Business Networking: The Ultimate Guide

Check out our comprehensive guide on business networking, including all of the fundamental skills required to grow your network.

Business networking is a great way to meet new people, build relationships, and grow a customer base organically from those relationships. To help you navigate the world of networking, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide that explains what business networking is, as well as why and how you should do it.

Networking is one of the tried-and-true lead generation tactics for direct outreach. However, it’s only one of many prospecting strategies. For a complete list, check out our ultimate guide on sales prospecting.

What Is Business Networking?

Business networking is a lead generation and relationship building strategy that focuses on attending targeted events with the goal of forming connections with people who can help grow your business. The most common use case is typically lead generation. While some of this can be done online, our article focuses on in-person lead generation through networking events.

Business networking in person offers the following benefits:

  • It fine-tunes your pitch
  • It improves your confidence
  • It increases your visibility
  • It generates referrals without converting the original lead
  • It develops personal relationships

This can be helpful to anybody, especially B2B salespeople, with access to events that their target demographic will attend. So, we’ve organized a guide here to assist you in your effort to grow your network and generate leads while doing so.

Types of Business Networking Events

There are many business networking events to attend, from small local meetups to large national conferences. To target the right events for your networking efforts, check out the three main types below, with detail on how to find relevant gatherings:

Trade Shows

Trade shows are some of the best events possible for a business owner or sales professional who is solely focused on approaching potential leads. Trade shows are events where different companies come together and show off their products for prospective customers. Attendees at the trade show are either selling their product or looking for things to buy.

So, B2C salespeople will be pitching primarily to attendees as part of a booth. B2B sellers can show up as attendees or set up a booth, and they’ll probably want to network with other booths. You can find trade shows to attend on sites like 10times.com that organize them by industry to make it easy and quick to find some in your area.

Conferences

Conferences are industry-specific events that get businesses in their industry together to discuss news and innovation. There are some that have consumer attendees, but usually conferences are made up of business professionals in the given niche, making them a great place to network with other businesses to create valuable connections and relationships.

Since conferences can be business-only or consumer-inclusive, the type of salesperson they serve best depends on the conference you pick. There are conferences for everybody, and you can find them on 10times.com, as well. B2B sellers will benefit more from the business-only conferences, whereas B2C sellers will typically go to the consumer-attended events.

Business Networking Groups

Business networking groups can be informal or formal groups that coordinate networking events for its members. Informal groups include professional LinkedIn groups or community-led nonprofit organizations, while formal groups typically represent associations like your Chamber of Commerce or Business Networking International (BNI).

If you’re looking to become part of formal business associations and take advantage of their in-person events, check out this searchable database. Otherwise, continue reading for information on informal groups and meetups.

Local Meetups

These meetups are networking events that take place on a smaller scale. Many companies will have meetups with similar businesses, potential big-ticket leads, or even community members in order to network. Alternatively, you can join a BNI or Meetup group to get more involved with businesses in your community. These groups will often set up weekly or monthly meetings between business professionals looking for connections.

These can work well for any sales professional, since they can be whatever you want them to be. You can attend a meetup with local enthusiasts within your industry to generate leads, or one full of local business owners in order to build business connections.

How to Generate Leads via Business Networking

Now, it’s time to focus on the lead generation process in the context of business networking. Taking the proper steps will ensure that you maximize your return on the time investment of networking, as it can feel like a lot of upfront work at first. But by taking the following steps, business networking can become one of the most valuable strategies you’ve ever used:

  1. Define Your Ideal Customer: Figure out your target audience, who is most likely to purchase your product.
  2. Identify the Right Events to Attend: Consider your ideal customer and business goals to decide which events will best help you meet them.
  3. Practice Your Sales Pitch: Get some repititions in at home to make sure you put your best foot forward on game day. 
  4. Bring the Right Takeaway Materials: Make sure you have all the physical materials you need for your chosen networking event.
  5. Make Connections and Gather Contact Info: Meet people, converse with them, and get their contact information.

Let’s dive into the details on each of these steps to give a more comprehensive look at business networking.

1. Define Your Ideal Customer

Before anything else, you need to figure out who your market is. The goal is to identify demographics and psychographics in order to create a buyer persona. Hammering out who your customer is, how old they are, what they do for a living, and where they live is paramount to starting any variety of lead generation strategy.

