Commentary

Effective networking requires a strategy beyond meet-and-greet

In-person networking is still a critical business tool

It''s impossible to overstate the value of developing and maintaining key relationships in the government market.

The first line in my book "Government Marketing Best Practices" is “This market, any market, is about relationships.” I have discussed the topic of traditional (face-to-face) networking several times on my radio show with Ardell Fleeson, a commercial real estate broker and an outstanding networker in the federal government market. I have gleaned these thoughts from those shows and my many conversations with her.

Face-to-face networking is a major factor for success in the government market, and every day in the Washington metro area formal and informal networking is taking place at hundreds of locations. For example, at the Tower Club in Vienna, Va., every day starting at 7 A.M., you can observe networking that doesn't stop until the last patron leaves after dinner.

The practice of networking is critical for small businesses. A small company has fewer “feet on the street,” and the selection of the right venues to meet key people is critical to its growth and survival. You must make time to get out and interact with our market leaders, preferably those who can help you grow your business. Moreover, this must become a regular part of your business week. Yes, it takes time – but everything about running a business takes time.

So how do you determine the proper venues for your business networking? Here are some tips:

  • Where do you spend your time looking for partners and customers? The first thing to do is to determine who you looking for, then you can start figuring out where to look for them.
  • Consider the major networking groups in our market: AFCEA (national and local chapters), TechAmerica (formerly ITAA), the Professional Services Council, ACT/IAC. There are also smaller, but not necessarily less influential groups: the Northern Virginia Technology Council, Women In Technology, the Maryland Tech Council, the American Small Business Coalition, Potomac Officers Club, Government Market Master (my new networking forum) and many others. While you cannot spend time at all of these, if you have answered the first point properly, you might find the right group(s) on this list to add to your networking.
  • Read the “Calendar of events” at www.WashingtonTechnology.com to find other great places to meet key industry movers and shakers.
  • If your company is driven by a technology niche, such as information security, information assurance, you need to find a venue that serves that community. Often the larger associations have such specialized sub-groups.
  • Ask your best customers and business partners where they spend their networking time.
  • Ask recognized industry experts where they spend their time.

Having at least a few networking venues queued up, what do you need to do to prepare beside making certain you have plenty of business cards?

For each venue you want to attend decide specifically what you want to accomplish: to meet some new contacts or some specific contacts? To introduce some of your contacts to new people? To start establishing some overall visibility? Then set a goal of making at least two or three top-notch new contacts at each event you attend.

Remember the adage of the early bird and the worm? It works. Get to the venue early so you can scan the name tags on the check-in table to determine precisely who you’d like to meet. Such “intelligence gathering” can shorten the time needed to meet those two to three new people.

Next, you need to be able to clearly, precisely and briefly say what your company does. Clearly means with few adjectives. Precisely means focusing on your core strength. Avoid general statements such as “We are an IT services firm” or “We are a systems integrator.” Rather say, “We focus on information assurance.” And briefly means say it in 15 to 20 seconds, max. If you go beyond that, you are assuming the listener is interested in your spiel.

Conversely, always listen to what others say to you. Remember, networking is a two-way street, so try to help everyone you meet if you expect them to help you. The more you help others, the more return you will get on each new relationship.

When you meet truly useful people, try to get on their calendar quickly, before their memory of meeting you fades. Breakfast or coffee is easier to schedule than lunch. The first meeting is when you can bring information about your company, and expect your new networking contact to do the same. Remember, this is a 50-50 situation. Do not expect to dominate the meeting.

Mark Amtower is a B2G consultant, speaker and radio host. He can be reached at www.GovernmentMarketMaster.com

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

Reader Comments

Tue, Sep 8, 2009 Dick Davies http://throughthebrowser.blogspot.com

One other consideration is, what are you offering? Tom Peters says, "Networking is helping someone." Better to offer an immediate solution. That is a starting point for negotiation.

Tue, Sep 8, 2009 Owen Ambur Silver Spring, MD

Good advice. Hopefully, in the not-to-distant future, AIIM's emerging Strategy Markup Language (StratML) standard will become another tool enabling those with similar and/or complementary objectives to discover and productively engage each other. The combination of SratML and social networking technology could prove to be pretty powerful -- not only asynchronously on the Net but also at F2F gatherings through the application of wireless, geo-aware devices.

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