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Tips for Effective Networking: 4 Ways to Turn down a Prospect (Politely)

Tips for Effective Networking

Picture this: A packed trade show floor and you’ve got one hour to find that CMO (or whoever your target decision maker is) who you’ve been dying to get in front of to start a sales conversation.

Unfortunately, you’re talking to, let’s call him, “Bert”. Nice guy. Moderately interesting. But he’s not going to help you move the needle and you’re on a deadline. Bert is regaling you with how he “crushed last month’s numbers”, loves Coachella and drinks wheatgrass juice daily.

I agree, networking at events is tough! But, should you be rude and just end the conversation? You could look up and point while saying loudly, “Haley’s comet!” And then run away. Or maybe show him your best parkour moves as you leap away and back-flip from booth to booth?

There’s a better (and easier) way.

Below is my quick guide of effective tactics.

1. Be Direct—It’s Better than Sugar-Coated BS

I once heard someone say, “Tell the truth…fast.”

I’ve used this over the years and it’s rather amazing! What’s remarkable is telling the truth fast is NEVER as bad as I think it’s going to be. Most of the time people will appreciate your candor and welcome the refreshing honesty.

For me, this usually looks something like “What you’re doing is really interesting. There’s not a good fit here, but can I have a card and see if I can connect you with anyone in my network?”

2. Tag Team It

If you have multiple team members attending an event, you’ve got leverage. Rally your group and have a conversation about an “exit strategy” before the event. This way you can apply the power of the team—or individual—to come in for the save.

To that end, make sure you’re also scanning the room for your team members. See who they are talking to and read their body language. If they need out, help them! Also, you could come up with a few simple signals. Think, baseball. For instance, scratching the top of your head means, “Get me out of here, pronto!”

3. Make That New Introduction

Go for the intro. This is an easy method for extricating yourself.

  • If you know a decent size of the crowd at the event, introduce two people and casually leave the conversation with the “I’ll let you two take it from here!” This is one of my favs.
  • The old “I don’t want to take too much of your time!” Flip the script and make them feel like you don’t want to waste their time.

This is one of the best exit strategies as being someone who connects others is a huge opportunity and one of my favorite things. There’s nothing better than connecting two people who do business together, create friendships, or even get married.

4. Exchange Business Cards

Most casual business conversations end with the exchange of a business card. You can casually and skillfully end a conversation by saying something like “let’s exchange cards and stay in touch.”

I believe it’s important to make an effort to stay in touch even if you don’t think there is synergy.

You never know who someone knows or is connected with. Case in point, I recently connected with someone on LinkedIn who made an intro to someone else that led to a sale. Boom!  

Time Is Money, Especially at Events

Attending trade shows, conferences, and events can be some of the most expensive marketing and sales efforts. Make sure you are utilizing your time to talk to the best prospects and leads, not someone you’ll never see again and are too nice or nervous to excuse yourself from.

Below are some scripted walk aways I use. Feel free to edit and modify to your situation:

  • “I don’t know if we’re a good fit for what you’re doing, but we can definitely stay in touch. Here’s my card.”
  • “I’d love to hear more about [INSERT VAPID TOPIC], but I’ve got to prepare for a meeting soon.” Here’s my card.
  • “Sorry but do you know where the restroom is?” (In case of emergency!)

Networking Is on the Clock

If you’re at an event and your company is paying for it, you’re on the clock—even if that means it’s happy hour. Make sure your using your time wisely by connecting with the right people who will move the needle for your company.

If the conversation isn’t a good fit, I hope you utilize one of the above tactics to remove yourself while being respectful of everyone’s time.


Also published on Medium.

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