If you are new to networking, hopefully, you already know that you cannot “hard sell” the other members of the networking group. If you have experience with networking, you can spot the newer guys and gals from a mile away. Many start networking, but eventually lose interest or feel that they do not get the results they should. The secret to successful networking is taking things one step further, and developing a sales funnel.

Here’s an old networking question to ask yourself before an event. How many people came to the networking event to sell something today? Everyone, yes? How many people came to the networking event to buy something today? No one, right? So, how is this going to work? Let’s talk about building that sales funnel here.

People Buy from Those They Like and Trust

The best advice here is to listen, listen, and listen some more to your prospect. That is how you learn about them. This is how you build your sales funnel. Did you know that listening to someone actually increases their trust in you and raises their self-esteem?


Keep this acronym in mind…. It stands for WHY AM I TALKING? You should spend twenty percent of your time asking questions, and eighty percent of your time listening to answers. Repeat some of their statements to let them know that you are understanding. Take a few notes to show your level of care. Remember, twenty percent asking questions, eighty percent listening to answers.

Aggressive selling, AKA “convincing,” causes buyer’s remorse, high return rates, and low repeat referral rates. Customers who talk themselves into buying the product are happy to have made the purchase, feel good about the decision, and often refer you new business. The difference in “helping a customer solve a problem” with one of your solutions versus you “selling them something” is all in your questioning techniques.

Like Playing Tennis

Steve Hall said; “You’ve never won a game of tennis with the ball on your side of the court.”

Envision a tennis match in your head. You serve first. Meaning you ask the first question. They hit the ball back. Meaning, they answered your question. Now hit the ball back to them and create a volley. Back and forth. Back and forth. You ask questions they hit back answers.

Remember, If you are talking, they are not buying. If they are talking, they are convincing themselves to buy from you. If purchasing from you is their idea, the chances for buyer’s remorse are significantly less.

Do Your Homework to Start Building Your Sales Funnel

The best way to solve a problem is to gather as much information as possible. Before you call or meet with a prospect, learn a few details about them. This strategy will serve you well in creating a genuine conversation when you meet.

Social media makes it possible to learn about a person before you meet with them face-to-face. Google them, look at their Facebook page, their LinkedIn, etc. If they have a website, visit it and get to know their products and services. It shows respect for them.

Why perform pre-call planning? This is how you build your list of questions for the one-on-one meeting. Don’t be fake, but be a little coy. You are going to be asking some questions to which you already know the answers.

Leveraging Social Media for Sales Funnel Planning

For example, you may see on their Facebook profile that they have children or pets. If you have children, then the two of you have something in common. But please, do not start the conversation by telling them that you looked them up on Facebook and saw that they have two kids named Michael, age ten and Sarah, age eight! That sounds very aggressive. Instead, you may mention that you have children and a little about them. Then ask, do you have any children? You already know the answer, but you need to allow them to answer in their own way. This will build rapport and trust between the two of you.

You may see on their LinkedIn Profile that you both went to the same High School or University. You may want to mention what school you went to right before you started your career. Then allow them to tell you that they did the same. Sharing some of those stories from your college days goes very far.

These little commonalities go a long way towards building trust and creating a bond. Allowing someone to tell their own story is a huge part of building a relationship. The best strategy is to be a good host and to guide the conversation in a positive direction.

Look for Connection Points

I love to fish. Everyone in my circle of influence knows I like to fish. I post fishing pictures and make sure fishing is a big part of my personal brand. It’s not your typical worm on a hook type of fishing. There is no sitting around relaxing and drinking beers with your buddies. People who are into fishing at this level are serious fishermen.

I mention all of this just to point out the following. If I meet someone that also fishes at this level, there is an immediate bond. Instantly there is a connection because both of us are passionate about the same subject.

Quickly the conversation turns almost exclusively to fishing. We may trade stories, fishing spots, techniques… the conversation could go on and on. We may even go on a fishing trip or two.

Let me ask you this question? After all that fishing, chatting, and having a good time, who are they going to buy from? Me or my competitor?

Commonalities are easier to find than you may think. You don’t have to be an expert fisherman to be good at networking. You will find that many of us have children, pets, and hobbies. Some of us like to hike, run, or play a sport. Many of us are passionate about charities. It’s likely that you have a few things in common with your prospect. And if you don’t? Maybe they are not a good prospect.

