Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Am I Here!?

Your neighbor, a business owner who knows you also own a business, has invited you to a mixer at the local Chamber of commerce.  You, reluctantly, accept the invitation.  When you arrive, you find yourself walking into a large room, filled with people and pocket filled with business cards.  You ask yourself:
"Why Am I Here!?"
I, personally, have been networking for more that a few years and still, occasionally, catch myself asking this question.  It's a normal question and you aren't the first one to ask it, even in that large room filled with people networking.  Don't worry, the answer is not difficult and you can have fun and leave being able to say the event was well worth your time and effort.

The obvious answer, and the answer that may people settle for, is "I'm looking for a new customer."  The problem with this answer is that it rarely, if ever, works.  Let's suppose that the first person you meet immediately begins extolling the virtues of his widget.  You realize that it might resolve a long-standing problem.  But you're not really going to buy right now are you?  I wouldn't, that's why I leave the checkbook in my desk, not my pocket.  So let's rule out a search for a new client as a possible answer to the question.

So if you are not there to make a sale, what is the answer?  Let's look at another scenario.

You look around the room and see a lot of people you haven't met before.  Therefore, we can answer the question, "Why am I here?" with, "To meet new people."  This leads to another question, "What do I talk about?"
The answer to this question is going to vary and depend on who, specifically  you talk to.  Let's make it easy.  Find your neighbor first, hopefully, he's hanging out close to the door looking for you.  Now you're safe, you're with someone you know and you can comfortably carry on a conversation.
But you can't spend the next two or three hours talking just to your neighbor, this is a "mixer" after all.  Good news, since your neighbor knows you, he can quickly introduce you to someone he knows.
OK, now what?  You already know you aren't going to try to make a sale, so what do you talk about?   Well...  Aren't you the least bit curious about what this new acquaintance does?  Ask her.  Then listen!  Maybe she'll say something you want to learn more about, ask another question.  Before too long your new acquaintance will ask what you do.  Go ahead, tell her.  She may even ask you a question.
After you've been talking to your new associate for a few minutes, it will be time to move on.  But before you do, there's one more critical thing you need to do.  Ask for her business card, then offer yours.
When you turn around, you realize that your neighbor is not there any more, but you see a member of your church.  Since it never occurred to you that he would be at an event like this, walk over to him, say, "Hi," and ask him why he's there.  Don't be surprised to learn the he too is a business owner and also wants to learn about what you do.  You can also take time to ask about his family.  Also, don't forget to ask for his business card.
Look around again.  There's three people you don't know who are talking together but, they're not standing in a tight, closed circle.  They're almost standing in a line.  Go ahead, walk over and introduce yourself.  Ask them what they do.  Again, don't be surprised when you are welcomed into their grout.  (Here's a tip for this situation; don't close the circle, keep it open so others feel welcome to join your group.)
Now keep going.  Introduce yourself to people you don't know, catch up with people you do.  Before you know it, two or three hours have passed and its time to leave.
Now what?  Take those business cards that you've collected and write e-mails to every one of them.  Tell them it was nice to meet them, expand on something you said, ask another question, in some cases you may want to invite them to get together for a One-to-One meeting.
What just happened?  You have just created, and built on, personal relationships.

Let's go back and answer our original question:
Why Am I Here!?

You are there to build on old relationships and to create new ones.

Know How to Articulate Your Message Quickly

As a business owner you have spent so much time figuring out what your business is all about that you can explain it, not just in your sleep, but probably under sedation.  Great!  But can you explain it in under a minute? Why?  Here's an example.
You're downtown for an appointment with an important business partner.  In the lobby, while waiting for the elevator, you run into one of your suppliers who introduces you to a friend of his which he has just realized has a problem that you can solve.  The three of you enter the elevator, you press "10," your supplier presses "7."  With no one else on the elevator, you've got seven floors to explain what you do and why you do it better than your competitors.  *Can you do it?*
This is just one example when you would use an "Elevator Speech."  There are many times when you will need to be able to share your message quickly, by spending a little time to prepare now you will always be ready.

Creating Your Elevator Speech
Your Elevator Speech should never sound memorized, in fact it might come out differently every time you share it.  It needs to fit each situation; you wouldn't say the same thing on that short elevator ride as you would during a chance meeting at a coffee shop.  But it must be consistent.  Your message needs to be memorable; both in content and identity.  You should have several "talking points" in mind at all times that you can incorporate into each situation.  Here are some of the elements to consider as you develop your Elevator Speech talking points:
What you do.  There's more to this than simply stating what your product/service is.  Consider why you started your business, how long you've been in business (if your business is young or even new don't be concerned, think about your training, education, and experience).  You may also want to review your Mission and Vision Statements.
Where you operate.  This should not be difficult.  If you sell a product, do you do it from a store front, on-line, in your or someone else's home, do you make office calls in a territory, or some combination.  If you provide a service, what is your service area?  If you are in "Direct Sales" (i.e. Avon, Amway, NutraLife etc.) how far are you willing to go to meet a customer or potential partner?
When are you available?  If you operate during typical business hours you probably don't need to mention this.  However, if you have atypical hours this may be important, particularly if this differentiates you from your competitors.
How do you do what you do?  Are you "Green"?  Does every client receive individual attention?  Are you licensed, bonded, and insured?  Are your products hand-crafted?
Who is a good customer?  Specificity is important here.  Not everyone is a good prospect.  For example, if you are an Interior Decorator a home owner will be a good prospect but an apartment dweller is not.
Why should someone do business with you?  What makes you unique?  Why should a prospect choose you over your competitors.  What justifies your higher price?
A "Memory Hook" or "Tag Line."  We've all heard them... "Are you in good hands?"  Tag lines MUST be short and memorable.  One of the events I attend regularly is also attended by a Chiropractor.  She starts her Tag Line, "When your back is out..." and the regulars complete it, "the Doctor is in."  Keep in mind that, while Tag Lines are important, sharing it is not always a good idea.  When you are speaking with someone one-to-one leave it out, it will make what you are saying sound like a commercial rather than natural conversation.

As I mentioned above, your Elevator Speech will likely be different every time; the amount of time available varies, your audience varies, the problem in question might be different from one person to the next.  For each of these reasons, and dozens more your Elevator Speech needs to fit each situation.  In some cases you will only have time for one or two sentences to get your message across, in others you will have time for five, six, or even more.
We would all like to have a 100% response rate to our Elevator Speeches, unfortunately we also know that this isn't possible.  But we can improve the response rate by spending some time up front so that when the next opportunity arises for you to share your "Elevator Speech" you will be ready.