In a world where social selling seems to dominate sales efforts, is there still a place for in-person networking and building personal relationships? In the October SalesProChat episode, Tibor Shanto talks with host Bill Banham about why networking and personal relationships still matter.
Listen to the CPSA’s interview with Tibor Shanto and join us on October 26 for our monthly #SalesProChat Twitter chat.
The October SalesProChat show considers questions including:
* What is a professional network? What are some of the constituent parts? (This answer might include long-held relationships from school, LinkedIn connections, email contacts, mentors, colleagues etc).
* Social media is now so wide and so deep, do in-person meetings actually offer anything extra to salespeople looking to build personal relationships and find new leads?
* How can in-person networking add value in ways that social selling cannot?
* Are there still industries where online approaches simply don't cut it?
* How can salespeople leverage conferences and networking events to grow their personal brand?
* What are the right opening questions to ask when meeting someone at a networking event for the first time?
Listen to the show here. Read the edited transcription of the interview here:
Bill Banham: Tibor Shanto, welcome to the October edition of the SalesProChat show.
Tibor Shanto: Pleasure to be here, Bill. How are you?
Bill Banham: I'm great and I'm excited for today's conversation. Let's jump straight in.
Tibor Shanto: Sure.
Bill Banham: Firstly, what exactly is a professional network, Tibor? What are some of the constituent arts?
Tibor Shanto: I think there's various types of professional networks. There is things that end up being professional networks that start off in our youth that are initially social networks. Again, many of us are still in touch with people we went to high school with and I think as we got into university and whether we belonged to clubs or fraternities or whatever the case is, often those people aren't in constant contact with us, but there is that affinity ... I'll give you a quick example. My daughter was in the cadets here and as soon as somebody finds out she was in the cadets, it doesn't matter if they knew each other or not, there's this natural affinity that they, later on in business, can leverage in the same way as that.
Then there's the professional network among the people that you know. If you're a mechanic, you're going to get to know people in your supply chain up and you're going to get to know the people in your supply chain down and other people involved, and so on.
Then you get into other more current forms of professional networks and that is your LinkedIn connections. Even there, I would say there is tiers. I think I'm upwards of about 6,000 or 7,000 connections. I'm quite willing to bet there are only about a dozen who can pick me out of a lineup. It's a valuable network. I do believe, I forget who said it, but your net worth is your network, but it's going to be tiered.
I think there's a level of professional network that a lot of sales people overlook. They sometimes walk into it inadvertently, but they overlook. The question that I ask a lot of people I work with is, "Who's selling to your best prospect right now but doesn't compete with you?" For instance in my case, a lot of recruitment professionals are dealing with the same VPs of Sales that I want to target. They're sharing information with those recruiters that I would love to be privy to, but they're not going to share it with me, because they know that it would serve my purpose. I've gone out and proactively, and I encourage my clients to do the same, to proactively go and garner a professional network. See who's in there talking to your customers on a regular basis that they would trust with information, that they would take a recommendation from and cultivate that network.
Really, the biggest part of it, there's two key elements that if you can master you're off to the races. One is, you need to be monogamous. If you play with every recruiter on the street, they're not going to want to play with you. If you pick your spots and you deal with one or two specialized ones, then you can share plenty of referrals with each one. The other is start to think by giving them a lead yourself. Recently, I've been in engagement where a recruiter was in, they were attached with hiring a couple of sales people. In the conversation the VP said to him that once we get these people onboard it would be good to do a refresher with our team. Bam! She recommended me and it was a very short sale cycle and it was a very successful one.
I think that that level of professional network is something you can create on your own, but it's probably going to be the most valuable.
Bill Banham: Almost from the offset, Tibor, I'm going to throw a big issue into the mix here, and that's social media and social selling.
Social media is now so wide and so deep. The question is, do in person meetings actually offer anything extra to sales people-
Tibor Shanto: For sure.
Bill Banham: For those salespeople looking to build personal relationships and find new leads, Tibor, how can in-person networking add value in ways that social selling perhaps cannot?
Tibor Shanto: This is still a human game. I think when ... people tend to behave differently. We've all had people who've been very curt with us on the phone, but when we meet them, it sort of calms things down; there's the human element that kicks in. I think for certain types of decisions, you're still going to require to have an interaction. Especially if you're a professional seller.
