Exceeding sales targets and quotas is the primary goal for 45% of sales executives, according to 2022 HubSpot data. The best way to tackle this challenge is through effective sales networking.
Whether you’re a pro or just getting started, there are always ways to refine your networking skills. In this guide, you’ll learn how to approach networking and what mistakes to avoid. You’ll also find a few real-life examples that will help you get sales networking right.
- What is sales networking?
- How to build your sales network?
- Approaching Sales Networking
- Three Mistakes to Avoid
- Sales Networking Done Right
- Sales networking is about building relationships
What is sales networking?
Sales networking is one way you can generate leads. Networking involves building new and leveraging existing connections. The goal is to meet people who either fit your ideal customer profile or could introduce you to potential leads in their network.
The main difference between sales networking and other types of networking activities is the objective. “Regular” networking doesn’t involve growing your customer base. For example, you can talk to others to explore job opportunities, discuss co-marketing ideas, or learn about different companies.
How to Build Your Sales Network
HubSpot asked sales professionals where they got the best quality leads from. Sixty-six percent pointed to referrals, 47% to social media, and 44% mentioned tradeshows and events.
If you’re thinking about expanding your sales network, these three lead sources are a great place to start.
Keep your asks simple.
For example, let’s assume you’d like a CEO in your network to introduce you to a potential client. Instead of asking them to schedule an introductory call, opt for a quick email intro. This will require less time, which means you’ll minimize the risk of overstepping your bounds.
Turn to LinkedIn.
Don’t shoot in the dark. Instead, use LinkedIn to find out who you already know, and to whom your contacts are connected. Start with customers you already have a good relationship with. See if they’re connected with professionals who could benefit from your product or service.
Pro tip: Use the Advanced People Search feature to filter second-degree connections that your customers could introduce you to. You can also narrow down your search to a specific industry, job title, or location. When you have your list ready, get in touch with your first-degree contacts to ask for an intro.
Say “yes” to every opportunity that comes your way.
Proactive reps see the most success. Be open to both planned and spontaneous networking opportunities. Some of them might not be directly related to sales, but might lead to them in the future. In an episode of Sales Success Stories, Nora Edmonds, Sales Manager at HubSpot, shares how saying “yes” has transformed her approach to networking.
As an Account Executive, she accepted a whole range of invitations. Coming on podcasts, joining impromptu sales team initiatives, and even participating in an expert panel last minute. By gaining more exposure, the opportunity to meet new people presents itself.
Pro tip: Always put your best foot forward and show your authentic self to others. If you do this consistently, then you’ll make it easier for serendipity to kick in, and some of your sales networking will happen organically.
Ask for introductions.
When you attend an event, a few people you already know may already be there. These might be your ex-colleagues, your current or past customers, or old college buddies. Regardless of who they are, don’t hesitate to approach them and ask for introductions.
Just don’t overdo it, because you risk appearing needy. Being authentic is the best way to build quality connections.
If you have access to the attendee list, take a quick look. It will give you an overview of whom you can expect to meet. Maybe you’ll pot people who are particularly interesting to you, including potential prospects. Learn more about them to make a good first impression by asking the right questions.
Make your profile more visible.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your experience on social media. Sharing your knowledge and expertise is the best way to gain exposure. You can write about your successes, failures, and lessons you’ve learned. You can also comment on others’ posts.
Building an expert image will position you as the go-to person in your field and build your network. Based on our Sales Trends Report, 75% of sales pros use Facebook to find leads, 51% use Instagram, and 43% prefer LinkedIn.
Focus on quality.
Sales networking on social media should always be about quality, not quantity. You’ll be much better off targeting a few people who might be genuinely interested in your offer, instead of doing mass outreach.
Take the time to research companies and individuals who can benefit from your product. Look at what they say on social media. Maybe they’re connected to someone you already know. After all, three “yeses” are better than 100 “maybes.”
Find your tribe.
If you want to boost your sales networking efforts, HubSpot’s Tory Bullock suggests joining groups on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Pro tip: Choose groups that bring together people who share similar interests or work in a specific industry. Shared interests or similar problems will be a good conversation starter.
