First Person: Networking Models for Small Business Marketing Success

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My career in sales and marketing began when I got out of the U.S. Air Force. It covers retail and business to business sales, sales management, small business owner, and small business consultant roles over 30 plus years. During my career, I have looked for ways to achieve small business marketing success.

In my observations, one of the hardest marketing things to do falls in the arena of sales calls. Making a 'cold' call takes the cake. That's why I look for ways to make 'warm calls.' In other words, I want to call on people who are already interested in what I'm selling or are predisposed to talk with me.

Ways to Make Warm Calls

Leads from any of these sources can produce someone receptive to your call:

- Satisfied customer referral

- Prospect calls in from word-of-mouth

- Marketing (both offline marketing and online)

- Networking meetings

- Referral from networking group

The Worst Networking Meeting Ever

In the early years of my sales career, I attended a training class on networking. The objective of the trainer's lesson was to see who could obtain the most business cards in 15 minutes.

If you gathered 30 business cards, what do you do with them now? What do you know about the person whose card you have? How can you serve that person so as to start building a relationship?

Key to Successful Networking

Networking isn't a game of marbles where the victor is the person with the most business cards (marbles). A successful networking meeting is one where you come away knowing something about another person on which to start a relationship. Use these opportunities to form a basis for future business by showing you care about their needs and wants.

I recently experienced a couple events where I saw people actually apply excellent networking skills. They did such a great job that they serve as examples of how to make connections.

Open House Event

Dorothy and I attended an open house for media and event planners because I write restaurant reviews. At our table, we met one of the vendors. We had an enjoyable chat during which time Tammy discovered my reason for being there.

That's when her sales skills really shone. She took me around to meet another small business owner and a couple people in a local trade association. While I appreciated her introductions to people who might want to invite me as a restaurant reviewer, more importantly, it served her contacts.

Tammy's primary purpose, as I see it, was to benefit her customers. She told them I'm a restaurant reviewer and pointed out, "He can help promote your businesses." Further, she encouraged me to join their association, again a win-win.

Network Group Meeting

The second example was when I attended a networking meeting as substitute. Two small business members of the group, after the meeting, suggested that I contact another member because she specializes in restaurants.

The key point here is that these business people were all interested in serving others first. They thought about what someone else needed and acted to help out. I can tell you from being on the receiving end of this treatment, it's very effective. I now am looking for ways to return the favor.

Remember in your small business marketing efforts, networking done right isn't about more business cards to enter into your database but rather success comes from connecting one-on-one so as to lead to future business together. I gave two cases of excellent networkers so that you can understand how to use these opportunities to establish relationships that will lead to sales or referrals.

More from this contributor:

First Person: Are Networking Meetings a Waste of Time?

First Person: How Relationship Selling Applies to Networking Meetings

First Person: The Internet and Small Business Marketing

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