Don’t look now, but Christmas is almost here. In addition to spreading goodwill, this can be an opportunity to make some connections for future business.
Let’s assume you sell a service to businesses. You want to get in front of senior management or HR people at the big local companies in your territory. Hopefully you live in the center of it. Your strategy is to attend the right events and meet the right people. You want them to connect your name with your face.
You want to be a recognizable voice when you call in the New Year. It would be even better if you could identify interests in common, using these as a reason to get together.
It all starts with choosing the right holiday events to attend:
1. Chamber of Commerce. The local chamber likely has a holiday event scheduled. You know if your target firms are members. They might even be sponsors. This implies they will be attending. Everyone loves a good party.
2. Professional associations. If you are cultivating a niche market, you have likely joined their professional association as an associate member, someone providing a product or service. They likely have a holiday party.
3. Alumni association. Your school likely has a local chapter. You probably know the graduates who are major players. Do they hold a holiday party? If not, they should. You can help organize it, getting the word out to local graduates. Coincidentally, some work for the companies you are cultivating.
4. Service organizations. You might belong to one. They draw the movers and shakers in the community. Hopefully they get a good turnout at their holiday event.
5. Sponsored events. Major firms often sponsor community events. If your desired firms fit into this category, it’s likely senior management will be there when the press take pictures.
6. Holiday concert. If you have a local symphony, it’s likely they hold a festive concert designed to appeal to a wide audience. These draw established community leaders and corporate executives, especially if they have large families.
7. Museum event. If your area has a big museum, chances are they do a special member event for the holidays. Your target corporations might be represented on the board. They will likely attend and mingle.
Once you are there, it’s on to Phase 2. If possible, study up on the people you are likely to meet. Get caught up on financial news articles mentioning them. Focus on good news. Look at their annual report online. You might not meet the people at the top of the company, but you might meet some insiders. Buy tickets to attend these events.
Now it’s on to Phase 3. Dress well. Eat a substantial meal before your arrival. You don’t want to be seen gorging yourself at the food table. Don’t drink alcohol — drink lightly or alternate water and wine. You don’t want to get tipsy.
Phase 4 involves meeting people. Start by looking around the room to find people you know. Ask about the people you want to meet. Do they know them? Are they here tonight? If so, will they introduce you? This saves the time and trouble of cruising the room looking at nametags.
You start conversations. People usually ask: “What do you do?” This gives you the opportunity to get on their radar. This is the point where you mention that news story announcing better-than-expected earnings or a new product. It’s difficult for people to feel offended by a compliment.
They probably have made the connection that you sell a service and their company is a prospect. However, you haven’t brought up business. You’ve engaged in light conversation. You’ve asked about their holiday plans. If you are very lucky, you’ve identified a shared interest. Don’t linger too long. You’ve already made a good impression.
Phase 5 involves reconnecting and saying goodbye. The coat check line and the car valet station are two bottlenecks. You catch up with them again. Explain you enjoyed talking with them. Mention what they talked about. It shows you were paying attention.
Perhaps you suggest connecting via LinkedIn. It’s easy: “Are you on LinkedIn? Maybe we can connect.” Suggesting exchanging cards might be too forward. The exception is if you have identified that interest in common.
Into the New Year
Let’s assume you are now connected on LinkedIn. If you call for an appointment, you should now be a familiar name. You might mention where you met and the LinkedIn connection as a way of getting past the gatekeeper.
If your connection isn’t the person who makes decisions on your product, they can point you in the right direction. Ideally they let the other person know you will be calling. Even if that doesn’t work out, you’ve established a connection with a senior executive you will likely see at a future community or business event.
Were you pushy? No. Did you come across as a salesperson? No. Did you have a good time? Hopefully. Did you make some good connections? Yes.