Jill Konrath

Article Summary:

How can you leverage your network to get your foot in the door of big companies.

Networking Your Way Into Big Companies

"Referrals are the most important key when lobbying big companies," says Idon, a business development consultant from the THGroup in Malaysia. "Decision makers don't owe you the favor ofmeeting with them. It's harsh but true. Therefore, networking with people who know other people is the key in a "who's who" marketplace."

But since people from big companies rarely attend local networking events, what can you do? How can you leverage your network to get your foot in the door?

5 Tips for Mindful Networking
You can keep going to those events and waste your time milling about chitchatting with anyone willing to talk to you. Or, you can get your act together and be strategic about it. I much prefer the latter.

1. Clarify your target market and value proposition
It's highly likely that your product or service fits better in certain big companies than others. For example, my specialty is sales, but not all sales organizations are a good fit for me. I only work in the B2B arena on complex sales requiring multiple calls. That's important for people to know or else they'll try to hook me up with the wrong contacts or companies.

Be able to clearly articulate your value proposition too. What are your decision makers struggling with? How do you help them improve their operations or reach their goals?

When you narrow the playing field down to those areas in business where you make a difference, your networking success skyrockets. Try to be all things to all people and no one gives you a referral into a big company.

2. Focus in on specific opportunities
When you attend a networking event, focus ahead of time on whom you'd like to meet. What company are they from? What position do they hold? What problems are they having?

"Most of our new business comes through sale consultants and marketing consultants who introduce us to their clients," says Cliff, CEO of CRM services provider Corevue. "So, I network to meet potential business partners."

Be willing to state what you're looking for explicitly. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Several months ago I got to thinking that Pitney Bowes could use my services. Problem was, I didn't know anyone who worked there so it was going to be a real challenge finding the right contact. I thought it would be fun to start a diary for this newsletter on all the gyrations I went through to get my foot-in-the-door.

I mentioned this idea to a few people I knew. Believe it or not, within a week I was given the names of two excellent contacts in the Pitney Bowes sales organization. I was dumbfounded. And a good story concept was ruined!

3. Leverage your existing contacts
That's right. As my Pitney Bowes example shows, the people you know may have connections to a contact that's perfect for you. Don't wait for serendipity happen. Start talking to your friends, family and colleagues right now.

Judy, president of search firm J & G Associations, recently started doing business with a large manufacturer. How did she get in? She emailed her cousin (a sales rep) about a promotion her firm was offering. This big company was his client and he personally introduced her to key decision makers. Because the cousin was so respected by these people, she got the business. Now she's in the process of replicating this networking success with a high school classmate that she recently contacted.

"In both circumstances I hesitated to ask for the introduction. I assumed my contacts wouldn't want to be bothered," said Judy. "My assumptions were incorrect. They were pleased to do it."

(My now ex-neighbor went to high school with Hilary Rodham Clinton. Believe it or not, I was only three degrees of separation from the president of the U.S.)

4. Build value in relationships
To be successful in networking, you have to give, give, give. That's right. You have to be willing to help the other person out. Curt Skene, business speaker from Aahhah.com, says, "The Law of Reciprocity states that people want to help others who help them. Next time you meet with someone, look for ways to add value.

Curt told me about his flight to Orlando, Florida. He sat next to a man who was interviewing for a senior vice president position at a major US bank. Since Curt knows a lot about interviewing skills, he helped the guy out. Two weeks later he got a call from this man (who had landed the job) - and an initial contract to coach 90 of the bank's salespeople.

That's right. You have to pay it forward in networking. It doesn't have to be a huge payment; just something that shows you're willing to help out.

5. Go where your decision makers go.
Jesse James robbed banks because that's where the money was. The same thing holds true for effective networking. If big company decision makers aren't in attendance, it's hard to meet them. Kelly Robertson, a sales trainer from Canada echoes my sentiments about local networking events. He wrote, "When I worked in the corporate world, I didn't attend networking events because I didn't have time and networking was unimportant to my career."

So where do corporate decision makers go? Conferences and trade shows in their particular markets/industry segments are your best bets. These functions cost more to attend and frequently require travel, but the payback is often well worth it.

"My ideal client is a specialty retain chain so last year I attended the national retail conference," said Kelly. "I made a few contacts and one of them turned into a lucrative account. Since then, I've stopped going to "typical" networking events and right now I'm on track to double my business this year!"

If you don't know where these decision makers go, call them to find out which events they feel are worthwhile. Or talk to the administrative assistant - this person is always a wealth of knowledge.

To be successful networking your way into big companies, you have to be smart about it. Don't keep going to those local networking events hoping to bump into Mr. or Ms. Bigshot from your ideal client. Instead, get your act together and do your networking mindfully. That's when you'll start to see results.

And remember, networking is only ONE way to get big company contacts. You still need to make targeted sales calls to grow your business.

Jill Konrath, author of the hot new book Selling to Big Companies, is a recognized expert on selling to large corporations. She helps her clients crack into corporate accounts, speed up their sales cycle, and create demand in the highly competitive business-to-business marketplace. A frequent speaker at national sales meetings and association events, she provides a big wake-up call to sellers, then shares the new skills and strategies required for success.

Jill publishes a leading on-line newsletter which is read by 20,000+ sellers from more than 85 countries. Most recently she's been featured in Selling Power, Entrepreneur, The Business Journal, Sales & Marketing Management, WSJ's Start-Up Journal, Sales & Marketing Excellence, Journal of Marketing, Business Advisor and countless online publications.

For info on speaking, training or consulting services, please call 651-429-1922 or email her directly, or visit www.sellingtobig companies.com.

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