Finding value in the much maligned "networking event"

By Adam Siegel

I’ve read countless blog posts over the years by entrepreneurs who extoll the virtues of skipping networking events, conferences, and other “time sinks” in lieu of staying in your office to just “build your fucking product.” It seems it’s a rite of passage to blog or tweet this so people know that you’re Serious and Get It.

But over the past couple months I’ve taken the opposite approach and have dramatically increased my networking activity. And while I don’t necessarily enjoy it, I still happen to believe it is a worthwhile activity for eventually driving sales - especially the kinds of sales we do with large organizations.

While I’ll grant the naysayers that some networking events end up being a waste of time, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find one aspect universally helpful: the ability to have short, 5 minute conversations with everyone I meet about our business.

We sell enterprise software and services which means we get plenty of feedback on our products, but dramatically less about our corporate web site and other marketing collateral. But like everything else, marketing collateral needs to be tested too. Analyzing your traffic, doing A|B tests and even usability tests are all table stakes. Fewer people, especially in tech companies, think of trying to go get qualitative feedback at any scale beyond your immediate network.

Networking events can be one such method of qualitative testing!

So much so that just in the last month we have made numerous changes to our website, re-written the one pager that describes our company, and are currently re-writing the executive summary presentation we send to potential clients. And I think it’s working. More recent events I have attended I not only felt more confident about my 30 second: “introduce yourself” time, but I got more nods and more people proactively coming up to me to ask more about what we did. And in front of customers, getting to: “I get what you do, I understand the value” during the first part of the discussion has been more rapid and impactful.

Your mileage may vary, but here’s what I’ve been looking for in my interactions at networking events when I meet someone and describe our business: do people seem to understand the first 2 sentences of what I’m saying or do they look perplexed? Do they ask follow-on questions and in what form? What is the body language of the person I’m talking to? Do they focus on me more as I talk, lean in, and maintain eye contact, or do they start looking past me or giving signals like they want the exit door?

I was saying to someone the other day it’s kind of like when politicians say the country is always striving to be a “more perfect union” as stated in the preamble of the Constitution. I need to always be honing how I describe our company. It seems like it can always get simpler, always be more impactful, always easier to understand. And now I’ve learned even the lowly networking event can help me get there.

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