Recently I chanced upon a quote- ” Networking is simply starting a conversation with no destination in mind”

and my mind shouted – “Bull-shit ! I’m gonna end up wasting half my life if I follow this”

You can’t be talking to people and not know what way you’re heading specially in business networking. You have to screen who you reach out to at one point.

Also, there’s literally no dearth of networking events on the planet. From casual drinks at the local co-working spaces in Bangalore to full blown conferences like Dreamforce and Hypergrowth in the States, there’s action happening at all levels. And that’s really a great thing!

As much as we SaaS founders would like to network all that we can, its mentally, physically and financially impractical to be omnipresent.

It’s impossible to avoid segmentation and targeting if you want to ensure an inflow of quality business leads.

So just to aid this decision making I’m going to talk about two things today. One, how to choose which networking event or conference to attend and two, how founders can qualify quality sales leads at events.

Here’s what I think:

1. WHAT NETWORKING EVENTS TO ATTEND

Networking is the foundation of any business, even SaaS businesses where much decision making happens over the quality of technology, the human element to it is undeniable. The juggernaut salesforce has proven its value yet continues to hold the Dreamforce conference. Why? It’s because human relationships need to be constantly nurtured. -Partners, users, enterprise users, vendors etc.

Here’s how you can decide which networking event to attend:

You don’t need to network for the heck of networking or just to look busy. Not all networking events give you the bang for your buck.

A. Relevance vs Resources:

There’s just so much going on in the initial years of SaaS startups that time and money is always a decisive factor. Plot the relevance of the event on a Scale of Relevance (Event theme and attendees importance for your business) vs Resources (Time and money)

relevance-vs-resources

How to prioritise your event plans for the year

This will give you clarity on where the event you’re considering, stands in your current needs.

Additional factors to evaluate.

B. The Other attendees:

Check for the list of attendees at the networking event, If there are a minimum of 5% or 7 names that interest you and you find of high value, go for it.

C. Agenda :

If the agenda of the event is aligned to your current focus areas go for it else not. E.g. If there is an event around Cryptocurrency and you’re a CRM guy the alignment isn’t quite right. Right?

D.Speaker Role:

If you have a chance of being the speaker, ideally go for it in the initial 5 years of your startup life (if you’re a pro at the subject i.e.). It will give you additional content and eyeballs which you need. You can get picky on this after 5 years milestone has been crossed.

E. Event size:

Large conferences can often attract diverse crowds that may not be totally your target audience and really small ones may not be worth intense utilisation of resources. The sweet spot here is to attend mid-size events where 50 people( +/- 10) people attend.

 

2. HOW TO QUALIFY QUALITY SALES LEADS AT EVENTS AND CONFERENCES

1. PRE-EVENT ACTIVITY:

There are a number of things you can do to make the networking event count for you. Sharing some key ones:

1a) Go with a defined goal in your mind.

It should be your one-metric-that-matters (OMTM) e.g. “Ten sales qualified leads (SQLs)/ 100 visiting cards/ competitor analysis.

Remember there is a difference between warm leads and warm bodies. Every person who you meet won’t be someone who will buy from you later. Have clarity in your mind on identifying inquiry from intent.

1b) Do your homework:

Most organizers generally share a list of key attendees in their marketing activities to create buzz and FOMO. Use this information to your advantage. Do a quick research on some key people/companies attending so you have an ice breaker already to make the person feel warm about you!

1c) Have an elevator pitch:

Once you’ve zeroed in on a goal you plan out of the event your about to attend, create a short elevator pitch that you could use to engage with strangers and evaluate if they could be categorized as prospects.

2. AT THE EVENT:

2a) Network with hosts:

Simple as it may sound but being nice to the hosts and being in their good books sometimes opens unexpected doors. A casual introduction by them to your prospects or they inviting you onstage to give a comment or speak out of the blue. I’ve seen this happen and it always happened with the nicest people in the room. Just be genuine and warm with the hosts all through. I don’t guarantee the outcome on this one but it will definitely keep the bridge alive between you and them.

2b) Dress well:

Well at a SaaS event, depending upon the magnitude and how jazzy it is, you need to dress to impress. If it’s a close door event with Founders, then wear something cool but sharp. If it’s a conference like SaaStr or Inbound, then wear a company tee and put on your sweetest smile.

business-networking-events

Business Networking, Image credit – IStock

2c) Pre-qualify prospects:

This is a technique we learnt from Scott Sambucci, CEO and founder of SalesQualia.

Imagine this, you’re at the event and stranger Joe walks by your booth. How do you ensure he isn’t wasting your time ?

Here’s how you can assess if the person is even a sales lead

Step 1: Ask him something like – “Hey I’m Bruce, CEO of Wayne enterprises, what about you?”

Step 2: Try to figure out his reason for being there – “What brings you to the conference/event?”

Step 3:  Try to understand if this person can qualify as a prospect by asking “So at Wayne enterprises are you guys looking actively into <whatever problem it is that you solve>

2d) Qualify prospects to leads:

Here’s when you aim to capture their attention and ensure they remember you. Show a short demo – 30 second video/ 5 slides presentation/ sneak peak audio or whatever it is that you think will work for you.

Saas-networking-events

Quality conversations, Image credit – Lighter Capital

Notice their intent post the demo and if even remotely positive, go for the next step i.e. book their time for a longer product demo or meeting or call. Something conclusive.

If you’ve reached this far then you can assure yourself and your team that you did a good job !!

Closing thoughts.

a. Choose ’em networking events wise. (Resources vs Relevance)

b. Decide your event’s One metric that matters (OMTM) before you decide to go. It’s the supreme goal.

c. Pre-qualify sales leads before you waste time chatting with them for long

d. Attend at least one of the big conferences in the year. Here’s a list of 12 mega networking events that will take place in 2018.

“Networking is more about farming than about hunting, You “cultivate” relationships” – Dr Ivan Misner