My understanding and approach to business networking has evolved as I’ve gained experience in security sales. At one time, my idea of networking was to attend a trade show or networking event, collect as much information as I could about potential new construction projects and still get home in time to watch my favorite TV show. The trouble was, my pipeline was always full of “possible, future projects” or “award to the lowest bidder” jobs. Although I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to change, over time my networking activity has evolved to something that is a lot more enjoyable and rewarding, both professionally and personally.
What I have learned is that networking is really about taking an interest in others’ business in a sincere and professional way. It is all about giving--not taking, with the belief that your contacts will pay back your support with information and referrals. Networking can and should happen anywhere and trade associations continue to be an excellent networking setting. Virtually every worthwhile vertical market has its own professional association. They usually welcome vendors or associate members because the membership fees help fund the organization. It is important to find a group where you and your company can establish credibility and one that is not already over-populated with security people. If you have a successful track record securing retail businesses, look for an association that caters to shopping mall property managers. Healthcare, construction and information technology are other examples of industries with active associations. Ideally, you can become the “go-to” security expert of your group.
Don’t join a security association such as ASIS expecting fruitful business development. These groups serve a worthwhile purpose, but unless you are really special, you will be just another security salesperson in the crowd.Also, when searching for a group to call home, be a little suspicious of an organization that wants you too badly. Especially one that guarantees sales leads in exchange for serious dues. These groups remind me of the ad in the newspaper that says, “Send $5 to learn how to earn big money in real estate.” Of course the secret is to put an ad in the paper and get a bunch of gullible people to each send you five bucks!
I am sure there are exceptions but I haven’t seen my co-workers gain much success through pure networking groups. One reason is that the selling cycle can be quite long in security compared to other products and services. Buyers don’t require background checks before purchasing office furniture but a security sale can easily take a year or more while such matters are attended to. This means security people have to know about the opportunity much earlier than many other suppliers in order to make an impact.
Your challenge is to find creative ways to keep your contact information available to your network so they can easily find you when something comes up. Success often has a lot to do with timing and getting your name in front of contacts when they, or someone they know, is about to buy. Rather than trying to get lucky with a single message, one needs to keep a steady flow of communication going to the outside world. An e-mail newsletter is almost a must. Other ideas include printing and mailing your company press releases to contacts, (along with a handwritten greeting, of course) or offbeat greeting cards. Of course, the ultimate networking communication is delivering an active sales lead to one of your contacts.
Remember, good networking should be about your business associates, not you, and bringing value to them. I subscribe to several online news services and a couple of print newspapers covering everything from local business to security technology. If I see an article that seems like it might be of interest to a networking contact, I’ll clip it and e-mail it along with a friendly one- or two-sentence note. Of course all of my contact information is included. You would be surprised at how many business people don’t routinely see the published news articles about their own company (or their competitors).
Networking should be fun and creative light-duty work. But don’t take it too lightly--as a critical part of your job as a sales professional, know what your networking options are. Remember, the multitude of networking resources available to you are limitless.
Brian Torney is an Executive Security Consultant with Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, Minneapolis;