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When you’re responsible for overall sales at any channel company, you want results NOW.

Many of your salespeople may have excuses, such as how much time it takes to canvass large numbers of customers by calling from lists. They may even blame the quality of the list, noting that the majority of contacts on it no longer work at those companies. The worst part is, more often than not, they’re right.

Then there’s all the time it takes to get an appointment, hold a meeting, extract the prospect’s need, validate the prospect’s understanding of the need, produce and present a proposal, overcome objections and—finally—close the sale.

If all that sounds very familiar, it should. It’s a general description of a standard sales process cycle, and it means that sales take time. No surprise. But time is your enemy.

Networking—the interpersonal kind rather than the digital kind—has been established as “the way of the world.” Propelled by social media, the concept of people interacting with people has returned excellent results for many enthusiastic, aggressive networkers.

Experienced networkers know that the people they interact with don’t necessarily need to be the target customer they’re seeking. Often they talk to people who know other people who might be interested in their services. They let their contacts know what they’re looking for and hope they’ll relay the information to their own contacts. Often, they start by doing the same for the contact. Quid pro quo. One hand washes the other.

It sounds as if we’re introducing yet another step into the sales cycle, delaying it even more. But that’s not the case.

Who Sells to Your Customer?

Putting effective networking to work in your sales effort is fairly simple. Start by figuring out which other companies in which other industries sell to the same customer you’re looking for.

For example, if you sell to the legal vertical, look for legal printers, publishers of law journals and suppliers of other materials that law firms need to purchase regularly. If you sell to medical and health care organizations, seek out manufacturers of diagnostic equipment or pharmaceuticals, or even companies that sell thermometers or other medical implements. Industries that sell to the same customer as you do are often referred to as “adjacent” industries.

You pose no threat to these people. In fact, if they develop a mutually beneficial relationship with you, you may become additional eyes and ears for them within their accounts. You may also become a source of new accounts for them.

Networking is a two-way street. The more information you each share with one another, the more you can both benefit. Remember, information is the currency of effective networking relationships.

So how does networking cut the sales cycle in half?

We know that referrals are still the most effective form of marketing. And, a networked introduction to a prospect is exactly the same as a customer referral. You can skip many of the early steps in the sales cycle. You don’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time calling to find this new prospect. You don’t have to persuade the prospect to pay attention to you. You start your sales cycle in the middle, by setting up an appointment to meet with the prospect you’ve just been introduced to. 

Best of all, you’ve been introduced by someone the prospect already knows and trusts.

Be aware that some investment of time and effort is involved in networking like this, because you need to find these other salespeople from adjacent industries.

Perhaps the simplest way to meet people from other companies and industries that sell to your customer is to attend your customer’s next trade show. You may already be doing this to find new customers. This time, though, carve out time to roam the trade show floor and talk to other vendors who are there seeking customers just as you are. Strike up conversations. Soon you’ll develop an ear for which of them are enthusiastic networkers. Make those your friends and watch your network expand.

Howard Cohen has spent 30-plus years as an executive and community leader inside the IT channel. He now writes and presents about it in Channel Insider, Redmond Channel Partner, Insight Technically, Channel Partner and more.