Approaching Sales Networking
Four major factors will help you get sales networking right.
1. Choose whom you want to connect with.
Networking needs to be thoughtful. For example, if you’re planning to go to an event, try to find a list of those who’ve RSVPed. Decide who you want to connect with. Don’t leave it up to chance and network randomly.
The same goes for asking your network for referrals. Before reaching out to your existing connections, identify who exactly they know that you’d like to be introduced to.
2. Decide where to reach out.
Before deciding on the medium, you should consider the following for each individual:
- Do you know someone who could make the introduction?
- Are you and the potential lead based in the same city?
- Are there any initiatives, groups, or Slack channels you both belong to?
For example, let’s assume you want to approach a chief operations officer who is very active on LinkedIn. You see that they’re planning to attend the same conference as you.
Like anyone in upper management, they’re likely very busy. If you send them an email, high chances are it will get lost in their mailbox. On the other hand, if they post on LinkedIn every week and reply to comments, think of beginning the conversation there. Then, seek them out at the live event.
3. Determine when to initiate contact.
This goes beyond avoiding outreach around national holidays or vacation season. If you want to build a relationship with a company’s new marketing director, it might be worth waiting a few weeks. If you approach them too early, they might be too focused on onboarding to build new relationships.
4. Follow up.
Once you’ve made new connections, remember to nurture them. The best way is to ask them about their preferred contact method. Some professionals, like those who are on the move, will prefer a call. Others might opt for emails or LinkedIn messages.
Three Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t undermine your sales networking efforts with easy-to-avoid faux pas. Here are three common mistakes to avoid when networking.
1. Pitching Too Hard
The bitter truth is that no one likes being sold to. So instead of pitching hard, aim to resolve people’s problems. Engage your prospects in a conversation, and try to learn about their needs and challenges. Not only will you be able to build a better connection with them, you’ll also determine if there’s a fit.
2. Forgetting About Follow-ups
Regardless if you’re meeting prospects in person or via social media, it’s important to follow up with them after the first interaction.
People have a lot on their plates, and likely you’re not the only sales executive they talked to. Sending a friendly follow-up will help you stay on top of their minds. Don’t wait for three days to get in touch. The sooner you contact them, the better.
Pro tip: Don’t start your message with “I am just checking in.” This brings little value to the conversation. Consider sharing a helpful piece of information or a free resource.
3. Taking Without Giving
Sales networking is about building meaningful relationships, rather than closing deals on the spot. To do that, you have to be authentic and show others how being your acquaintance will benefit them.
Don’t just highlight how you can tackle a problem that your potential prospect is facing. Find ways to get to know them personally. A lot of sales pros try too hard to make a sale, instead of taking the time to get to know the person they’ve just met.
Pro tip: If you share a similar interest, this can help you break the ice.
Sales Networking Done Right
Christopher Nault, founder of Growth Marketing Firm and HubSpot Platinum Partner, is a great example of how you can make the most of industry events. Here’s a post that Nault shared on LinkedIn a few weeks ahead of HubSpot’s INBOUND 2022 event.
Notice how Nault calls out agency owners and sales reps. He encourages them to book time in his calendar. He also goes a step further by tagging a few participants at the bottom of the post, asking them for a 15 minutes catchup.
The post is also accompanied by a short video, which helps Nault display his friendly personality. The message also sheds light on what others can take away from meeting up.
If you regularly scroll through LinkedIn then you’ve probably come across Scott Barker. He mastered the art of sales networking to perfection.
Barker is currently a partner at GTM Fund. Before joining GTM Fund, he worked as an evangelist and director of strategic engagement at Outreach.
He regularly posts content about his plans, achievements, and past experiences, which helped him grow his following to an impressive 40,000. Scott’s posts always attract a lot of engagement, so he might be a good source of inspiration.
Start Building Relationships
Sales networking is an ongoing process that involves gaining trust and building meaningful relationships. Don’t treat networking as a fast track to closing deals.
To get it right, you should always be your authentic self and take the time to know the other party. Perhaps, your new acquaintances will turn into customers or refer you to promising leads.
Be patient, considerate, and consistent. And, as they say, all else will follow.