How to Network Smartly

Refuse to ever blend in.

Don Sanders knows how to win attention – wearing red, blue and orange shoes tends to get you noticed. But Sanders is much more than just a showman. Over his 30-year industry career he’s sold more than $24 million in promotional products at a 43% profit rate. “I think the only way to be able to sell and make money is to make yourself look totally different,” says Sanders, the owner of Don Sanders Marketing (asi/318050).

Beyond his wardrobe, Sanders prides himself on his networking skills. He’ll attend cocktail parties, sporting events, nonprofit dinners – anything to get face time with potential customers. Sanders suggests other distributors take the same aggressive approach. “The easiest way to expand your client base is through networking,” he says. “Not only does it keep the pipeline open for new leads, but it provides insurance for those occasional times when you lose a steady client.”

Check out Sanders’ tips on becoming a better networker.

Q: What are the best places to meet prospects?
A: I’d say at Chamber of Commerce networking events and by doing volunteer work. These are places to meet like-minded people, especially when you volunteer for nonprofits. I also garnered many new customers while being a docent at the Dallas Zoo. I’ve met many new clients while working on political campaigns, too.

Q: Do you set specific goals for each networking event you attend?
A: Yes, I do. At Chamber after-hours events, for example, my goal is to speak to 30 different people.

Q: How do you start a conversation with someone you’ve never met?
A: I introduce myself and ask people how they’re doing. After that, I ask them how long they have been members of a group, like the Chamber of Commerce.

Q: How do you get people to like you?
A: Try mirroring the other person’s body language by smiling, making comfortable eye contact and by asking open-ended questions. Most people will approve of you instantly if you can mimic their body movements. If you meet someone who is loud, raise your voice to the same level. If your new contact has a meek personality, try not to overpower him or her.

Q: How do you politely excuse yourself from a conversation that’s not going anywhere?
A: I say that is was nice visiting with them and mention that I am meeting another person.

Q: How do you make your business card stand out?
A: I don’t carry paper business cards. I haven’t for 25 years. I make sure that my cards are products that I sell, such as lens-cleaning cloths or mini-jotters that are imprinted with our logo and contact information. I’ve also used calling coins.

Q: What networking tips do you have for shy people or those new to the industry?
A: Stop being shy or you will not be successful. While you are conquering shyness, take someone along when you attend events.

Q: Do you believe in digital networking, like connecting through social media?
A: I do. I read people’s profiles and find common bonds between us, like love of history or animals. I picked up a very large account because I noticed a man had posted pictures of castles from a trip to Ireland. I emailed him and mentioned that I loved castles, too, and that started the relationship. People love to talk about themselves, so let them do that.

Q: What’s your most successful networking experience?
A: Meeting my neighbor. After moving to my current home, I became close friends with one of my neighbors, since we both loved working in our yards. After two months, the person who was doing his orders messed up and he asked me if I could help correct the situation. I did and have sold him over $100,000 worth of products since.

Q: How do you hope to improve your networking in 2015?
A: Do more of it. I’ve met many prospects while being a member of the TCU Frog Club. I plan on attending more of these events since I meet many like-minded people there.