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There was once a time in the sales industry when experts predicted that conventional networking would go the way of the dodo and die. Who needs to meet people when you have social media, they said. Who’s still interested in handshakes and hellos when you can do your network selling from home, they stated. Everything was going to be online anyway, right?

What these experts failed to realise was that sales networking would go online, but at its core, it would retain its original format. Online networking isn’t so different from meeting people in person, online conferences are still used as networking events, and the same basic principles governing networking behaviour still apply. Network selling is as lucrative as ever, and while coronavirus has caused disruption, the industry is already adapting.

We are likely to see the various forms of online networking become more developed as the industry continues to prioritise online and remote working. Therefore it’s more crucial than ever to have a firm grasp of what high-quality sales networking requires. It all starts with adopting and cultivating the right attitude.

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Networking for sales – Start with a smile

Sales networking of any variety will only work if your attitude and energy are positive. This isn’t a desirable or would-be-nice aspect, it is of the utmost importance that you go into networking with the right attitude. If your attitude is distanced, lacking confidence, or generally negative, then you will fail miserably.

Start by adopting the two H’s; humble and honest, being calm without arrogance and bluster is endearing to prospects, as is honesty. In networking it’s perfectly acceptable to be upfront and direct with who you are and what you want, especially if it’s done with a smile. Being genuine as an individual, both in your requests and attitude, will help you build trust with prospects going forward.

Even if you’re a positive paragon of good energy and confidence it’s always best to thoroughly prepare for the launch of your sales networking plan. You can ensure your personality will be positive and thus effective by reading literature, researching case studies, and reaching out to your pre-existing contacts network. Ask the people in your personal life who know you best, those who won’t be afraid to tell the truth about aspects of your personality you should either showcase or tone down.

Identify your networking targets

One should adopt a quality over quantity approach towards sales networking, though this might appear contradictory. Surely, you might ask yourself, if you’re starting out wouldn’t it make more sense to connect with as many people as possible? Well, while it’s possible to argue numbers have a quality all of their own, we maintain that you’re far better off focusing on making fewer but higher quality connections.

Do detailed research and invest time in finding people you’re certain will appreciate your product. You will be far better off contacting 10 leads that, given their interests, are likely to respond positively rather than 100 maybes or possibles. This is why the qualitative approach is optimal, it’s much more efficient than mass-blasting emails.

You have a variety of tools you can use to identify lead targets, some of which we’ll go into greater detail on, like LinkedIn. On the subject of emails, whatever you do, do not use the same template for every message. You need to individualise each of your messages to take the lead’s interests and proclivities into account.

Optimise your social media

Don’t think that you can disregard high-quality social media if most of your work is done offline. Without a strong portfolio of social media pages and content, your sales networking will flounder from the start. Start off with LinkedIn, the bread and butter of sales social media management, as it is easy to use and most applicable to your work.

Using social media for sales networking comes down to two key aspects. Firstly, you use social media to publish news, content, and references about yourself and your product, all designed to make you an attractive prospect. Secondly, you use social media to reach out to new connections and actually perform networking by interacting with said connections, attending online events, adding people to your network, etc.

The key is to post consistently. It’s actually more important to stick to a predictable schedule rather than posting as much as you can, whenever you can. Remember our point earlier about looking for quality rather than quantity? The same applies here, focus on publishing high-quality posts governed by a reasonable timetable, and make sure you interact with people who interact with your posts.

Always look for introductions and feedback

If you have the right mental attitude combined with clear targets and a finely-tuned social media system then your sales networking will be off to a great start. If you want it to continue beyond the starting stage there is one more aspect you need to implement. This is what can be called constant searching: search for new introductions for yourself and look for as much feedback as possible.

As we’ve already covered, being genuine and honest really is the best policy, so never shy away from asking for introductions. Try to work introduction requests into a reasonable number of interactions with your existing clients. Just don’t overdo it, constantly asking for introductions will make you appear needy and insincere.

Asking for feedback, on the other hand, is something you should do as frequently as possible. Always make sure you build in a feedback option into your emails, landing portal, etc, and interact with customers leaving feedback on your social media pages. Utilising this aspect as well as introductions will perpetuate the networking cycle, it is an absolutely critical skill.

The times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan probably didn’t have a global pandemic in mind when he sang that song but times really are changing. Coronavirus is altering almost everything we do on a daily basis and nowhere is that change more apparent than in business. More companies and workers are moving to online-only, and these changes are highly likely to become permanent as companies realise they can improve efficiency and decrease rental costs by doing so.

Sales networking will change with the times but it isn’t going away, and while events will continue to be held online going into 2021, eventually normality will be restored. Well… somewhat. It will be a new normal. This new normal will see more conferences being held online only and people will be less keen to travel.

Therefore, mastering the art of networking for sales is more important than ever, and when we say art here, we could just as easily be saying the basics. This is because the basics of old-fashioned, classic sales networking apply online as much as offline; being confident, consistent, and creative. As with any other aspect of the sales business, if you are not afraid to take risks and to experiment with new concepts you’ll do well, but sometimes you’ll also need a helping hand.