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Social Prospecting: How to Tactfully Work a Room

Feb 25th 2016
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Have you ever cold called, perhaps for a charity or a political candidate? Pushing yourself in front of other people can be draining. When they aren’t interested and hang up, rejection takes its toll, too. Fortunately, as an accountant, you don’t need to do this for a living.

Social prospecting makes sense. If you can get into an organization attracting people qualified to be clients, some might take that step or refer others. But you need to get your message across. At some point, you have attended a networking cocktail party and told your story over and over, or attended speed dating and tried to get multiple people to like you. You couldn’t get away fast enough.

A Stranger Calls
How are you going to get social prospecting to work for you? Let’s start by considering the end result. A person calls you up and says he would like to become a client.

Why is he calling? He has a problem. You have solved this problem for someone he knows. Maybe he knows the solution requires someone in your profession.

How did he find you? He met you previously and was impressed. A friend told him about you. He was referred by a client.

Why you and not somebody else? He got your name and checked you out. A Northern California advisor in a similar situation asked: “Why did you choose me?” The answer was: “I asked around. Yours is the only name that came up twice.” Today, LinkedIn and Google play a role, too.

Our story so far: He has a problem. He met or heard about you. He did due diligence beforehand.

Kinder, Gentler Prospecting
Now that we know what the harvest looks like, we need to sow the seeds. According to the New York Times, the average American knows 600 people. He or she needs to know who you are, what you do, and why you are good.

You belong to organizations. People in insurance, investments, and real estate have the unfortunate reputation of being pushy. You probably know at least one person who gets the conversation around to business. He explains what he does, opens his card case, and asks to swap business cards. You shiver.

Start with the assumption you have all the time in the world. You see the parents of your children’s schoolmates regularly. You see the same faces at the country club over and over. You attend homeowners association meetings regularly. When you attend events, try to meet six new people over the course of two to three hours. Warmly greet people you have already met on previous occasions. Chat in short conversations, and float around.

When meeting for the first time, people usually ask where you live and what you do. Assume these people aren’t stupid. If you said you were a CPA at Abracadabra Accounting, she will remember it as clearly as you recall she is an anesthesiologist at the local hospital.

Find a genuine interest in common. If there isn’t one, don’t try to fake it. If you are meeting at the country club, it’s likely he plays golf. You might mention, “Perhaps we should get together for a game sometime?” or ask, “When do you get out on the course?” If he belongs to a golf club, it’s a safe bet he enjoys the sport and looks for any excuse to play.

Spouses play a role, too. They may talk among themselves at social events because they already have interests in common, like fundraising at their children’s school. When spouses get together socially, they often talk about what their other half does for a living. It might be in answer to a direct question or indirectly, when they mention they are alone this week because their spouse is off at the state medical convention. Spouses who enjoy each other’s company eventually suggest getting together as couples.

LinkedIn and other social media channels also play a role. It’s acceptable for people who met socially to initiate a connection on social media afterward. I always word the invitation as a personalized message mentioning where we met and my rationale for staying in touch. Your online profile, which they can access at their leisure, tells your professional story.

What Have You Done?
We started with the rationale of why a stranger called to do business. He has a problem. He met or heard about you. He checked you out beforehand.

You have laid the groundwork. Taking a long-term view, you have consistently been meeting new people at every event you attend. You have warmly acknowledged people you’ve met before. You’ve sought out common interests and offered to share them. Your spouse has made friends with other spouses, eventually turning get-togethers into a couple’s event. You’ve connected on social media.

How many people do you know? A lot. Do they know what you do? Yes. Can they check you out? Definitely, through the spousal connection, peers, or social media. When they have a problem, who will be top of mind? You.

And you haven’t forced a single business card on anyone.

Related articles:

Social Prospecting: Where Does Business Come From?
The 4 Rules for Being Successful with Social Prospecting
A Step-by-Step Roadmap for Social Prospecting
7 Social Prospecting Tactics for Time-Impaired Accountants

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