By Bill Scott, founder of StoreReport LLC & Scott Systems Inc.
Before you pack up your golf clubs and wing it to Las Vegas to attend the 2015 NACS Show, it would be a great idea to bone up on your networking skills. According to Dr. Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI International, there are important reasons why attending such functions are personally and professionally beneficial.
Make New Friends
Business cards are a great tool for meeting new people. I can’t tell you how many times I have attended an event, offered my card to someone I wanted to meet, only to have them fumble around and confess, “I must have left my business cards back in the room.”
Don’t let this happen to you.
And when you do receive a card, take a tip from the Japanese. Cradle their card as if it were precious and examine it closely. Whatever country you might hail from, as opposed to haphazardly tossing the card in your pocket or brief case, closely examining someone’s business card is a sign of respect. Also, thank the person by name, and if the person you have just met says anything worth remembering, take out your pen and jot it down on the backside of the card. This demonstrates that you truly acknowledge his or her importance.
Show an interest in the other person’s business. Tell him about your business and suggest ways where you might be able to help. Try to establish a relationship. Even if they don’t do business with you, you’d be surprised how many of them could end up being referrals.
Meet the Competition
Competitors are a great source for establishing mutually-beneficial co-ventures, and occasionally a chance to establish a relationship with future employees, bosses or customers. Make it a point to move around the room—circulate if you will. When you get tired of standing, always find someone new to sit with. Of course, not everyone’s a competitor, but the more people you meet and those that meet you, the better.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
If you can, make yourself available to speak. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to the coordinators of the event, and especially those that are responsible for booking the topics and speakers for the next year. If the idea of speaking scares the daylights out of you, join Toastmasters International in your area and get rid of your fear. Speaking at conferences and trade shows is a marvelous way to make yourself known, gain respect and get your ideas out to a wider audience. And take it from me, it is a load of fun.
Mix It Up
Don’t miss the ‘mixers.’ Make it a point to attend mixers, receptions and other networking events. Instead of attempting to sell products and services, concentrate on selling yourself. People like to do business with people they like. Look at the trade show agenda and make it a point to attend events entitled, “Networking Opportunities, Orientation, Welcome Reception, Dinner with Strangers,” etc.
Before you head off, create a list of open-ended questions aimed at learning more information about the contacts you meet. “What does your company do? What type of products do you have? What is your competitive advantage? What got you started in your business? What aspects of your business interest you the most?” People love to talk about themselves. Practice on being a good listener. Don’t try to dominate the conversation because if you do, you run the risk of missing what the other person is communicating.
Misner rightly suggests that if you are prepared to do it right, you’ll gain a whole new level of networking at these events.
And don’t forget the most important thing: when you get back to your home base, make it a point to send a note to each person you met and tell them how great it was to make their acquaintance, and how much you appreciated their cordiality. Most will respond positively.
Have a fun and productive NACS show this year.
Bill Scott is the president of StoreReport LLC as well as an author, speaker, cloud service provider and consultant to the c-store industry since 1978. He can be reached at [email protected].