Here are some of the demographic questions to answer when nailing down your ideal customer:

  • Do you sell to businesses or customers?
  • How old are they?
  • Where are they typically located?
  • Where do they tend to shop, and how do they like to buy things (online, in person, etc.)?
  • What are some parallel markets in which they might shop?

All of these questions are vital when deciding where to network and how to tailor your pitch to the people you meet. As you dive deeper into the demographic factors and purchasing habits of your target customer, you’ll have more information to inform your choices. Try using HubSpot’s Make My Persona tool to simplify the process of defining your buyer persona.

2. Identify the Right Events to Attend

Now that you have some direction, you’ll need to figure out where you’re going to network. As stated before, your target demo will be one of the factors that decides the right events for your business, but you also must consider your goals as a business. The primary types of networking events you’ll run into are:

  • Trade Shows: Conventions focused on showcasing multiple businesses in a similar industry; they’re great for B2C or B2B salespeople who want to sell and network at once. Check websites like 10times.com for a searchable database.
  • Conferences: Events focused on bringing multiple businesses in the same industry together to discuss news and innovation within that industry; they’re great for B2B salespeople looking for connections. Sites like 10times.com will also have listings.
  • Business Networking Groups: Largely professional associations hosting events for its members, great for B2B sellers. You can check out this list of professional associations for more information on which ones might be right for you.
  • Local Meetups: General term for any privately organized events between business professionals who are specifically looking to network with each other in a less formal way. Check out resources like BNI or Meetup for localized events.

Each of them serves a different purpose and changes the types of attendees you’ll find. Trade shows will have more customers and small business owners, conferences will have more business professionals and executives, and associations or local meetups have an infinite variety wherein you can pick and choose with whom you’re networking.

Pro Tip:

If you are located in a more rural area where conferences and trade shows are less common, meet and greets are a great way to generate leads and network within a smaller community. If you’re the one to plan it in your BNI/Meetup group, you’ll get a hefty boost in visibility among the other businesses in your community.

3. Practice Your Sales Pitch

Before you head off to your first networking event, you’ll want to tune up your sales pitch at home. You won’t want to use your regular old cold calling script; you need to make a new script, recite it to yourself to get a feel for it, then practice it with some friends or coworkers to prepare for rebuttals.

Write a Networking Event Script

Since networking events are a pretty unique environment, you’ll need to be uniquely prepared. If you’re dealing with potential leads, they’ll be closer to warm than in most other situations. After all, they came to an event that businesses were going to attend, so they’re ready for a pitch.

There are a few steps to follow when creating a script specifically for networking:

  • Spend More Time on the Intro: Set you and your company apart from the other attendees by summarizing your mission.
  • Include a Comprehensive Pitch: Attendees are at a business event, so you can dive a little deeper than you normally would, knowing that they are prepared to talk business.
  • Account for Demonstration: If you’re at a trade show selling a product, you’ll probably have some sort of demo to account for in your pitch.
  • Include a Strong Call-to-Action: It can get easy to lose yourself in small talk at these events; make sure you give specific direction.

Keeping these tips in mind, you should be able to craft a solid script for your networking events. The script will be vital in ensuring a consistent pitch with every prospect and making sure that you don’t miss any takeaways you want your leads to leave with. You don’t want to waste the opportunity with leads that are typically more open to talking business than your usual prospect.

Pro Tip:

Make sure you use your networking script only when it comes time to pitch the product. At networking events (trade shows being a potential exception), it’s usually best to start a more casual conversation before diving into business. Say hi, ask a few questions, and crack a few jokes. Then, you can get into your script

4. Bring the Right Takeaway Materials

After deciding where to go and what to say, you need to make sure you have all the proper tools to deliver on your plans. No matter what kind of networking event you go to, there are some materials you will want to keep handy for attendees that you meet to take home or view on the spot. Similarly to the second step, your needs here will depend on the event you’re attending.

Pro Tip:

In addition to everything we are about to list, every salesperson should have electronic materials that they can show to a lead on their phone and email to them with ease. You can also keep on online form handy on your phone to easily gather contact info.

Conferences & Meetups

For these types of events, you’ll typically only bring materials to gather and share contact information. While this can be done on your business phone, it’s always best to carry physical materials with contact information and/or product info.

Bring these basic materials to share your contact and product information:

  • Business card
  • Pamphlets/brochures for your company or product

While not all materials are necessary for all events, business cards are a must at any networking event. It’s the easiest way to make sure that people have your contact info, and the process of sharing it doesn’t take too much time away from a good conversation.

