I recently did a presentation in Los Angeles on Web 2.0 for Professional Services for the Institute of Management Consultants. The focus was on the two main things that management consultants do with their time: Reaching Prospects and Serving Clients.
In terms of serving clients, I covered parts of Tool Set, specifically Work Skills Keeping Up, Better Memory, Information Radar, Processing Pages with Links, Networks and Learning Communities, Collaborate, and Twitter as Personal Work and Learning Tool.
The reality is that management consultants are very much concept workers and as such have to shift how they perform their work and how they serve their customers.
I went through examples similar to LinkedIn for Finding Expertise and Searching for Expertise - LinkedIn Answers to show the basics of how LinkedIn works. This was more about getting help with questions. I also discussed being more or less open as a LinkedIn Networker: My LinkedIn Open Connection Approach.
By far, the more interesting topic to the audience was how to reach prospects. The earlier presenter had talked about LinkedIn and someone in the audience asked for a show of hands for people who have got business through LinkedIn. Mine was the only hand raised. Great set up for my presentation.
Prospecting vs. Conversations
Here was the fun part – I asked:
If I could put you into a networking event where there were 100 people who fit the profile of your prospects and they had their resumes taped to their chests so that you could pause at any time to read the resume, what would you do?
One of the participants said that they would ask questions of the person about how they are dealing with issues that relate to their services. Ask interesting questions and get them to talk.
That's what I think of as the right answer and fits with what I learned about effective networking 20 years ago. Other people would suggest more social conversation, but that's not my style nor the style of the person who answered. I don't think anyone would suggest trying to hard sell at a networking event.
People are interested in interesting conversations not in prospecting.
Engaging in Interesting Conversations
Let's get back to the room full of prospects who you are trying to engage in interesting conversations. Well, first that never actually happens. Even if it did, it would be really tough because you often don't get past the resume level in a networking event. You also have to weed out people who are not prospects. Live networking is incredibly inefficient. The good news about the networking event is that by being there, participants have signaled a willingness to network according to the cultural norms of the networking event.
Let's compare that to LinkedIn. It does contain many more than 100 prospects. Most people on LinkedIn have signaled their willingness to network according to the cultural norms of LinkedIn. And you have their resume right there. You can pause the action to read it. It's much more efficient than live networking. Think of it as the biggest networking cocktail party in the world.
But the challenge is that there are subtle differences in the networking culture. I personally find that people on LinkedIn are Hungry to Connect around interesting topics just like the rest of us. But you have to make sure that you are engaging in an interesting (to them) conversation.
Ask them for help on something that's challenging you with a client. Are you running into X? How are you handling it?
When I was thinking about this during the presentation, I realized that I've almost completely stopped prospecting. I don't think about the person that I talk to in terms of whether they are a future prospect. I think of them in terms of their ability to engage in an interesting conversation. The natural byproduct: I meet and talk to interesting people about interesting things.
Business has and will continue to result from this over the long-term.
Oh, and this provides high value to my clients who are getting the benefit of these conversations.
For more discussions on networking and LinkedIn see Networking Events in Los Angeles and Southern California, Secret for Networking at Events – Prenetworking, Pre-network with LinkedIn, Local Event Organizers Need to Adopt Social Media.
With a focus on service professionals such as accountants, attorneys, consultants, take a look at Social Media for Service Professionals and Social Media to Build Reputation and Reach Prospects – More Ideas.