As the popularity of networking has grown, many commentators have stepped forward to warn of the dangers of selling too aggressively. We are advised to concentrate on building relationships and building trust as opposed to overtly pitching our products or services. This is very sensible advice, but there's a catch:
'Always be closing' is in danger of becoming 'never be closing'.
For fear of being considered 'too salesy', many networkers are simply not selling at all.
It may make sense not to behave like a stereotypical car salesman, but it doesn't make sense to chat about a person's needs and then fail to mention that you can address them - it is possible to make a sale without bullying, schmoozing or otherwise crossing the line.
So how do you find that line and sell in a network setting?
Start by asking questions and listening to what your prospective client is saying. This isn't salesy, or against the spirit of networking since we are all there to get to know other businesses, not just talk about ourselves. In these early stages, listening is more important than talking, so forget the sale (for now!) and concentrate on what you're being told.
Get beyond the small talk
You do this by asking questions, but also by showing that you are listening and interested. Nod your head occasionally and say 'yes' to confirm you've understood, and then ask questions based on what they've just said.
Don't kill the conversation
The fastest way to run out of things to say, or sound like a pushy salesman looking for a fast sale is to ask nothing but closed questions (those requiring a 'yes' or 'no'). Instead, ask open questions ('How', 'What', 'Who' etc) that allow the other person to lead the conversation and talk about what's important to them and their business.
Don't be all about the sale
Make every question a sales oriented one, and you won't make many friends, so aim for an equal balance of 'light' and 'shade'. Shade questions delve into your prospective client's needs, while light questions are humorous or make an observation about them as a person rather than as a prospect.
Keep it real
In face-to-face networking, there's usually a pretty obvious set of clues as to whether someone is only after a sale: body language. When you're talking to a person, keep your attention on them; don't be looking around for your next victim. Maintain frequent eye contact, smile and respect their personal space. No one likes to feel they've been backed into a corner.
Get in the 'yes' mood
If you're getting regular agreement from a person at a networking event, then you are thinking in the same way, and the likelihood that you can do business together is good. Now is a good time to use closed (Yes/No) questions to clarify your understanding. For example, 'So a big challenge for your business is X, and that's ultimately causing Y?'
Never be afraid to close
So you've asked the right questions, you're getting on great, you know you could help them, but you don't want to ruin a beautiful friendship by asking for a sale. This is madness.
The fact is, most people don't fear closing, they fear closing as they know it; the heavy handed: 'Do we have a deal?' close. A smart close keeps the prospective client in control by simply asking what they see as the next step.
In some cases, you'll move straight past close and into negotiation, in others, you might get a polite refusal (at least you know where you stand!) or agree a further meeting.
Ultimately, if both sides are happy before and after the close then you've found that coveted line between selling overtly and not selling at all.
Gary is a leading sales trainer and business coach with a proven track record in helping businesses to rapidly attract more customers and increase sales. See www.garygorman.co.uk.