Trade Shows

If you’re at a trade show, you’ll probably want some tools for product demonstrations. These can take a few different forms, depending on whether or not your product is something you can physically demonstrate. If not, you can just bring some pamphlets that illustrate some of the main benefits of your product. 

If you are running a booth, some trade-show-specific materials include:

  • Table and table cover
  • Attractive sign with your company logo
  • Example of your product or props for demonstration (if possible)
  • Literature (pamphlets/brochures) explaining your product
  • Sign-up sheet for contact information

In addition to these more specific items, you’ll want to have everything handy that we covered for the other two event types. It’s always good to have sharable takeaway materials to hand out to people who are hesitant to give their own contact information.

Trade Show Sample
Example trade show booth

5. Make Connections & Gather Contact Info

All the preparation is done, and now it is time to meet with people and gather their contact info. You’ve already decided who you’re going to try to meet, and you have your materials ready, so now you should meet, pitch, and try to set up a meeting. 

Remember the following steps when starting professional conversations with potential leads:

  1. Open With a Professional Compliment: Something simple like “Hey, I like your shoes!” is a kind, respectful way to compliment somebody at a professional event.
  2. Introduce Yourself: Let them know who you are and what business you represent.
  3. Ask a Few Prospecting Questions: Ask them why they are there and what their objective is for the evening. 
  4. Use Your Takeaway Materials in Your Call-to-Action: Give them your card and offer to take down their number or email to set up an appointment later on. Or close then and there if you’re direct selling at a trade show.

This simple four-step process will get you in the door with any type of lead, build rapport, and give you a good chance of getting their contact information. Improvise depending on the lead, as it is always important to meet them where they are. If your lead is engaging in conversation with you before you get to ask your questions, focus on what they are saying and get a good conversation going.

5 Benefits of Business Networking

Now that you know how to network, we’ll go into detail on how it can benefit your business. Each of the five major benefits extends far past the meetings you have and the leads you generate. Let’s go over exactly how they benefit you now and how they’ll make you a better salesperson in the long run.

Fine-Tune Your Pitch

Business networking involves a lot of face-to-face pitching. As a result, you’ll end up with a more fleshed-out pitching process. Experience breeds innovation, and real-world practice like this helps identify weak points.

Some of the ways that networking will improve your pitch are as follows:

  • You’ll hear more objections and learn how to deal with them.
  • You’ll get more practice with your pitch, and you’ll get a better idea of where you can speed it up or make it more interesting.
  • You’ll have the chance to ask for feedback from other experienced sales professionals.

The last of these is the truly unique benefit here. While B2B salespeople get on the phone with business operators quite often, it’s rare that they end up in contact with sales staff at those businesses when selling over the phone or email. So, networking events provide new, refreshing angles on your pitch, as you’ll be able to talk shop with other networkers.

Improve Your Confidence

As your pitch is refined, your confidence in delivering it will improve. Not only is your pitch getting better at this point, but you’re getting more practiced at giving it. This is invaluable, since your pitch affects every aspect of lead generation. A confident pitch will increase your conversion in person, over the phone, and over email or direct message.

Increase Your Visibility

Every aspect of business marketing is focused on one primary goal: increasing your visibility with your target audience. Networking can accomplish this by growing your web of personal connections within your industry.

Below are the types of people you’ll meet at networking events, and what you can gain from connecting with them:

  • Fellow Sales Professionals: These folks can provide priceless tips and feedback on your pitch, lead generation strategies, and personal branding.
  • Business Owners: Connecting with business owners can provide new employment opportunities, valuable tips and feedback, and the possibility of referral agreements.
  • Potential Leads: These can become customers with the help of a good pitch.

Market visibility obviously includes more than just potential leads, and becoming a well-known figure through networking can be a great way to generate a steady stream of leads through referrals and cooperation with other businesses. That brings us to our next point.

Generate Referrals for New Leads

This sounds complicated, but the concept is simple: Many of the people you speak with at networking events won’t be interested but can still refer you to their friends, family, and business partners. This means that you don’t even have to succeed with the original lead in order to generate referrals.

While this kind of thing rarely happens over the phone or email, meeting you in person may convince those who aren’t in your market to recommend you to people they know. Networking events give you more time to connect with people in a deeper way. This is what will separate you from the other sales professionals that contact these people in their day-to-day lives.

Develop Personal Relationships

The final benefit is the personal relationships that you develop when networking. Not only can these connections make your professional life more enjoyable, but they can also make it much more profitable. Personal relationships are easily the best part of business networking.

