Tips for Effective Networking


We recently had the pleasure of talking with Gina Kaelin-Westcott, author of Creating a Bond Beyond the Handshake: 100 Reasons Why Relationships and Value are What Sell Every Time.  She is the co-founder of Extreme Relationship Management, a professional business networking organization, and she is president of Connect Selling, Sales strategist and sales consultant for small business.


Q:        Good Morning Gina.  Thank you for coming.  Let’s start by discussing what is meant by Connect Selling?

A:         Connect is actually an acronym that stands for:

  • How you COMMUNICATE with your customer
  • Your OFFERS and value
  • Your NICHE
  • How you NETWORK
  • EVERYTHING about your customer
  • CALL BACK and follow through
  • Building TRUST

When I was looking for a name, I asked myself, “What are all the things that make people successful in selling?  What do your customers expect?  What do you have to do to be successful?”  I started writing all these words out on Post-it notes laid out on a big board and then I came up with CONNECT.  It’s all about building connections and relationships.

Sales Strategy Process

Q:        What is the process you use when working with clients?

A:         The process is about getting people into a sales strategy.  Most people create a 20-30 page business plan when they first start their business that gets put up on a shelf.  I use a 2-page sales plan that maps out their strategy.  It covers:

  • What is the current state of our business?
  • How do we measure success?
  • What are those key performance indicators?
  • What do we want our business to look like one year from now?
  • Are we entering new markets?
  • What new revenue streams do we want to create?
  • Are there streams that are underperforming that we need to get rid of?

We talk about where you want your business to be a year from now.

Then we identify the gap, all those pieces that we need to get to our future state.

And then we break them down by customer type.

  • How do we generate new customers?
  • How do we keep our existing customers?
  • How do we potentially bring back lapsed customers?

We take the gap and the customer types and we break our goals down by month and create a clear 12-month roadmap that will take your business to that future state.

Q:        Okay. And do you have monthly follow-ups?

A:         We use this strategy as a springboard for sales coaching.  I have been in sales for over 25 years and everything I do is relationship-based selling.  So we take the plan and we begin to put it into action.  I act as a guide and an accountability partner to make sure that they are doing what they need to do to hit their goals.

Importance of Social Media

Q:        How has increasing prominence of online communication affected the way you do business?

A:         You know, there are people who do everything over the phone or online.  I do 99% of my actual work in person because coaching over the phone leaves a lot of room for distractors.  People are multi-tasking and are not really focused.  When we meet face-to-face, they spend that 60 or 90 minutes focusing on their business.

Q:        When you make recommendations to people about how to build their businesses and market their products and services, how important is social media?

A:         I think that the social media piece is huge.  People need to make sure that they have an active presence online. They need to be actively engaged with their audience, their community, and their target market.  Because, if they don’t, people will have a harder time finding them and understanding what they do and what they offer.  So I think they have to be actively engaged with their audience.

Q:        How should someone who is not savvy online chose which channels to participate in, how often to post, and what kind of information to post?

A:         I start by asking what type of business they have.  Who is their target market?  So, if you are a consultant and your target market is small to mid-sized corporations, you probably want to start with Linked In because that is where your target market hangs out.  They are not hanging out on Facebook or Twitter.  They should make sure that their Linked In profile is 100% complete and then actively engage, get people to connect with them.

If your business is selling promotional products, I think that Linked In is important but I think that Facebook is also important because these products can be fun. But, if you are just getting started, I would say pick one.  If it is Facebook, create a fan page for your business, get people to like you.  You could give something away and advertise specials.  Facebook is a great place for promotion while Linked In is not really promotion-focused.

So again, I would recommend determining where the majority of the people in your target market are interacting and start there.

Getting Started

Q:        If someone were just starting out and has no online presence whatsoever, what steps would you recommend?

A:         I would start with a basic website.  When two people meet at a networking event, they exchange business cards and what do they do next?  They go to the internet to check them out.  They will most likely go to their website first.  If they don’t have a website, they will probably go to their Linked In profile.  If they don’t have a Linked In profile, they will go to Facebook.  I would strongly encourage people to get a basic website up because it makes you look more professional; it makes you look legit.

Also, they need to get the domain name and have their email address include their business url. When you see an aol or gmail account you think “okay how serious are they about their business?”  It’s a comfort level.

Q:        How do you view search engine optimization?

A:         I think it can be important, depending on your target market and the complexity of your sale.  I think that if your offering is complex sale, you probably need search engine optimization assistance from an expert.  If it is a less complex or transactional sale, you may make some organic modifications to boost your rank.

Q:        What about testimonials?

A:         I always recommend asking for testimonials through your Linked In profile.  This adds a layer of credibility because the testimonial lists the person’s first and last name, job title and employer; it cannot be fabricated.  You can also use these testimonials in other marketing materials.

Another tip is to be very specific about what kind of testimonial you are asking for.  If you are trying to up your testimonials on customer service, if you are maybe for a certain product or service that you’ve offered.  Be very specific.

For example, I recently asked one of our ERM members for a testimonial.  I asked her to think about what ERM has done for your business and if possible, quantify the results in a percentage of revenue growth.  I was very specific about what I wanted.  It can be hard but she gave us a glowing testimonial that said that since coming to ERM, her business has tripled.  That was exactly what I wanted to hear.

So again, be very specific about what you are asking for because if I asked you to give me a testimonial about Connect Selling, you might say yes but then suddenly you are staring at a blank piece of paper and wondering where to start.  But, if you give some guidelines, you know exactly what you are going to get back.  Be very specific.

Q:        Let’s get into the specific channels. What is Twitter good for?

A:         Twitter is best for repurposing sound bites or quick business tips, that kind of thing.  Look at who is following you.  What would interest them?  If you are using Twitter as a way to generate visibility, make sure it stays in line with what your business is about.  That’s what I would recommend.

Q:        And Facebook, when it first emerged it was a little bit more personal.  How should you manage your personal communications versus your brand image?

A:         That’s a great question. For me and many small business owners, we are our brands.  People do want to see a personal side of you, to know that you have a family and go on vacation. I think it is important to make sure that you are incorporating a personal element into it. It needs to be professional and educational.  Find articles that are educational for your people, they don’t always have to be business related. They can be inspirational or motivational as well.

Q:        Is it worth it to pay for a higher level of Linked in?

A:         For people who use it for lead generation or for prospecting, I think that the basic level of Linked In is sufficient.  There is a ton of capability in it; you just need to know how to use it.  But, if you are actively searching for a job, an upgrade adds valuable tools including access to recruiters.

Q:        And if I’m going to reach out to someone in a group that I don’t know, what is the right way?

A:         I get a lot of requests to connect from group members.  Sometimes people send me a request to connect using the generic message from Linked In.  I say to myself: “I don’t even know you.”  “I don’t know who you are.”  And the last thing I want to do is to connect with people who will spam my connections.

Recently a group member sent me a personalized the note that read something like: “Hi Gina, I want to learn more about your business to see if there is any synergy between our companies.”  My reaction was much more positive.  I responded to her with a request for a quick phone call.  Only after we had talked did I accept her Linked In invite.  I didn’t know her.

So, if you are going to reach out to somebody, have a purpose for reaching out for them, do some research on their business and be sure that it is an opportunity for a valuable connection.  Bottom line – have a strategy.

Q:        Okay Gina, I think that’s about all we have for today.  Thank you for your time.

A:         Thank you.