Candidly, I find that a lot of the talk in social selling, and I have no disrespect for social selling, I use it myself, but as with any professional thing, there's always going to be those elements on the fringe. I think social selling almost dictates people to do order taking. I think that it's great if you're in an industry that takes orders, but if you're in an industry that Joe has to go out and engage with somebody and get them to think differently and so on, then I think it's a question of how social and face-to-face work hand-in-hand as opposed to one versus the other. I think that those discussions slightly encourage are less and less where we hear it's one versus the other. I think people are finally climbing on the bandwagon that myself and a number of other people who where proponents for cold-calling where it's a question of what's in your toolkit and how do you best use it for a given circumstance? I think in certain instances, social's going to be a great foray. I think in other instances you need to be there face-to-face.
The other to consider, which is an interesting thing, and we're not going to take much time. People can go explore it on their own, but a book came out recently entitled Everybody Lies or what have you. They can go to my blog or I can email you the title after, but it's done by a Google data scientist who did some heavy duty studying, so there's a lot of data in here, but people put out a pretense or at least a false image on social media because they think that people are looking at it, so they want to convey a certain image; whereas if you correlate what they search for on Google where they think it's a private interaction with the search engine, you find that a different set of personalities come out. I would argue that you need the human encounter to validate what you're seeing on social or else you may be going down a blind alley.
Bill Banham: Are there then still industries where online approaches perhaps just don't cut it? If so, which ones are they and why? Are you saying that all industries, there are multiple touchpoints and multiple ways of contacting people?
Tibor Shanto: Yeah, I'm saying latter, but I'm not saying social is always the lead thing. I think, you know ... I'll give you a simple example. About two years ago when, I think, social selling was probably at its height in terms of hype and talk and all that, I did a presentation to about 50 principals or owners of medium-sized printer-copier shops. They were dealers of Panasonic, they were dealers of Xerox and so on, so they weren't working for the manufacturer, they were licensed distributors. The businesses range anywhere from about 20 million in revenue up to about 100 million. These weren't huge companies, from a US perspective, but they were ... there was enough money there, right?
I asked how many people are involved in social media. About two-thirds of the people put up their hand. I said, "How many of you have a LinkedIn account?" That count dropped to about half the room. When I asked them, "How many times are you on there regularly? Are you on there on a weekly basis?" We were down to about less than a quarter of the room. How much money is left in the rest of the room that you're not going to reach through social? That was one industry.
I think industries where they're not constantly stuck to their screens, so if they're out and about, so I think social will always have its place, but I think there are industries that are more prone to traditional approaches. Let's talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room, whether you're a digital native or a digital tourist also dictates which one you're going to respond to better or more.
Bill Banham: Absolutely. Let's focus on the digital natives then for a moment. For those people who are perhaps too happy to hide behind their computers and rely on social selling as their principle channel, what advice would you offer to those people who are looking to widen their professional networks through in person events?
Tibor Shanto: I think there's a host of things. I mean, meet ups are the most obvious. Here in Toronto, you know yourself there are several meet ups that are geared specifically at sales people. Some better than others, some specialized, so you got to pick your crowd. I think most industries have some sort of association or group or whatever the case is. I was talking to somebody yesterday who targets people who are in the property management business. They just recently joined that association here in Toronto and that association has regular monthly events and the usual holiday socials and all that stuff.
I think that, again, I keep going back to the scene that it's not one versus the other, but you can go to your local Chamber or Commerce or Board of Trade events and most of the ones in the Golden Horseshoe have quite a few of them, but that doesn't negate that maybe in advance you look up some of the people on social. I've gone to several networking events over the last year where they sent me the LinkedIn profiles in advance. I can look and see who I want to talk to, what I want to talk to them about, and so forth.
Certainly, after you leave those live events, the first thing you want to do is jump on social, invite them to connect and start that process. I think it's a combination of both, but if you're in anything that resembles a major city, I think there's plenty of events. The one caution I would make is sales people tend to go to sales related events. I tend to look for events where my prospects are hanging out, so you're more likely to find me at a Transportation Association event than a Sales Association event, because my customers are more likely to be going to what their vertical is.
