Networking is essential to building and growing a business, especially for business-to-business marketers who participate in professional associations and trade shows. But it takes skill and experience to feel confident in a networking situation, and it takes careful planning to capitalize on the value of networking for lead generation.

Here’s what I’ve learned about personal marketing and successful networking at bussiness-to-business events, and five tips you consider before the event to make networking a powerful component of your smart marketing strategy.

1. Choose wisely. You want to be at meetings with people who share your interests and value your capabilities. Study an organization’s website to see if the meeting topics relate to your expertise and if its members are people someone in your business should know.

2. Set your objectives. Decide the outcome you want from each event. For example, your goal might be to meet two prospects, identify a potential collaborator, check out a competitor, or evaluate opportunities the group offers for boosting your visibility and generating leads. Keep this goal in mind as you prepare to chat and circulate.

3. Scope out the attendees. If registration is online, review the LinkedIn, Facebook or Evite guest list in advance to see who’s coming that you want to meet. If you can’t view it online, get to the event early and scan badges on the registration table to see who you know and who you want to know.

4. Prepare your pitch. Think about the one thing you want everyone you meet at this event to remember about you and your business. That’s your elevator pitch. Practice it until you have it down. Tailor your pitch to the organization if appropriate.

5. Dress for success. First impressions are everything. You need to look like the professional you are. Invest in clothes and accessories that say, “I’m successful.”

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Jean M. Gianfagna is a marketing strategy expert and the founder and president of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing, a consulting firm in Cleveland, that provides marketing strategy and creative services to leading business-to-business and consumer marketers. Gianfagna has been creating and implementing successful, integrated marketing communications plans and programs for more than 30 years. Read her blog for more marketing tips at http://www.gianfagnamarketing.com/blog.