Networking is the key to a successful business and no one understands this better than small- to medium-sized companies. We’ve all been to the monthly Breakfast Clubs, have stood around a high-top holding a weak cocktail and wearing a name tag, and have tripped down the rabbit holes on LinkedIn.
We hustle for the work.
Networking lessons from Microsoft’s Partner Program
Before XL.net, our founder and CEO worked for a company that was acquired by Microsoft. Previous to the acquisition, the company worked as a Microsoft Gold Partner. As part of the partner program, Microsoft helped set up business opportunities.
The efficiency of Microsoft’s business-matching got the soon-to-be XL.net founder curious. There are 30,000 Microsoft Gold Partners, 64,000 partners overall. What was the secret behind Microsoft’s adept business matching?
The Microsoft secret wasn’t as high-tech or as complicated as you might think: they built company profiles that allowed them to be mindful of the businesses they were trying to match.
B2B Networking Strategies
From Microsoft’s partner profiles, XL.net founder retrofitted a partner profile for SMBs in mind and developed a strategy that XL.net has been using for over ten years.
1. Find the network and the partners you already have
The baseline value of this strategy is that you’re building on the footing you already have. By working with a partner–can be a friend, a client, or a business partner–you are expanding the reach of your existing network to find the opportunities that really align with your business goals.
Fishing in familiar ponds is maybe twice as effective as cold calling, leading to 40% more meetings than cold calling.
2. Take the time to talk to your partner to find the best business matches
The time you take to talk doesn’t have to be very long. XL founder suggests two, 30-minute meetings and uses Calendly to schedule the meetings.
Calendly is a great tool for these networking calls because it allows people to schedule, change and cancel meetings on your calendar based on your pre-set availability.
3. Build a business profile for you and your partner
During the first 30-minute call with your partner, you will take the time to build the partner profiles and save both of them to a personal filing system so you can refer back to them as opportunities arise.
Here is an example of XL.net’s partner profile:
4. Discover your mutual connections using LinkedIn Sales Navigator
Once you have outlined what you are looking for and what your partner is looking for, you can start searching in LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find connections to benefit you both.
In the search filter, you want to search for people who are 2nd level connections that are connected to your partner.
Filtering the search in LinkedIn Sale Navigator this way will provide people with whom you are not already connected. With your partner you can go through this list of LinkedIn connections and tell your partner what introduction you want and think would work best for your business. Your networking partner can then decide whether or not they have a good enough relationship with the connect to make the introduction.
You’ll do this exercise until you both have a few potential leads.
5. Introduce your partner to your contacts and have them introduce you to theirs
Once you have a few leads for each participating partner, it’s time to make the introduction. Below is a sample letter that can serve as a starting point. You want to describe your partner and their business as well as leave the conversation open-ended in the hopes that your
Here is a sample of that introductory letter that our partners send about us:
I thought it might be beneficial to introduce you to [name of your partner]. [name of your partner] is the [job title] of [company name]–[describe your partner’s company]. They are constantly looking to appropriately connect owners, presidents, companies in their network in order to help them grow their business.
Taking a meeting with him will be a positive step. Best of luck to you both!
How often to network online
Impactful networking is most effective when it is constantly pursued. It’s very rare that you find a new client through networking right at the moment they need your services. It’s far more likely that you will meet new people, learn about new businesses, and down the road, when the need presents itself, they will remember this really great person and business they have in their extended network.
This is where B2B networking works best.
XL.net founder has completed 15 to 16 of their partner networking exercises in the last three months with the hopes of building a relationship with potential clients who will think of XL.net the next time that they assess their IT needs.
How to network online
In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, networking has changed. Breakfast Clubs stopped happening, cocktail hour still hasn’t bounced back and the in-person meetings with the leads stopped getting scheduled.
Networking online can be challenging. You and your business are just another noise-maker on the already noisy Internet.
But networking online can also be efficient.
Instead of driving 30-minutes, sometimes even an hour, to have in-person meetings with the leads from XL.net partners, the XL.net founder was able to have these conversations over a video call.
Networking online can be a chore, but it can also be rewarding.
Here are other ways to network online:
- Schedule video meetings, just to talk. Networking for your business does not have to be 100% business-focused.
- Use online networks to connect to like-minded people.
- Attend virtual events and be an active participant.
- Join groups on social media and post about yourself and your work so people recognize you.
- Follow-up with people you talk to online. Don’t let the connection weaken.
- And tap into your existing network.