Stick to the Mission

VERY IMPORTANT – Remember what the mission is. We are on a search and rescue mission to fill our sales funnel with qualified prospects. We need to search out the pain or problem our prospect is facing and offer them a lifeline. Typically, after small talk, the answers start to get more in-depth. Personal stories and feelings are shared more often and with ease. It becomes easier to determine who belongs in your sales funnel.

Now is the time to start getting your prospect to talk about some of the issues they are facing. Things you may be able to help with. Don’t feel like you have to pry. If something is bothering someone, more often than not, they are willing to share if they feel you can be a resource.

Once pain points are revealed, ONLY present the ONE product or service that can help them. You can mess the whole process up by “spilling your candy in the lobby.” Too often, salespeople cannot wait to present their PowerPoint presentations.

The days of PowerPoint presentations that review an entire company’s menu of products and services are gone. Think about it this way. The only people still using PowerPoint presentations are non-skilled salespeople working a system. This is very much like robocalling or cold calling prospects. It’s way too much effort and is more likely to annoy people rather than engage them.

The Power of Three Choices – Working Your Sales Funnel

When my sister Michelle and I worked at New Balance Shoes, we trained our sales staff in a non-traditional way. We did not allow the customers to pick out their own shoes. Yes, you read that correctly. The customer was not allowed to pick out their own shoes.

We would first measure their foot. Then tell them if they needed a Stability, Neutral, or Motion Control Shoe. (I bet many of you are puzzled) Every athletic shoe on the market is one of these three types, and many consumers have no idea. They are often wearing the wrong type. On top of that, seven out of ten people are wearing the wrong size shoe.

We would find out which type was appropriate for them and only show them three options. We would allow them to try each style on. From there, they decided if it was a good fit. Never four! If they tried the fourth pair, they could no longer remember how the first pair felt. This caused overload, indecision, and often ended in losing the sale.

The Customer’s Choice

Even though we picked the shoes, offering a choice of three allowed it to be the customer’s idea to purchase. Making it their idea increased purchasing morale and reduced buyer’s remorse. We would never offer one shoe claiming it to be the best. That type of pushy arrogance would put many customers off. Not only that but if the shoe was not in stock, how would we then sell them the “second best” option that day?

I once had a cell phone problem and had to go to the store for a replacement. While describing my problem, the salesperson exclaimed that I should just replace my phone with the latest Brand X phone because it was “way better anyway.” Was he saying my previous purchase was flawed? Was he calling me ignorant? I mean, I had done a lot of research about my phone, and it had a fluke error. I was taken aback and a little upset, I asked to speak to the manager.

I’ll end this section with this thought. When you go to the gas station, they offer three choices of fuel. Regular, Medium, and Premium. Have you ever left the gas station upset about the one you chose?

On a side note, who is buying all that Medium Grade fuel?

It Must Be Intimate

Before and after networking events, you will often see people having their one-on-one meetings. They sit stuffed in a coffee shop, sitting next to a bunch of people. This strategy will not work well.

The location of your one-on-one needs to be intimate. If there are a bunch of people around that can hear me, how can I tell you any secrets? How can I talk to you about private issues… health, family, or financial? I don’t want anyone to overhear that information.

So, if you want to reveal pain and get to know each other, it needs to be in a quiet, semi-private setting. Find a decent restaurant with a slow lunch. Make sure it is quiet, and no one is sitting right next to you. Hunker down in that last booth in the back and really get to know each other.

We spoke about how every ten or fifteen one-on-ones will result in new business or a referral. But not if you are just going through the motions. Not if you are running prospects through the mill like cattle on an assembly line. You can’t simply go through the motions. You must have your heart and soul into networking and forming relationships if you want to rely on networking to build a successful sales funnel.

Workshop – Working Your Coffee Sales Funnel

Here is a measurable plan of action that you can easily put into play. One of the best parts of this plan is that you can track the results. The absolute best part is that you are about to meet some fantastic, talented professionals who will enrich your life and business.

A physical representation of this funnel works best for some, but others may want to go digital. In our office, we have a shelf with five sticky notes labeled as follows; Need a One-on-One, Waiting for Response, Scheduled, Not Interested, Met With.

Place each card you obtain from networking in the very first spot labeled, “Need a One-on-One” By working each card from left to right, you will mine them like gold through your networking sales funnel. When you’re finished, there will be two piles – A pile of possible prospects that did not qualify and a pile of Gold! These are your prospects, referral partners, and your circle of influence.