Bill Banham: Let's suppose that everybody who is listening to this show, as I'm sure they will .. have followed the advice so far and that they've built up a wide network of potential customers, partners, and maybe future employers, perhaps. How can sales people leverage the relationships that they've spent developing to grow their pipeline after that initial in person touch point?
Tibor Shanto: I think that there's a host of things. If they're in the prospect camp, so the traditional newsletter. I do a monthly newsletter and people tell me that it keeps reminding them of me, and then when that eventual discussion comes up, I make the list because they remembered my last newsletter. I think that if it's a network in a sense of people that can help you professional network, share information on LinkedIn, see what they're sharing so you can stay abreast of things that they're talking about. If you have an opinion, comment. I don't like the notion of commenting for the sake of commenting. If you look at something that they share, whether it's Facebook or LinkedIn, there's quite a bit of B2B activity happening on Facebook as well, right? Comment on it, or if you see that a certain prospect or a certain network connection that you have is interested in some things or you are aware of something that they maybe have overlooked, share it with them.
I think it's quite simple and people try to make it more complicated than it is. It's called connect and it's called contact. Think about how you connect with them. You can tier your contacts and you can share information with different types. I think it's a question of extending that dialog but without seeming systematic. Sometimes some of these social efforts, that I've become victim to, they're very polished and very clean, but I don't get a sense that there's a human being in the mix.
Bill Banham: How can sales pros and leaders leverage in person events, whether they be conferences, meet ups, other types of networking events to leverage and to grow their personal brand? For example, I'm guessing speaking might be a really good way of doing that.
Tibor Shanto: Speaking is, but a lot of people are uncomfortable speaking. It's not my favorite thing. I do it because, A, I have opinions, and B, as you say, it seems to help me, but the average sales person may not feel comfortable. Some may and, again, a lot of these associations are looking for expertise and if you're a good sales person, you're a subject matter expert, so I think you've earned the right to offer to become a speaker as long as ... the big rule, whether it's speaking or whether it's your regular sort of Board of Trade networking and so on, is networking is not about us, it's about the other people. I know a lot of people are tired of hearing it, and it's a cliché, but givers do get. That's why I said earlier that if you're going to create a professional network, start it off by giving the other person a lead so they see that you're actually sincere and you're into this.
I think, to answer your broader question, you really do have to leave your product out of the mix and when you go in there, take a genuine interest in what they do, because sometimes if you really listen to what they do, you'll find opportunities; whereas if you just listen for selective buzzwords, you won't find opportunities. I think, take an interest in what people do, ask them what they do. It's the old story, what's in it for me? People like to brag. They love to talk about themselves. Don't sell. The whole idea is there to go and connect. Make a connection and then pick up on it the following day or what have you.
Now, somebody gives you a wide berth and they say, "Yeah, we're looking for sales training and we want to have it for Thursday. Can you give me pricing?" I would pick that conversation up. If somebody is friendly and they're willing to talk to you, but clearly they're there to network as well, so you can't monopolize their time and you certainly don't want to sell, but by asking some questions and allowing them to talk about themselves, you'll find information that then you can leverage in the follow-up call and actually demonstrate that you've listened and that you're interested in what they're doing.
I think the biggest rule is you can't sell unless the person specifically asks you to sell them at that point. You can describe what you do in terms of what kind of outcomes you've delivered for other people, so when they ask you what you do, don't go into the fact that I sell this, that, or the other. Talk to them about some of the business impacts that your customers have realized by virtue of using your product.
Bill Banham: What are the right opening questions perhaps to ask when meeting someone at a networking event for the first time? Can you share a couple of openers that you think work and maybe a couple that are horrible which you've heard at different meet ups.
Tibor Shanto: I think the ones that ... and I don't claim to be an expert on this, but the ones that keep working for me is when I take an interest in them, so I ask them what they do, because, again, it's good to know what they do. I find that as a second question, once you understand what they do, where in the universe they fit in, I find that the question or variation thereof as to what they do best generally gets them to talk a little bit more and you can begin to ... you know, or how are they different? If they're in a field like advertising agencies, you can't throw a stone without hitting one, so how did they differentiate themselves from the next one. I think, again, getting them to articulate their view of the world will help you understand how you can then extend that conversation. I find that if you ask them what they do, just by the way they describe it, you'll have a sense of where they fit on the spectrum, and I don't mean that the autism spectrum but your market spectrum.
