Networking is an exchange of ideas, techniques, or skills that develops an individual’s professional skills and mentorship opportunities, but it’s not limited to whom we do business with.
Who Is in Your Network?
Prospects and customers. Prospects and customers tend to be at the top of our list at networking events. To ensure a return on investment, make true connections with them.
Suppliers and competitors. Effective networking involves maintaining relationships with other suppliers and competitors, which help establish respect between people and organizations.
Associations and media. AICC provides valuable resources to its members. National and regional summits, online training courses, in-person workshops, the Emerging Leaders group, and more are some of the reasons to include associations in your network.
Industry influencers and educators. People such as AICC event speakers, social influencers, and teachers at packaging institutions offer mentorship opportunities, industry knowledge, and connections to the next generation.
What Is Your Approach to Networking?
In-person networking. Attending in-person trade shows, regional seminars, and industry outings are some of the best approaches to building your network. As the COVID-19 pandemic taught us, you can never replace face-to-face interactions.
Social media networking. Social media, specifically LinkedIn, has grown as a great networking platform for our industry, where you can join social groups, direct-message people, and position yourself as a thought leader.
Virtual networking. Digital meetings and events such as webinars, virtual meetups, and forums are relatively new ways to network. Though they grew in popularity during the pandemic, these options are great supplements to social and in-person networking.
Is Your Approach Working?
Proper networking is about relationship-building to help us understand the “why” behind what people do. Consider adjusting these areas:
Don’t be too salesy. Introduce yourself, not just your company. Lose the sales pitch, ask questions, and most importantly, listen. Understand your conversation partner’s needs and pain points, and tailor your conversation to those needs.
Have a plan. Research what companies are exhibiting at industry events, who the speakers are, etc., and seek those you want to meet. Listening to the Breaking Down Boxes podcast can give you insight into common box plant pain points.
Be genuine. Get real on a more personal level. Remember someone’s family, favorite sports team, and other personal details to show you care about them as a person, not just as an addition to your network.
Follow up. Whether through email, phone, direct mail, or social media, the follow-up helps sustain your relationship. Check in and refer to personal details.
If your networking approach is not working, try these tips. With diligence and practice, you can grow a strong network, a genuine reputation, and a knowledge of the industry as never before.
Tim Connell is director of sales at A.G. Stacker and is vice Chair of AICC’s Associate board.