Thought Leadership piece with Megan Kinghorn, Ancero Channel Manager
In a pre-pandemic world, many of us relied on face-to-face meetings and events to conduct business, identify potential strategic partners, and cultivate existing relationships. Then, in a blink of an eye, everything changed.
For people like me who live for shaking hands and running from event to event, the change was abrupt. It took some time to adjust. I had to figure out what works in this new world of virtual networking and Zoom calls.
What I’ve learned is that we’ve been given a rare opportunity to slow down and refocus on the relationships that matter most, both personally and professionally.
From a business perspective, we need to spend more time listening. We need to take the time to understand how our partners are finding success in the virtual world and how they’re delivering value to their customers. This allows us to be more strategic in our efforts and, ultimately, create more visibility in the marketplace as a valuable resource to our networks.
Trends in Virtual Networking
Most chambers of commerce went completely virtual in March. Some have only recently begun to try in-person events again. Many influencers and active networkers have even created their own virtual networking groups that meet regularly.
Virtual events tend to be shorter, less expensive, more convenient, and more structured, with all attendees typically having the opportunity to introduce themselves to the group. Virtual events can also be held more frequently, giving you more chances to expand and engage with your network.
Most event organizers share an attendee list with the group, while the chat function in Zoom and other platforms allows you to share contact information and even connect on LinkedIn during the meeting.
The Importance of One-on-Ones
Like any networking event, you get out of it what you put into it. The greatest value comes from follow-up activity.
Plan one-on-one meetings with attendees who could be strong referral partners and focus on what you can do to immediately help that person. Where do they find business? What does their ideal customer look like? Are they looking to partner with certain types of businesses, organizations, or industries? Are they looking to join other networking groups?
The most important question you can ask of any networking partner is, “What can I do to help you?”
What Elicits the Most Positive Responses from Virtual Networkers
Unfortunately, the spread of misinformation has forced people to fact check everything, which has only added to the stress and confusion to an already difficult situation. Now more than ever, people need reliable, helpful information.
Think about what you could say that’s relevant and valuable to the entire group as well as individuals during one-on-ones. Make sure people know they can come to you with a question and not be subjected to a sales pitch. Share real-world stories of how you’ve added value to your network and your customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
People respond positively to those who have built a reputation as a trustworthy source of information and are genuinely interested in helping people.
Building Relationships. Expanding the Network.
Is there ever a bad time to invest in existing partnerships and relationships? These efforts are especially important when everyone has gone virtual. Slow down and take the time to connect regularly.
Did you meet someone who would be a good referral for a strategic partner? Did you stumble across an article or event that would interest them? Is there a chamber or networking group that you think they should investigate? Always look for ways to help and demonstrate your value as a trusted partner.
Of course, networking is a two-way street. Avoid sales pitches, but make sure your partners know how to identify opportunities for you in the marketplace. Also, let people know about new products, services, and capabilities that provide opportunities for growth.
While investing in existing partnerships is the top priority, this is a great time to expand your network. Use the hours saved from not driving to the office and events to schedule quick, 30-minute one-on-ones.
Look for people who you’ve seen at multiple virtual events. They tend to be well-connected, which will make them a valuable member of your network and a possible introduction for others.
As difficult as the pandemic has been, there are always positives that come from a crisis. Learning to take full advantage of virtual networking is one of them. Let’s focus our energy on identifying opportunities, not just for ourselves, but for people in our networks who could use our help.
As Zig Ziglar said, “You can get everything you want in life, if you just help enough other people get what they want.”