Remember how awkward you felt at your junior high school dances? You knew that it would be an opportunity to shine and to really make an impression on your crush. You thought about it for weeks in advance, rehearsed it over and over in your mind, and drove your parents crazy shopping for the perfect outfit and outlining your rules for non-embarrassing conduct on the car ride there. You arrived, and the show began! You looked around, and you saw:
- The hormonal boys huddled together ogling the more “mature” girls, leaving the rest of the girls feeling left out and self-conscious.
- The kids on the dance floor dancing a bit too aggressively for their age, along with the appalled-looking chaperones.
- The slow dance, which is too cute to witness: The stiff movements, the sweaty hands, the toe stepping. At least they’re trying.
- The girl with the perfect hair – sans acne, no less – and the cutest boy wearing the coolest clothes, both talking to each other and having a good time. When those two dance and flirt, it looks so natural and appropriate.
- Just past them, two or three boys who bust out into a practiced dance routine that entices the crowd to stand around and cheer them on.
- The rest of us kids, who are secretly jealous because we weren’t clever enough or brave enough to do something like that.
The wallflowers either don’t try at all, or their attempts are, at best, uncomfortable because they lack confidence and practice.
Well, that’s how networking is for a lot of producers, as well. You have to decide if you’re the…
- Insensitive gawking guy
- Aggressive dancer trying too hard to be older
- Typical kid who’s just learning this social interaction
- Well-known and envied Ken or Barbie type
- Show-stopping and impressive performer
- Wallflower who nobody will remember the next day
You have to make the effort to reap the rewards. Networking is part of your job as a health insurance agent, so you need to go to the dance – but make sure you’re going to the right dance. No raves or pole dancing, please.
- Pick the groups you want to socialize with and actually go. This is much more effective than cold calling. You wouldn’t just randomly start calling potential girlfriends or boyfriends out of the phone book, so you shouldn’t expect that to work in business, either. Don’t get me wrong: It has its place, but networking in person is a lot more fun, and certainly more effective.
- Really show up. Don’t be the fly on the wall or relegate yourself to only talking to those you already know well. Get out there, talk to the Kens and Barbies, and make it your mission to find out what makes them so memorable. Then, emulate it with your own twist.
- Know how to dance. You don’t have to be the funniest, the nicest, or the coolest, so don’t try too hard. However, it is mandatory that your potential suitors see what you can do for them. At this stage, this just means being assertive. Let people know who you are. Give them some ideas of what your knowledge can bring to the table for their own business. Ask them about themselves and find out their needs; then, remember those for your follow-up meeting.
- Make an impression. Don’t pitch your product: Pitch yourself. Save the sales call for the sales call. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you at the first dance, so save the pitch and ask for the bigger commitment later – let’s say, over lunch or in their office, once you follow up with them.
- Show appreciation. If you “dance” with someone, you must call and thank them afterward. Don’t call too fast or wait too long.
- Pick the right song. This is your dance. Be graceful. You can’t accomplish this if you’re standing 4 feet away from your dance partner, offering them a sweaty hand. Grace is equally impossible if you’re throwing all of your moves in their face. If the dance is too short or too long, that will hurt you, too. In other words, don’t go too fast or slow when giving your 30-second commercial. If you just shake hands and give them your card or if you hog all of their time, then you’ve wasted your efforts. Find the balance.
Filling up your dance card
The right partners can lead you to more partners, which leads to more dancing for you (think “Dancing with the Stars”). In order to become a “who’s who” in your field, you have to learn from the best. Your competition doesn’t have to be your enemy. You might need a job one day, so don’t step on any toes!
The more you practice dancing, the more people will view you as an expert. You want to be well-known, and you want the other well-known people in your business to know you and recommend you. Remember the Ken and Barbie analogy? Who knows, someone might ask you to get on their dance card (aka, offer you a promotion).
What dances should you attend?
- Trade associations for your industry or your prospect’s industry
- Chamber of commerce events
- Cultural/religious events
- Happy hours
- Community events
- Civic organizations
- An event co-hosted with the Kens and Barbies of your industry
You’ll make new contacts if you network, so aim for three to five networking events per month. Be consistent. In addition to increasing your sales, you’ll make friends and learn valuable tips from others in your field. Try a new dance every once in a while, and give it three tries before passing judgment. Sales will come from all sources, so be open-minded and think long term. And remember to be reciprocal: It isn’t all about you. Think about what you can do for others. Be a resource. There’s enough success and dancing for us all.
One piece of advice not to follow when you are networking: To only dance with the one that brought you. Forget that! You should spend most of your time meeting new faces.
Gentrie Reisinger Pool is president of the Fort Worth Association of Health Underwriters and a Texas sales rep. She can be reached at [email protected].