Need a One-on-One

Like Susan, commit yourself to following up, and try and schedule a one-on-one meeting with each person you exchanged cards with during networking events. This is the way to turn those cards into prospects, customers, and collaborators.

When you reach out, let the person know that you heard what they said at a networking meeting and you want to learn more about THEIR business. Get them in sales mode. Do not approach them by saying you want to sell them something. Add validity by mentioning the date and event where the two of you met. This will remind them and lend legitimacy to your request. Remember, we all receive way too many solicitations and SPAM, so you need to stand out.

Pro-Tip: You can create a template and send a similar message to each person.

Waiting for Response

You have crafted your invitation and sent it out. Now while you wait for the reply, follow these steps:

If you do not get a reply within five business days, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you send a second invitation. Let them know that you’re committed to meeting them.

The first may have been missed, and the second invitation will serve as a reminder that you are serious about learning more about THEIR business.

If after two attempts and ten days, they haven’t replied, place their card in the Not Interested stack.


Simply stated, you have created an appointment to meet. Keep the card here until AFTER the meeting. When setting one-on-one meetings, rescheduling often occurs. It may take more than one attempt before you get to meet. Do your pre-call planning before your meeting. Look them up and see if you have any common interests or topics they are passionate about.

Not Interested

This category cuts a few ways. “Not Interested” can mean they aren’t interested, or that you’re not interested. Some business cards may end up here before you even schedule a one-on-one.

If you feel that you do not want to work with a person or build a relationship, it’s ok to place that person’s business card here without spending a lot of time on it. Trust your intuition, but don’t prejudge.

If the person never got back to you after you made several attempts for a one-on-one meeting, chances are they are not interested. Don’t pursue them. What may look like a good lead could be a huge waste of time. Move on.

The pile can also include people you have met with, but do not meet your criteria, or are not qualified as a potential Networking Partner or Prospect.

Met With

You had a one-on-one, and hopefully learned more about THEIR business. Here are a few things to remember during the initial meeting.

THEY GO FIRST – Interview them. Ask them personal and professional questions. This is not the time for you to be talking about yourself or your business. Twenty percent of the time should be spent asking questions, and eighty percent of the time should be spent listening to them.

Try to get them to talk about things that are upsetting them, causing roadblocks, or hindering their growth. On the flip side, ask them about what excites them or if they’ve had any recent victories.

After they have introduced themselves in more detail, you do the same. Except, only mention the products and services that would help them solve their problems or reach their goals — no need to go through your entire laundry list now.

Try to make connections with your other Networking Partners. It’s probable that not every person is a prospect, but referral partners can be a valuable part of your marketing plan.

Now you have created a stronger bond. You have been able to talk about all the things you wanted to in your thirty-second commercial but didn’t have time to. Remember next time you stand up for your thirty-second commercial; you won’t need to babble on because you intend to have a one-on-one meeting with each person in the room.

Make Sure to Connect

To follow up, connect with your new Networking Partner on Social Media. Many connect on LinkedIn, but more and more of us are becoming friends on Facebook.

Add your new Networking Partner to your email list. Not to spam them with sales jargon, but to keep them in the loop and to educate. Providing valuable content through email is a good way to familiarize your prospect with who you are, to show your value, and to build a strong sales funnel.

Completing Your Sales Funnel

If you follow these steps, a result will occur. You will find that for every one-on-one that you have, there will be a result. You’ll understand if they do, or do not belong in your sales funnel, and if they do or do not know people to whom you would like to meet.

A certain percentage will result in a direct sale, and a certain percentage will result in a referral. The key is to figure out how many one-on-ones you need to create a result. Is it ten, twenty, or fifty? Once you find this number, you will be able to see exactly how much networking you need to do to achieve a result.

How many one-on-one meetings does it take for you to generate a referral or sale?

Know Your Sales Funnel Numbers

When you have this information, you have a clear idea of how to move ahead, and what results you can expect.  When you use this information to construct your sales funnel, you have that advantage over your competition.  If you gained insight or just enjoyed reading this, be sure to check out our new post, titled Asking for Warm Introductions.  Learn how referral partners can help you build your business.

If you are losing confidence in your marketing strategy, please reach out to us at [email protected]  Let us review what you have in place, and see what we can do to help your business grow!