Have you ever gone to a professional meeting and showed up early for the “networking” opportunities? Many of these pre-meeting networking sessions remind me of the grade school playground. Some of the attendees are “in” and others are made to feel “out.”
As a newcomer to one these events , have you ever gotten “the look” from the old guard, been-around-for-a-while, in-crowd folks? Were you greeted by any Board Members and/or sponsors? You either find a cracker to munch on and a quiet corner and your iPhone with which to pass the time until the program starts, or you dive right in and meet-and-greet on your own. Polite handshakes, perhaps biz cards are exchanged. Then they turn back to their conversation and leave you out. Again. Everyone’s got more important folks to speak with , other than you.
On to the next pod of networking whales. Same thing happens.
The message you receive says: “Who the heck are you and what the heck are you doing in my space?”
Ever been in that situation? I thought so. It gets into your head. I makes you feel like you don’t belong. It even makes you feel stupid, inadequate.
Even though you are a paid member of this professional association.
So you go home and vow never to go to another one of those kinds of events because they make you feel bad about yourself. Except that you repeat again, the following month, with the same results.
Did you ever consider that newcomers at these events are perceived as a threat to the balance of power, networking, and business opportunities within the group? Attendees circle their mental wagons and retreat into comfortable circles with known, and non-threatening entities.
It’s networking status quo. You see it on playgrounds, at health clubs, in country clubs, at colleges. Wherever.
So why are you expecting something else?
If you are attending these meetings looking for fun and friendship, you will be disappointed. If you are attending these meetings to develop and transact unearned business, on the spot, you will be frustrated. If you are attending these meetings to be affirmed as a professional, you will be let down.
If you are attending these meetings looking for relevant and valuable content that expands your professional insights you still may be disappointed.
I recommend having a set agenda that you want to accomplish at networking events – even if they are a complete train wreck socially. Find out who or what business segments will be in attendance. Target several folks to whom you will introduce yourself, even if it’s simply to give them your business card and follow up on the phone and on LinkedIn. Then follow up.
What aspect of the presentation are you most interested in learning about? That might provide a better conversation starter than shaking hands and immediately pitching your value proposition at anyone who will listen.
There’s a flip side to this equation. Many professional associations have membership in stasis or decline and wonder why. Many professional associations do not understand how to provide value to their members. They send out a barrage of insurance and discounted offers which they feel are valuable to members.
Many professional associations and networking groups are simply drinking their own Kool-Aid® and looking at their own sandbox from the inside looking out. What does it really take to attract new members who renew after the first year?
Have you ever taken a post-meeting poll of whether folks found your meeting relevant and valuable to their professional development?
It’s all about value. Isn’t that what we strive to achieve with our customers? What is the value of the experience of doing business with us? What is the value and relevance of being a paid member of your professional association?
It could be that the value of your association to its members has a huge experiential component. Perhaps you are falling short in this aspect of the equation. Your sandbox may be shrinking as folks make a choice whether to play in there with you.
Babette Ten Haken provides technical people and other sellers a solid strategy for how to explain a product, its benefits, and its value in ways that buyers can easily understand and sellers can comfortably present. Her company, Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, works with entrepreneurs, start-ups & investors, as well as small businesses and manufacturers, focusing on revenue-generating and portfolio-building business development strategies.