April 2013

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The Original Sales Networking Tool

– The Business Mixer

Manny Mandrusiak

Manny Mandrusiak
Managing Creative Consultant,
4 Bravo Marketing

Contributing Editor

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In these days of social media, handheld devices, and email marketing, it is nice for sales reps to get back to the basics of building a sales pipeline and that is through networking.  Networking events have always been an essential part of business networking as they give sales reps the chance to engage with potential customers or possible networking partners. Unfortunately advances in social media and the popularity of text conversations have led to an underdevelopment in the most important weapon in a sales rep’s arsenal – conversation.

When people think about a conversation they naturally think that they are experts. They talk all the time. "How hard can it possibly be to build a sales pipeline or a business network when all that has to be done is talk to people?"  When I think about that statement I think of singing in the shower. Sure I sing in the shower in the morning, but that does not mean that I am getting a recording contract any time soon.

True sales pros will practice the craft of what I have always liked to refer to as “working the room”. I had some great tradeshow sales mentors in my day. These gentlemen could walk into any show or mixer and walk out with solid leads. They shared some of their secrets with me, and I would like to share them with you.  I think that these soft skills have become lost. People have forgotten how to engage with other people in a business setting to promote their businesses and cultivate sales.

The first thing that any sales rep needs to understand is exactly what type of event a business mixer is. A business mixer is typically a networking event that provides an opportunity for business professionals to mix and mingle with other professionals, and perspective clients.  It provides an opportunity for anyone attending to make new contacts with the prospect of meeting new clients or contacts that will benefit a business by leading to new business. 
Generally a business mixer is hosted by one organization that is responsible for filling the room with people.  These organizations can be Chambers of Commerce, Trade Organizations, Business Guilds, Boards, and Non-profits etc. Their motive for holding a business mixer is to provide the opportunity for networking as a benefit for a yearly membership fee, or to prospect for potential new members to join their institutions.

Now that the environment for a business mixer has been defined here are a few rules for making the cultivation of contacts and leads successful.

Ten Tips for “Working the Business Mixer”

          1. Do research – Make some phone calls to the hosting organization of the business mixer to get a count on attendees, list of VIPs, and occasionally a good sales rep can secure a copy of the attendee list.  Business mixer VIP lists are like gold if you can get your hands on a copy.  Sometimes the details of which VIPs are attending a mixer are published in newsletters, or on websites.
          1. Make an internal connection – Now that you know who the VIPs are, or key individuals that you want to meet, make some friends within the hosting organization.  Get them to introduce you to key people who you want to meet. Most often they will be extremely helpful in this endeavor.  Their job is to make sure that people make connections. They have no problem helping someone make connections.
          1. Prepare yourself for the event – Networking events mean the exchange of business cards (contact information).  Prepare yourself for that engagement when you meet people.   I was taught to load my jacket with my personal business cards in my left breast inside pocket and right lower outside jacket pocket.  This is done so that your cards can always be drawn with your right hand and presented to potential contacts.  Cards that you receive from contacts will be placed in your jackets right breast inside pocket and your left outside lower jacket pocket.  This is done so that cards are never mixed up as contacts are engaged and cards are received. There is nothing worse than mixing up your cards and the cards of contacts that you have met. There has been many a time where I have been handed a card that was not the person that I was talking to because they mixed them up.  Avoid the embarrassment and plan ahead. People meeting you in person need to see you as a total professional. If you fumble a couple of business cards, you will probably fumble their business. Now for the ladies at the mixer, they always carry a purse or small clutch. Pick the front pocket for your cards, and the rear pocket for the contact cards that you collect.
          1. Never write notes on business cards that you collect in front of people – If I was to sum this action up in a word, that word is amateur. I was taught to bend the corners of a contact business card as you place it in your pocket to indicate a sales potential or a networking contact.  I bend one corner for a networking contact, and two for a potential sales opportunity.  That way I can remember what notes to make when I get the opportunity.  If it is a very busy event I will often excuse myself and sneak off to a quite spot to make notes. I try to memorize a specific detail about every person that I met to aid me in filling out the notes in a nearby bar over a Bombay, tonic and lime.
          1. Always start at the bar – When you walk into a crowded business mixer you need a place to start. I always pick the bar or the table with the food.  They are very easy landmarks in the room to work with, and typically surrounded by lingering people who are normally hungry, thirsty, and talkative.  They are normally regulars to the event, and can usually point out everyone in the room that you want to meet over a drink, or a few cocktail snacks.
          1. Find the flow of the room – As in any body of water identify the flow of the current.  It will be the easiest way to circulate through the room with the least amount of effort. When you find someone with whom you want to engage in a conversation simply step out of the current.  When you are ready to get back into the current simply step back in.  If keeps the room flowing well, and you flowing well in the room.
          1. Know when to engage and disengage – I recently attended a mixer with a much younger colleague  and she found out very quickly that as a sales rep you need to know when to engage in conversation with a contact, and when to disengage when the conversation has run its course. An inexperienced sales rep can spend too much time talking to contacts that have already given their contact information and desire to do business with you.  Once those factors have been established any other conversation becomes too friendly, and you are at the event to work. You lose the opportunity to make more contacts by talking too long to one that you have already met.  You are there as a sales rep to make contacts and find new leads. You are working from the moment you enter until the moment you leave.  Friendly talk comes over coffee at another time with your contacts.
          1. Keep mixing and mingling – It is extremely important that you are social as a sales rep, but do not become involved in every conversation. Don’t influence conversations in a particular direction. You are there to grip and grin, be liked, get information, and then move on.  It is way too easy to get sucked into a debate about why one particular product of service is better than the other. Stay neutral.
          1. Never be the first one to enter, but always be the last to leave - I like to enter an event about a half hour in. Too early and you can seem too eager.  I always like to stay as late as I can. Thank all the hosts for a great mixer. If alcohol was being consumed I always offer to call someone a cab. This action presents a sales rep as having an impulse to do what is morally right to protect colleagues, and clients, from being in a potentially dangerous situation. We are at these mixers to do business and make contacts. No one wants to see something bad happen to anyone. I think that it also shows the host of the event that you respect their all their efforts toward making the event a success.
          1. contemporary Send a thank you to everyone that you have met – The entire mixer has been part of a plan, and sending a thank you message with a personalized note tells everyone that you met that they have made an impression on you.  You never know who can refer you to potential business when you meet them. You simply never know when you will become the person that gets called to sell a product or service because of a referral from someone that you met at a mixer. People like to recommend the products and services of people and companies that they like.

Just a few tips on how to maximize the benefits of attending a business mixer as were taught to me by a couple of the masters.  Always remember that you are on-the-job from the moment you enter the mixer until the moment that you leave.  Make the most of the time that you spend at the mixer.  They can be a great source of clients and networking contacts, but they can also provide a busy sales professional with an opportunity to have a glance back at the fine art of conversation that is used by sales professionals at the business mixer.  Look up some business mixers in your area and enjoy the experience.


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