“85 percent of jobs are filled through networking and 72 percent of people say their impressions are impacted by how someone appears and their handshake.”*

In our digital age it is easy to forget the power and impact a simple smile can have while meeting face-to-face. Not long ago, if you were not meeting in person you would call a prospect directly. Today, a simple text or email is sufficient. Almost all our interactions come from indirect communication that can be easily drowned in a relentless flood of sales calls, spam emails, and LinkedIn connection requests. To top it off, the necessity for social distancing due to the coronavirus makes it nearly impossible to conduct business in person. Under these circumstances, most (if not all) business networking events are online.

While virtual meetings with prospective business partners is convenient, they will never be as effective as in-person interactions. This guide teaches best practices for those in-person face-to-face interactions with enterprise buyers who are interested in sourcing from companies like yours.

Whether you are new to the game or looking for a few tips on how to improve your networking skills, read on to learn what to expect at these events and how to best prepare for them.

Find Events

Many events are sponsored by larger Fortune 1000 companies and government agencies. You have many online resources at your disposal to find matchmaking events near you, including:

The National 8(a) Association – A non-profit organization with the primary focus of developing small and disadvantaged businesses. They provide education, membership and host a variety of events to help connect businesses.

MyBusinessMatches.com – This veteran owned cloud-based business is a matchmaking solutions service that aims to be the preferred global leader in business matchmaking. They showcase a variety of events cutting your search time in half.

The US Department of State – A government agency which core function is to support U.S. businesses. They conduct several outreach activities and participate in an array conferences, workshops and seminars.

Choose Events Wisely

As you are browsing networking events, bear in mind that you want to attend those that are within your industry. These events are often geared towards specific types of suppliers; use this to your advantage.

Also, be sure to take your unique status as a new-majority business owner into consideration. Organizations that want to source from woman-, minority-, LGBTQ-, or veteran-owned businesses host and attend business matchmaking events regularly. To take full advantage of new-majority-based networking events, you may want to certify your diverse supplier status.

To consider even speaking with you, some Fortune 1000 companies and governments require you to have supplier diversity certification. Getting it can be challenging; fortunately, you can access plenty of online resources to help simplify and accelerate the process.

Research Your Prospects

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A 2019 study by The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry found five key attributes of successful B2B networking events, in which participants:

  • Participants are well-identified
  • describe their offers or needs in detail and with relevant keywords
  • actively look for partners and engage in the process
  • have a mutual interest in meeting comes
  • are ensured that a coordinator has put all of the above in place

One of the biggest takeaways is the importance of researching events and coming prepared with a plan. Just as you would study for a test that you hope to ace, you must study the companies that are attending these matchmaking events. Identify those you believe you can add value so you can focus your efforts and energy on making meaningful connections.

Prepare Yourself

Now that you are signed up for an event and have a plan to speak with companies you can add real value to, consider these three important preparations before your meeting:

·      Dress professionally

·      Prepare marketing materials

·      Practice your pitch

While these steps may seem like common sense, little to no advance preparation will be painfully obvious to the company you are pitching to. Everyone in attendance is taking time out of their busy schedules in hopes of making profitable connections! Don’t waste your time or theirs with a half-baked effort. Come prepared and look the part, because every interaction you have with them is a reflection not just of you, but your company too.

And Here’s the Pitch…

Although you have a prepared pitch, bear in mind you are interacting with business reps to develop personal relationships. If you are in “pitch mode” throughout your meetings, you are just speaking at them, not conversing and engaging with them. While these meetings are important for the growth of your business, understand these events are not the places to make sales or sign contracts.

The best way to avoid overpitching is to actively listen to your prospects. This allows you to identify their pain points and gives you an opportunity to demonstrate how you can provide true value to them.

Connect After the Event

You have networked your way through an event! Now for one of the most important steps:

Follow up, follow up, and follow up

The worst thing you can do after putting in all your hard preparation and pitching work is not staying connected with your new contacts. Follow-up methods include:

  • Connecting on social media
  • Sending personalized thank-you emails
  • Putting them into your sales track

One highly effective approach is leaving a personal email thanking them for the time they spent with you. Be sure to include some specific details about your meeting. This allows you to keep the connection personal without overly selling your company.

At this point, you can put prospects with whom you have had successful meetings into your sales track and to begin working with them towards a deal. This is best done by periodically sending them personalized emails selling your services.

What if the Networking Event is Digital?

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Luckily all of the same rules apply for digital events. The same amount of work and preparation is necessary – yes, even dressing up!

It can be easy to disregard the importance of appearance on a Zoom call, however first impressions matter.

Time to Get Out There and Network!

It is not always easy to meet people in person, but with the right amount of preparation you stand a much better chance of landing deals through business networking events.

For more tips, tools, and techniques that will help your business grow as a diverse supplier, sign up for your very own Hire Ground account. This will help connect you with private and public enterprise buyers looking for companies like yours and match you with supply chain opportunities. You will also get an automatic subscription to the monthly Hire Ground newsletter, where you will be among the first to get updates about events, articles, and announcements about supplier diversity.

* Aja Frost, 15 Surprising Stats on Networking and Face-to-Face Communication, November 2017, Hubspot Blog