Networking is one of the best ways to increase your potential sales and client base – but only if done correctly. How does one effectively network to generate sales?

First, you put sales very far from your mind. Nothing is worse than going to a networking event to find a salesperson “working” the crowd to sell a product or recruit affiliates. Think of networking not as planting the seed for a sale, but rather the opportunity to have others plant your seeds for you, and you plant for them in return.

Networking is built on a foundation of reciprocity. Help others achieve their goals and they will help you in return.  Carry the mindset of giving with you to take tension out of conversations that may make you nervous – helping others as a volunteer makes it so much easier to be yourself.

Here are a few key questions to ask your potential contact when you go to a networking event.

The first question is What do you do?
It’s simple and effective.  People are rarely offended by the question when asked directly. Avoid trying to be cute or snarky about it – many people take their work very seriously and you should treat it with respect until you have built enough trust and good will to do otherwise (often never).

The second questionWho are you looking to meet?
This is a great question because it quickly and easily gets to the heart of the other persons intention and often lets you know what kind of person you are dealing with. If they are looking for people as a “transaction” then they aren’t networkers that are likely to be reciprocal – be wary of those of offering “referral bonuses” as well. People that are interested in networking aren’t likely to sell their contacts – you shouldn’t either.

The last question Is it ok for me to get back to you via e-mail?
People will tell you their preferred form of contact this way. This is how you want to reach out. I prefer email so that I can manage my time better. I then schedule phone calls where appropriate. The request for permission to contact also sets the seeds on both sides for a built in follow up action.

Networking without follow up is like ordering from the menu without eating. Following up is absolutely critical to ensuring that you achieve the results you are looking for. In your follow up actions, be sure to remind your new contact who you are, and also where they can find more information about you out on the web. A website link should be included to allow your new contact to get more information without the pressure of trying to “communicate it all” in one phone call or one email.

During the follow up be sure to make sure you find out more about the type of people your new contact is looking to meet. If you know someone that might be a good connection – get permission from both parties and connect them quickly. Memories often fade, connections made quickly will help cement your position as a valuable partner to your new contact. These connections should add value to both parties – no one sided deals here.

Be sure to set up the next communication as well and nurture your network. This will keep your new contact on the lookout for your interests and make sure that you grow your business through one of the most powerful marketing techniques ever: word of mouth referrals.