All of the other benefits listed here are reliant on this one. In order to get referrals, feedback, and cooperation with other businesses, you really need to take the time and invest in developing these deeper personal connections with those that you meet. Cold canvassing, calling, and emailing just don’t give you the same opportunity to make these connections, so make this your primary goal when networking.

Pro Tip:

Developing personal relationships often goes beyond the networking event. Be open to freeing up time to go out with your connections and get to know them, so long as everything stays professional.

Top 6 Business Networking Tips

We’ve laid out the fundamentals and benefits for you, but there are some finer details worth noting. We want to keep you as prepared as possible, so below are top business networking tips to help push you even closer to success in business networking.

Keep Your LinkedIn Profile Up to Date

One of the first things business professionals tend to do with a new contact is check their LinkedIn. While it can be tiresome at times, it’s important to at least keep up-to-date connections so that you seem like a worthwhile person to connect with. Professional relationships are give and take, and your LinkedIn shows what you have to offer.

Approach With Confidence

Approaching somebody can be pretty nerve-racking, and being approached by somebody who is too nervous can be off-putting. So, you’ll want to develop your approach and ensure that you come off as somebody who is confident in themselves and their product. Try these strategies to help calm your nerves and make others seem more approachable:

  • Practice your approach with people you know.
  • Start the conversation with a (professional) joke.
  • Visualize a confident approach before walking up.

By staying prepared, keeping things light, and visualizing a successful encounter, you can calm yourself down and keep a consistent approach. In the end, it all comes down to getting your reps in. So, take a deep breath, count to three, and just do it. The tips above can reduce the effect of the nerves, but only experience can eliminate them completely.

Get People Talking About What They Want

This idea comes from a sharp content creator who focuses on teaching people how to communicate and network with others. The idea here is to ask questions that get your counterpart to communicate their goals:

Ask them questions like ‘What brings you here?,' ‘What do you hope to get out of this?,' or ‘What cool stuff are you working on right now?’ If you can do that, you’re going to find out the most important thing: what they want.

charlie houpert headshot
Charlie Houpert
Charisma on Command

If you make this your goal in every conversation, you’ll make every step on this list easier. If you can identify what your prospects want, your ability to speak to those needs and relate them to your product is improved exponentially.

Deliver Information Casually

When you’re speaking with new contacts, make sure to communicate with them effectively, especially when you’re talking about your product or service. This three-step process helps ensure that your information gets delivered in a casual, relatable way:

  1. Start the Conversation With a Few Questions: Ask easy things like why they are attending, where they work, and what they like about their job.
  2. Encourage Them to Elaborate: When they answer, show interest, and ask them to tell you more about what they say.
  3. Connect Your Product to Their Answers: Do your best to create references to what they have shared with you when discussing your business. This part takes more creativity and practice but will come with time.

These are the fundamental steps in making sure a prospect feels heard and can easily relate to you and your product. While they won’t always give you the most useful information, just referencing what they said in a joke along the way can be enough to make product info that you share more consumable.

Leave With a Memorable Call-to-Action

Calls-to-action can feel a little forward in person, but it’s important to remember what an important part of pitching it is. Delivering a strong call-to-action without coming off pushy is a key skill in networking. Here are some ways to keep your prospects comfortable while firmly offering next steps:

  • “It’s been awesome talking to you, and I’d love to share more about us with you again. Can we set up a call sometime this week?”
  • “Thanks for checking out our booth and listening to my product spiel. Can we get you signed up for more info?”
  • “I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. Let’s set up a time to get on the phone and talk business.”

While it would be better to get more specific, these are broad ways to get the job done. Feel free to tweak them as you use them in your networking conversations to make them more personal to your prospects.

Create Reasons to Contact Connections

Once you’ve made some personal ties with other businesspeople, keep an eye out for stories related to your industry that might interest them. When you find one, send it over and spark a conversation. This will build rapport and facilitate more information sharing between you two, and it will keep you in touch so reaching out doesn’t seem out of the blue.

Bottom Line

At this point, you should have a pretty solid handle on your goals when networking for outbound leads. We’ve covered where to go, what to bring, and how to navigate this social atmosphere. If you follow the steps we’ve laid out and keep all of our tips in mind, you should be well on your way to developing an extensive network of professionals in your industry.

If you’d like to further optimize your networking efforts for effective lead generation, check out our list of the best business networking statistics to help.

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