For many industries, business schmoozing is a key component of the job. As we start to think about returning to the office and begin to set goals for the second half of 2020, many executives are reimagining what it means to ‘woo’ clients. Since bar-hopping through your city and a quick midweek jaunt to their headquarters is pretty much out of the question, how does one continue networking in the age of COVID-19?
Here, experts predict the future of the schmooze—and how you can adapt your practices:
The Zoom schmooze
By now, you’re likely experiencing some sort of fatigue from continually being on video calls. What started as a beneficial way to feel connected to colleagues, and now sometimes feel exhausting to be ‘on’ for one meeting after another. Try to take some breaks before diving into the Zoom Schmooze, since it’s the future way of staying connected to prospects. Career expert Nancy A. Shenker says while it may feel like a tepid substitute, it’s the closest you have to meet face-to-face. “ If someone says something interesting during a webinar, attendees can schmooze afterward via LinkedIn or set up a call. Believe it or not, Zoom networking is a great way to meet people and make new valuable business connections,” she adds.
Open meetup spaces
For now, gone are the days of convention centers packed to the brim with professionals mingling indoors. As various states navigate reopening tiers, networking in-person may return, but it’ll look different, according to Karen Oakey, the director of human resources for Fracture. “Schmoozing will take place in venues and outdoor spaces that allow for groups and individuals to come together and connect in safe ways,” she continues. “It could be an outdoor coffee shop, restaurant patio, walking path, sports field, or retrofitted conference venues that allow for ‘socially distant networking events.’”
Small group events
Shenker also believes once in-person schmoozing returns, it will be quite some time before groups grow past ten or so. To remain competitive, businesses should come up with ways to acknowledge the strange times everyone is experiencing through various programming. “Personalized masks will be standard and can serve as conversational ice breakers. Small tables with iPads or even digital screens are embedded in the table where you might watch the speaker of the hour, instead of having to go to a designated location and watch the speaker live in front of you,” she continues. “It’s still a ‘live’ event, just more futuristic.”
The cold-call growth spurt
Brian Spector, the CEO of Elite Leads, says building relationships has always been vital in schmoozing. Though you may not have as many opportunities to stumble across new leads in everyday life, in any way you can invest in your network, you will receive more in return. He believes we are about to enter a time when cold calls (and emails) receive a significant growth spurt. “Today, everybody has more time at their disposal, so people have been operating and promoting themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites. Reaching out to people on social media, cold calling, cold emailing, asking people for referrals and building relationships has always been a staple of business and networking,” he continues. “This way, you are building good relationships with those people you want, and you are finding out about the people you don’t want to do business with. By being proactive this way, when COVID is finally behind us, you will have that many more new relationships, new business, and new referral sources than you can imagine.”
When you make these connections, he suggests putting time into them, so they are cemented and ready for business when budgets allow: “Focus on the relationship and indirectly sell yourself which in time leads to more business.”
Active social media efforts
Oakey says now is the time to ramp up your efforts to seek out new groups to join on social platforms. “LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter, and even Facebook offer many open and closed groups to satisfy your professional and personal interests,” she shares. “Being consistently active and engaged in a positive, meaningful way will open your door to many opportunities and could foster relationships that spill over into your professional development.”
Even if you aren’t cold messaging as Spector predicts above, it can be beneficial to work on your digital footprint. This is true for anyone, but particularly those who are in-between jobs or who were recently laid off. By posting think-tank articles, sharing your expertise and investing in your brand, you put yourself a step ahead of others in the applicant pool. Not to mention: it feels good to stay connected, and it opens the door to the schmooze. “Think about using these platforms to lift other folks, share their work and help amplify their message, that feeling of elevating another person is enough reward in and of itself, but you’re likely to find that social karma could pay dividends later on when you could use some professional help as well,” she adds.
The give and take
To give schmoozing your best effort, Spector says it has to become a two-way street. He encourages professionals to look for ways to create value for others rather than selling, pitching, and repeating. In a time where networking dinners aren’t comfortable, it’s more about being a thought partner than ‘wowing them in other ways. “Be patient with people and understand where they are coming from. It is hard, even in the new norm, for people to get back to everybody as fast as you want them to,” he shares. By being understanding, you cultivate better relationships—that puts you in a better place each day.