Salespeople often complain about not being able to connect with higher-level decision-makers at the networking events and trade shows. Sales professionals know that it often doesn’t matter. Here’s why…
Assume an organization that you’ve been researching takes the time to participate in a networking event or trade show. However, since the C-level execs are often too busy to attend, they send their “delegates” – mid-level execs who can represent the organization, report back on who else was there, etc. In many cases, these delegates will be fairly low on the totem pole – perhaps even interns or brand-new hires. It’s unlikely they’ll have a full picture of the organization’s needs, much less the ability to approve a proposal from you. However, they may have valuable insights into the company, including which players would likely be involved in evaluating your offerings. Bottom line, if approached with respect and decorum, these non-decision-makers may provide a fast track to the right people.
Here’s how this phenomenon plays out in real life… Suppose you’re at a conference or networking event. You scan the room for “decision-makers”… What you see instead are small clusters of people standing in the corners like nervous adolescents at a high school dance. They are used to being ignored because they don’t have a lot of clout within their own organizations. They may be there because their boss told them to attend.
A “salesperson” would ignore these folks as not having the power to effect change. A sales professional knows otherwise. He approaches as many of these delegates as possible. He asks them how long they’ve been with their respective companies, how they’re enjoying the experience so far, and what they actually do day to day. Note the order and tone of the questions… Each interaction is a human conversation, not some cold-call qualification script being acted out in person.
If you take this approach, eventually each of your conversation partners will ask, “So what do you do?” At that point, you’ll give your 15-second elevator pitch, custom-made for your prospect’s segment, company and role. Then you’ll ask casually, “I know you work for a large organization, and you’ve only been there for a short time. That said, do you know if your organization is even interested in energy efficiency initiatives?”
It’s highly likely your conversation partner will have no idea, which is still alright provided that you handle your follow-up questions properly. You might add, “I’m wondering who over there at your shop might be interested in energy efficiency initiatives. Do you happen to know who that might be?” You may be shocked to hear that the in-house energy guru sits 15 feet away from this newly hired exec. Or perhaps you’ll hear, “I don’t know, but I think it’s Joe Smith… I probably have his email address in my Blackberry… and even if I don’t, you could certainly guess his email address – everyone at our company uses the same protocol: first initial and the first five letters of the name @BigCompany.com.
If you’re lucky enough to hear that your conversation partner sees your genuine target on a regular basis, you might say, “Wow, what a small world! You know, you would be doing me the greatest personal favor if you were to give one of my cards to Mr. Smith when you see him next… In fact, here are two of my business cards, one for you and one for him. Would you be willing to hand-carry this card to him?” (I have never had someone refuse to do this favor for me. In most cases, the “messenger” places my business card in my target’s hand the very next day.)
Always be sure to take your new friend’s card because even if he’s an “under the radar” staffer, it’s great to drop a name when you connect with the person whose contact information they provided. When you reach out to your target, you might start with, “I met a very helpful young man named ______at the XYZ conference last Friday. I understand he just started working in your Chicago office. When I asked him who in your organization was responsible for <<<creating value with your offering>>>, he was kind enough to volunteer your name and suggested that I reach out to you.”
So what’s the moral of the story? You never know who may be holding a key that can open a door of opportunity for you. Talk to people as human beings, not networking pawns. Genuinely network. Make those connections. And remember, the most useful chains usually have far more than two links in them!