3 Easy Steps for Transforming Networking Contacts into MQLs
So you’re a networker, huh?
You attend meetups, burn the midnight oil at post-conference gatherings, and lag behind after big presentations in the service of meeting the right people? Good. You’re on your way.
It’s no secret that networking is hugely beneficial to you as a person and a professional. It helps build much-needed bonds with other adults (which feels like a real luxury from this side of 30) while also exposing you to others working in your field or industry: people who you should know to get ahead or otherwise get stuff done.
But one of the lesser discussed benefits of networking is that, ultimately, it’s good for business. It helps sales professionals perfect their pitches, it helps department heads discover amazing new talent, and yes, it even helps us marketers.
You see, what we tend to forget is that every connection we make at one of these isn’t just a personal / professional opportunity. It’s also a business opportunity. And if, say, you spend your days trying to boost demand for a product / service, and you aren’t yet leveraging those contacts you grabbed at #GartnerBI the other week… well, you know the saying about low-hanging fruit.
And believe me, I know: you think it’s going to be awkward. They’ve connected with me personally, you worry. If I throw them in the funnel, it could damage the possibility of future opportunities. And yeah, if done indelicately, it could.
But since you know better than to aggressively spam anyone (much less someone you’re building a real relationship with), that shouldn’t be a problem. Just take it slow, follow these steps, and you can turn your networking contacts into MQLs without damaging your personal relationships at all.
1. Don’t Get Too Aggressive Too Quickly
Remember, these people connected with you personally; they didn’t fill out a lead form or download a pricing sheet. So as tempted as you are to just export the contact straight from your address book to Salesforce, don’t. You aren’t there yet.
Instead, feel them out. Informally (and directly) send them a few articles relevant to both the conversation you had with them and your business. Slip in a collateral piece you normally use in lead gen campaigns. See how they respond.
Your goal here is to foster a collaborative sharing of information, to become the guy or gal that sends them the info they need to solve problems they may or may not even know they had. And even if they aren’t decision-makers, keep in touch. Feed them information regularly. It primes you to make your next move when the time is right.
2. Learn to Identify the Right Time
Broaching a sales pitch (or flat-out asking one of your connections if they’d be interested in entering a months-long sales cycle for your product) can be pretty tricky, and honestly that’s not typically the way you want to go. Instead, use some form of lead scoring to measure their likely interest in hearing a sales pitch.
Because you’ve been sending them collateral and relevant content and engaging them in friendly conversation, you know what they’ve read and what they haven’t, what their work needs are, etc. Work with sales to set a lead threshold based on the data your company has and track your contacts against these. Once they’ve engaged in enough content, said a number of things to you that are indicative of a need, you’re ready to go.
3. Initiate the Sale Yourself
Though it’s tempting to just turn over their contact info to a sales exec, don’t. To maintain the personal relationship, this is a subject you’ll have to broach on your own. Set them up with a simple “You know it seems like you’re having problems with X, Y… I don’t want to give you the hard sell or anything, but I think my company could help” and see what they say.
By engaging them this way, you’re doing so as a friend. You’re giving them the option to say “no thanks” (which, if they do, you have to respect for the time being), or to further pursue in on their own. It doesn’t feel guided or pushy. It’s one friend talking to another saying “hey I know this thing that might help.”
And the best part is this: those that do say yes (and who are interested) are way more likely to go through with the sale. They’ll think they’re getting a good deal because they know you, they’ll think it’s a product / service they chose on their own, and – through your conversations and shared articles / collateral – they’ve already done the work of realizing they have a problem that needs fixing.
The Bottom Line
By the time you turn your networking contact over to a sales exec, a couple of things have happened: 1) they’ve gone through the same MQL process that any lead has, 2) they feel a personal investment in your business because they’re connected to you, and 3) they’re much closer to actually being an SQL than 90% of the other leads you deliver.
Though a bit more time-consuming than your other demand gen processes, leveraging networking contacts ends up having a similar effect to account-based marketing, allowing you to deliver and build a meaningful relationship with someone before naturally handing them off to sales.