they felt comfortable enough to mingle, now that the COVID pandemic seems to be receding and almost everyone feels safer going out, providing we all are well aware of social boundaries and hygiene tricks to be respected.

Aside from the evident thrill of meeting again face to face and finally getting to know new people, what motivates you to attend networking events, meet and greets, and the like? Do you have an objective in mind when sending your RSVP? Do you visualize a clear outcome for the company or organization you represent? How often have you met that goal, or better yet, exceeded it? What factors do you weigh to evaluate whether an event was good or not? Do you measure it at all? What makes networking events memorable?

Much comes to mind in terms of the “experience” that we are offered by the host, as it is sometimes easier to remember going to such and such event because of dinner, drinks, entertainment, or the music played and the overall “vibe.” However, it is often a little blurry when assessing how many effective business contacts were made, and how much concrete follow-up is actually carried out, post-event.

No doubt, I have sent way more follow-up emails after events than I have ever received from other attendees. For a long time, attending networking events seemed somewhat useless, or vain even, as I didn’t go with a set goal in mind but, rather, “to be seen” (FOMO, right?). It is an investment after all, since many events take place during the evening, meaning attendees spend their own personal family time to be there. Some even might have to pay for a baby-sitter or make special arrangements for childcare with friends or other family members. So why go if most of the time, the return on investment doesn’t seem that rewarding?

Well, here are a few tips that I make a deliberate effort to apply whenever given the chance to network:

  • First: you can always politely ask the organizer to share a list of participating organizations beforehand, to assess whom you’d like to target during the event to introduce yourself and hopefully leave with a bunch of interesting new business cards.
  • Second: make a commitment to try and stay away from your peers, colleagues, and friends for a while, or from all people whom you already know (after saying hello, of course) and don’t leave before making at least three solid new business contacts.
  • Third: when approaching a person or a conversation, always speak last, even if it seems odd to stay quiet at a networking event (in the beginning only). The more you listen, the more information you will be gathering on the other person’s activities, environment, and needs. You will increase your chances to be actively heard if you adapt your introduction accordingly.
  • Fourth: think of safe exits from sterile or unproductive conversations that can be easily applied without coming across as rude or insensitive.
  • Fifth: when networking with an interesting prospect or potential partner, don’t make the whole case for your company or organization immediately. It is highly probable people don’t want to hear your sales pitch but would rather get to know you as a person, and they’ll be keener on re-connecting afterward.
  • Sixth: if you feel like you’ve “hit the jackpot” and met that one contact you think could be a real breakthrough for the advancement of your business or company, make a conscious effort to get a commitment from them to meet with you and your team/boss in the following days. Kindly offer to meet up for coffee or visit them in their office. Insist on having an in-person meeting, since it is much easier to deflect on emails or phone calls.
  • Seventh: don’t bluff. No one likes a know-it-all. We have all been in these awkward situations when someone in a group won’t stay quiet about what they know, who they know, who they’ve done business with … don’t be that person. Remember: it’s best to say nothing when nothing you could say will improve the conversation.

If you network on your own during business events, you will need a system in place so you can proceed to a little “triage” of your business card bunch after the event: not all the cards we are given are worthy of following up on, or are they? Keep the ones that genuinely interest you and throw the rest away. Yes, trash them. Don’t think for a second that it would be best to keep them “just in case,” or for later. It won’t happen. They’ll just end up using space on your shelves or your desk as dust collectors.

If you network with work colleagues, I strongly recommend sharing the contacts or business cards with your teammates through a group chat, for example. It will make everyone aware of who you have been talking to and the amount of work to be shared after the event to properly follow-up with everyone. You can also send voice or written notes with each card to remember if specific details were shared during conversations, making it easier to send a more purposeful, personalized email, phone call or meeting afterward. This has proven to be a practical trick for me, and it encourages everyone on the team to keep on networking (a little harmless competition).

Those of you who work with a CRM will know what to do next. Plan and schedule your actions post-event and set up digital reminders; let the system work for you. And remember your primary goal when attending each event: how will you measure the success of networking? By the number of business cards or contacts obtained (minus the trashed ones)? By responses to emails or phone calls sent post-event? By accepted meetings? Then go on and track your progress, until you can get a conversion rate. Sales, memberships, programs. In the end, it all comes down to numbers, preferably with a dollar sign in front of them.

Photo by:   Claire Barnouin