Love it or hate it, networking is a professional necessity, no matter the size of your business.
And while the idea of creating opportunities with strangers can seem a daunting concept, in the tourism business, where relationships can make or break a business, meeting new people is really only the beginning.
Fortunately, you aren’t on your own; there are a number of experts who have mastered the art of making connections, and are more than willing to share their findings with the rest of the world.
So whether you want to learn how to best approach prospective clients at social events or interact with colleagues and partners in the industry, we’ve rounded up some pro networking tips to keep in mind for your next meet-and-greet.
Network from the heart, not the hip
From clients and coworkers to sales reps and suppliers, being a travel advisor is all about building relationships in both the long and short term.
Although meeting new people may seem simple enough, making a lasting impact is the real key to securing meaningful connections – and takes more than a firm handshake.
Author and speaker Nikki Pett suggests networkers resist conversation domination and the pushy pitch (which can result in a splashy first impression but not necessarily a positive one) in favour of a more self-aware approach, and “sell from the heart.”
“Engage them in conversation using open-ended questions with a genuine interest in what your new contact does, what they’re passionate about – and ask how you can help them,” she says on her website, EndColdCallingForever.com.
“Be cognizant that they most likely want to meet others and respect their time to connect with other professionals,” Pett adds, pointing out that even when the introduction seems promising, it’s important to avoid coming on too strong.
“Unlike the intimidating hip shooter, graciously exit the conversation to give them a chance to learn more about others.”
If you’ve made someone feel interesting, the chances are good that with time, they’ll come back on their own.
Avoid “transactional” networking
It goes without saying that in a sales-driven industry, the best way to build a business is often through word-of-mouth. As such, frequent referrals are worth their weight in gold.
But Dr. Ivan Misner, a globally-acclaimed authority on business networking, points out that performing favours with the expectation of immediate returns is a misstep made by short-term thinkers.
“Networking is not a vending machine,” the founder and chief visionary officer of BNI, the world’s biggest networking organization states on his professional blog. “The ‘I will give you this, now you have to give me that,’ point of view is only going to leave you sorely disappointed.”
Instead of giving to others with the expectation of immediate gains, Dr. Misner suggests making referrals with a “relational” rather than “transactional” mindset, which will result in a more satisfying experience for your future contacts – and yourself – in the long run.
“Remember, networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about cultivating relationships.”
Networking on social media? Keep it real.
With home-based agencies on the rise, keeping in contact with clients via social media is more important than ever. It not only creates awareness for your business, it can also motivate prospective buyers to make contact, when done correctly.
According to people skills coach Kate Nasser, while social media can be a valuable tool when connecting with your clients, networking effectively with social media goes way beyond posting an inspirational daily status.
“While social media is about you, social media networking is about you and others,” she says on her Smart SenseAbilities blog.
User engagement is a must when it comes to building a following, Nasser asserts, so be sure to share your clients’ posts and reply to any comments with remarks of your own. Further to that, make a point of researching a client’s own profile and learning about their needs and interests before reaching out; it will make a stronger impression about your ability to deliver.
“Social media networking is about building relationships to reach your goals,” Nasser states.
“Without the relationship, it’s self-absorbed selling."
This piece was brought to you by Air Canada, as part of the airline’s ongoing efforts to support travel agents. ACTA members click here to access Air Canada’s ACTA Training program for agencies.