Then, B, when you ask them what they do better or different than other people, you can get a sense of where they see themselves in the marketplace, perhaps where they have some short comings that you might be able to help with. I find those are two good opening questions, because they put the limelight on them and you get information in the meantime. Generally, I find that unless they're completely inept socially, they'll reciprocate and ask you the same questions, so you'll have a chance to brag.
I think the one thing that will tie the two network related questions together, I do think you dare to network as much as you can so don't get stuck in 10, 15, 20 minute conversations, because the next thing you know, two hours will go by and you've only talked to four people. You should get into the discipline of understanding what they do, exchanging cards, and letting them know that you're going to follow up. Sometimes I say, "Bill, I know you're here to network and meet as many people as you can. I really appreciate the chance to meet you. I'll give you a call tomorrow, but I'll let you at what you're here for." People appreciate that you're not looking to monopolize their time. They get what they wanted. You didn't take up too much and it puts you above the fray. It's certainly different than the guy who tries to monopolize them the rest of the night.
Bill Banham: Well, we're coming towards the end of this interview. Just a couple of last questions. The first of which, to sum up on what we've been talking about today, can you offer a couple of tips and insights in terms of what can be learned from in person networking that possibly just can't be achieved through social media or on the phone?
Tibor Shanto: I think it's the human element. As much as social media is much more human than some other forms, I think that it's getting that genuine real deal. I'll give you an example. There's a bunch of people that you know and I know that what they look like on social media is not what they look like when you meet them. I'm talking about the whole package. It's not that they change their hairstyle and makeup, right?
Bill Banham: I agree, yeah.
Tibor Shanto: They have the sort of persona on social media and when you meet them, they're entirely different. To me that's a shock and I go, "What else in their presentation is disingenuous?" Anyway, let's not go down the dark side, let's stay on the bright side of the street, but I think you get to know the real person. You get to share information. I think, again, you can leverage social media. You know, Bill, I noticed on your page that you're an avid cricket fan, so I might explore around that, so it gives me, again, that chance to be human.
I think, again, the one downside to social media, with the exception of some of the posts on LinkedIn, it's all very geared to sound bytes as opposed to ongoing genuine conversation, because there is this assumption that if there's some traction or some connection, it'll then transition from social to the real world. It's a medium that's designed as an intermediary as opposed to a platform for ongoing serious conversation.
Bill Banham: Well, that just leaves me with one more question for you today. That’s how can people learn more about you?
Tibor Shanto: Do they want to? No. I think the easiest is if they go to sellbetter, although I suspect by the time this goes live I might be on my new site, which is easier, which is tiborshanto, but if you can't wait, then you simply call and we can talk directly and network on the phone and live.
Bill Banham: For those social media advocates, what's your Twitter handle?
Tibor Shanto: You might guess that it's Tibor Shanto.
Bill Banham: Tibor Shanto, thank you very much for being the guest on the October SalesProChat show.
Tibor Shanto: Thank you. It's always fun, Bill.
Bill Banham: Until next time, listeners. Happy selling.
More About Tibor Shanto
Tibor Shanto is Chief Sales Officer at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc. He is a 25-year veteran of B2B sales and has developed an insider’s hands on perspective of successful sales execution. Called a brilliant sales tactician Toronto-based Tibor shows organizations and sales professionals how to leverage their sales process to shorten sales cycles, increase close ratios, and create double digit growth through execution and using the right combination strategy, tools, metrics, tactical execution of the sales process.
A recognized speaker, author of the award winning book Shift!: Harness The Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers, and sought after trainer. His article “How to shorten your Sales Cycle?” was voted number one by readers of TopTenSalesArticles.com. Tibor’s works have appeared in a number of leading publications, blogs and web pages, including The Globe and Mail’s Report On Small Business, Truck News, Office Technology magazine, ChannelBuzz, Today’s Trucking, eChannel News, www.chamberofcomerce.com, and others.