Networking is an essential activity in the meetings industry. It’s often the value-added aspect to a meeting that attracts attendees and helps them learn and build business relationships outside the formal education sessions. Networking also extends well beyond meetings themselves, and is an integral part of success in the business world.
But networking is mainly for extroverts, right? Not always. Plenty of people are introverts (including lots of people in the meetings industry), yet they can succeed just as well in networking by employing strategies that work for them.
Vinay Kumar, a self-described introvert who is a first-generation immigrant from India, has written about the ways he has successfully leveraged networking to get ahead in the association community. He currently runs Vinay Kumar Associates, a firm focused on helping small women-owned and partnership-based service businesses as well as associations increase profits and productivity while improving quality of life. His mission is to help build healthy businesses and healthy relationships.
“Lacking the gift of the gab, I am poor at making small talk,” Kumar says.
“If you were to look up the words quiet, dull, and boring in Webster’s, you’ll probably find my picture right next to them. Furthermore, being on the quiet side, one of my biggest fears in taking a client out to lunch is what if we have total silence and I don’t know what to say. Yikes! Talk about sending chills up my spine!”
But the success Kumar has achieved belies his self-deprecating style.
He offers these tips to his fellow introverts:
- Be clear on what’s comforting for you. For example, if you don’t like hanging out at the bar, then don’t take your clients there. Your discomfort will come through. You will not enjoy it nor will your client. I select places that suit my style as often as I can. Also, I only ask individuals out to lunch with whom I am comfortable. If I do have to take someone out to lunch and I have a strong feeling it’ll be uncomfortable, I’ll ask a colleague to join me, someone whom I feel will get along well with the client.
- Plan something unique and memorable. When I discover someone likes Indian food, I’ll often take ‘em to some hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant that sells tasty Indian cooking, a place a non-Indian would probably never discover or go on their own.
- Always be on the lookout for challenges, personal or business, your clients may be having. For example, over 15 years ago, one my clients had adopted a daughter from overseas, who was having trouble learning English. Once I understood the challenge, I realized it’s very similar to what my daughter had faced. To help her learn, we had purchased a series of cassettes, which had helped her immensely. As my daughter didn’t need them anymore, I hand delivered them to my client, and they helped her daughter immensely, too. Today, even after all these years, every time I run into this client, she makes it a point to update me on her daughter’s progress and thanks me for the tapes. She still remembers. I feel happy that I made a difference, and it’s been good business too.
- Send out, by snail mail, handwritten thank you cards. They are so rare these days, making them even more special. In today’s time where nearly everything seems to quickly become a commodity, standing out from the crowd becomes an increasing challenge. Sending out handwritten cards really helps you stand apart and makes you memorable.
- Send information such as articles that you may have read that will be of interest to your clients. Again, by snail mail whenever possible, with a short handwritten note, saying something like, “Hey Myron, thought this might be of interest to you – Vinay.” It demonstrates to clients you’re thinking of them, which you are. By the way, this doesn’t have to be just business-oriented. It can be of a personal nature also. Again, the key is to be authentic and from the heart.
- Send white papers and articles that you have written. If you haven’t written any, I urge you to do so. It’s one of our top-secret weapons to sales success, especially for us introverts. In the end, no matter how much you and the client like each other, the client has to find business value in the relationship. Of course, many such relationships turn into lifelong friendships. First, however, is providing the business value. By sending out such materials that you have written, you are positioning yourself as the expert in the field, and that’s something we introverts do so well. So leverage it to the max.
“Look, my fellow introverts, we may not be the life of the party,” Kumar says. “We may not be the ones going to games screaming for our teams, and we may not be the ones who can easily ‘wow’ folks at a gathering.
But when people know you can help solve their problems, that they can count on you, that you’ll take the time to truly listen, they’ll be heard, and you take the time understand their challenges and then help them solve them, you’ll be well on your way to making your relationships strong, baseball tickets or not.
The key to success is to continually add value to other’s lives. As you do that, many will do the same for you. That’s the key to success and fulfillment.”