TESSCO’s One conference on Tuesday tackled a topic at the heart of professional life – business networking – as part of its Women in Wireless series.
The panel included a lineup of both industry veterans and newer faces, including TESSCO’s VP of Mobility Liz Robinson and VP of Sales Mary Beth Smith, DB Consultancy President and former Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum President Deb Bennett, Purchase Power Exchange CEO Lori Petron, and iQmetrix Business Development Officer Joanne Helm. Over the course of the hour-long session, they shared their top tips for making connections to expand business networks and how to grow those relationships to be fruitful.
Here’s what they had to say:
Networking opportunities are what you make of them, but a laid back atmosphere (and a few drinks) can help
Bennett said smaller networking events present a better environment for making intimate connections, but noted large events can be just as fruitful if you do some research beforehand. For larger events, Bennett recommended doing some homework beforehand to see who will be there, what they’re about, and hone in on common ground. Robinson added that approaching speakers at conferences – no matter the size – can be another good way to connect, since there’s already a shared thread of interest if you’re attending their session in the first place.
Helm said she’s found it easiest to make connections in relaxed atmospheres where it’s possible to float about the room. Sometimes, she observed, it’s hard to find the right connections or get people to open up when you’re glued to a chair at a work dinner table. Additionally, she noted having a drink or two can help more introverted business professionals loosen up to make an approach. That can also help with being an “authentic person” when meeting potential connections, which Helm said is important in making interactions natural and memorable.
Smith chimed in to note golf outings can be a productive opportunity since the amount of time spent together on the course offers a chance to really get to know connections, taking note of both personal anecdotes and business goals.
Follow up and follow through are keys to relationship building
All of the panelists agreed both follow up contact and follow through on action items are key to building strong, lasting connections.
When following up with emails or social media invitations after the fact, particularly on LinkedIn, Petrone said she makes sure to write something that lets them know she knows who they are, what was discussed, and what their next connection point is going to be. When warranted, Petrone noted she’ll also include a call to action to keep the relationship active.
Similarly, Robinson said when immediate action is required after the initial connection, she makes a point to text the connection on the spot to keep the conversation going and at the forefront of her mind. The panelists said with any connection, it’s important to do what you say you’re going to do. Should something slip through the cracks, apologize, move on, and add something of value, they said.
Follow up and social media can be leveraged to build credibility
Being the kind of person who follows through to get things accomplished is critical to establishing credibility, the panelists said. But being a thought leader on social networking sites like LinkedIn and doing research ahead of important follow up conversations are also tools that can be utilized.
Petrone noted it’s important to draw personal and professional lines across social media accounts, but added sites like LinkedIn offer a perfect opportunity to share articles that demonstrate awareness of current industry news and thought leadership on important topics. Petrone recommended making that sort of post part of a routine – like paying a bill – to cultivate credibility. But, she warned, it’s important to really read and know what you’re sharing because sloppy or inappropriate posts can have the opposite effect and erode credibility.
Helm acknowledged that she faces an uphill battle as a “blonde woman” in tech, and said she tackles that challenge to prove herself by doing her homework before important calls. For an hour call, she said that means at least a half hour or research about who she’ll be speaking to, what they’re involved in, and industry trends around their business. That way, she said, she can demonstrate her knowledge right out of the gate instead of losing a connection’s interest by being unprepared. However, she noted, it’s also important to be upfront about things that may be less familiar territory rather than getting caught up in a lie.
Mentoring pipelines bring new energy and approaches to the table
Petrone and Helm shared how mentorship relationships with younger students and professionals have brought fresh ideas and insights to the table. Both noted how these relationships bring diversity of thought, and push companies forward to try new strategies and technologies, like social media.
Additionally, Robinson said it’s a good way to bring more women to the table for balance of thought.
Bennett observed it’s important to be proactive in going out and volunteering for these programs rather than waiting to be approached.