For the benefit professional who hates making cold calls or following up on direct mail, networking can be the next best alternative. But, like any marketing strategy - and yes, marketing is necessary - networking requires consistency of action over a period of time. Too many benefit professionals join a local Chamber of Commerce, go to one or two events and fail to generate even one appointment and then never return, believing that networking is a waste of time and energy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Follow the rules set forth below and networking will take your sales to a new level.


Rule No. 1

Know your value proposition. At any networking event the first question that is asked by everyone that you meet is: "So, what do you do?" If you are a regular reader of this column you know that I'm a proponent of having a prepared strong opening statement that is outcome-based. If you reply to the above query with: "I sell health insurance" or "I am a benefit consultant" you will experience very little success.

Instead, you must be prepared to speak in terms of deliverable outcomes. If I were a benefit professional my response would be: "I help employers reduce employee pressure for increased wages." This is likely to get a response like, "How do you do that?" I now can engage in a meaningful sales conversation that can identify a high-quality prospect.

You must rehearse your opening statement so that it flows naturally.


Rule No. 2

Be prepared to answer the question, "How do you do that?" The one thing that you absolutely do not want to do is actually launch into an explanation in response to this question. Before answering it is imperative that you learn a little about your prospect so that you can make your response meaningful to his or her situation. Instead of launching into a premature presentation, ask for permission to ask a couple of questions so that your response will be meaningful to your prospect.


Rule No. 3

Do not hand out your business card. Of course, one of the goals of any networking event is to exchange business cards - but hold off until after the introductions are complete. If you hand your card to a prospect before you answer the question about what you do, you may as well not even bother with the strong opening statement since the prospect will immediately assume that you sell health insurance. Wait until the prospect asks for your business card. If a prospect does not ask for it after you have requested his, do not hand over your card - it will be trashed.


Rule No. 4

Circulate. Everyone at a networking event is there to meet prospects, so do not tie up one individual. Equally important, do not allow one individual to tie you up. Watch the clock and be prepared to say: "I know that you want to meet a lot of other people so let me let you go. I'll be in touch." Sometimes you will find a prospect who really does want to talk to you about what you do, but now is not the time. Get that person's card and ask for permission to call the next day to schedule time to continue the discussion. As tempting as it is to pursue what appears to be an opportunity, remember that your goal at any networking event is to uncover multiple opportunities.


Rule No. 5

Rescue strangers. At every networking event, look around the room and you will see several people standing off to the side by themselves. These are individuals who are uncomfortable with the idea of approaching strangers or who simply do not look like the kind of person most people want to do business with. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. These individuals will welcome your approach and will be more than happy to engage in conversation. More importantly, many can become your most profitable customers.

Rescuing strangers is also about getting out of your comfort zone at these events. It is easy to talk with people who look like you or who look successful, but remember that everyone else wants to talk with these people too.


Rule No. 6

Follow up. The day after any networking event, be sure to send a handwritten, "nice to meet you" card to everyone who gave you a business card. I cannot emphasize enough that sending an e-mail is a mistake. Handwritten notes convey that you felt that this person was worth the extra effort. That will go a long way toward building a foundation for a future relationship. More importantly, the handwritten note will make you memorable.

While not everyone you meet is a great prospect today, many have long-term potential, so consider following up with an invitation to coffee or lunch. Sales success is as much or even more about relationships than it is about your knowledge or great service.

If you make use of networking as a component of your marketing strategy and follow these simple rules, you will experience a level of success that most do not believe possible. Remember that networking is a long-term strategy. Over time you will begin to see more results for two reasons. First, you will be exposing yourself to a lot of new prospects. Second, you will get better at managing networking events.

Schlesinger provides sales and marketing coaching to both life and health insurance agents. He developed "Cold Calls Made Easy," a marketing program. You can learn more at

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