As a consultant, I am constantly going on informational/networking meetings to convince clients to hire me. Through these experiences, I’ve learned a lot about how to conduct a networking meeting.
Here are six tips I have for managing networking meetings:
It’s not easy, but I get meetings with many CEOs and other executives in the Chicago area. When people ask me how, I tell them it’s a fairly basic process – I email people and convince them to meet with me. If I’m trying to reach the CEO, I sometimes schedule a call with one of his direct reports first. I sometimes send a couple of follow-up emails. I sometimes ask other people in my network for referrals.
There are many ways to ask for something, but the key to getting it is almost always persistence.
Do your research
It is not as difficult as you would think to research a company or a person thanks to Google. I research all sorts of things, from industry statistics, to competitors, to website statistics, to hobbies of the person I’m meeting. I also read through press releases and media coverage (all found on the internet) to understand the history of the company, the pain points, and what the management team cares about. If you do your research beforehand, you can make a good impression at the meeting.
Set reasonable expectations
Based on your research, you should know how much you can actually contribute to the networking meeting, and how much information you will have to ask for. It’s essential to set expectations for a networking meeting so you don’t waste someone’s time.
I have gone to meetings where a CEO just wants to chat over beers, and I’ve gone to meetings where the CEO wants a PowerPoint deck of my ideas and how to implement them. If you set expectations well, you can avoid being under-prepared and making a bad impression.
Articulate your interest and your value
There are two things people want to see in a networking meeting: enthusiasm or passion, and what you bring to the table. Make sure that you incorporate both these answers into your story about your history and your goals.
Also, don’t forget to tie both of these concepts to the company, the person you’re meeting with, and yourself. It’s a tough balance, so practicing beforehand helps!
Be open to possibilities
Often, you will not get an immediate offer from a networking meeting. That doesn’t mean it was a waste. Instead, you’ve gotten a contact, information, or a referral. Or you found a way to help the person with one of these three things. Be open to what someone can help you with, and good things will come.
Because networking meetings are not for closing deals, you have to follow-up and check in on the person within a reasonable time frame. This reminds the person of what you discussed, what you want, and what value you have to them. I generally follow up with a thank you email to begin with, and then follow up once more within a month.