Most of us know a senior manager who believes that networking breakfasts, luncheons, and receptions are only for actual sales people. They’re the only ones who get funded to participate in “outside events.” Everyone else is deemed “non-essential” or is expected to somehow achieve their goals based primarily on internal education.
If this sounds like your company, you’re not operating as efficiently as you could. Networking and participation in outside events are an essential part of everyone’s job, especially in the federal market. Not only do outside events help drive business, they can be pivotal for career advancement.
Consider a true story here: A smart, well-regarded middle manager badly wanted a promotion to the next level. There was no denying that the manager had the technical skills and support of the internal organization. He was also a smart guy. He hated networking events, though. Even when he did attend, he hung out at the corners talking only to people he already knew. Months later, someone else got the top job, even though the person was not as experienced or well-regarded inside the organization. She did, however, understand the importance of developing and maintaining key relationships with suppliers and customers.
The twist to this true story? It happened in a government agency. Even feds, it seems, understand the value of consistently developing a comprehensive network.
How about this one, also true? On a cold, sleeting winter evening, a man forces himself to attend a cocktail reception even though he really wanted to go home and have a family dinner. People important to his clients would be there and there was a chance that the right discussion could help their business. The turn-out was low, due to the weather. The man, though, was able to renew an old contact and have a longer discussion with him as not everyone came to the event. Weeks later, there was a last minute crisis around a client’s contract. The renewed business relationship enabled the man to make a call to his renewed contact and advert a problem before it became one.
There are literally dozens of events each week for government contractors in and around Washington, D.C., especially for those in the federal IT market. Industry and professional groups, media organizations, and others make it possible for you to have breakfast, lunch, and cocktails pretty much every day of the week. Some attract a good amount of federal officials, but even those with a heavier industry population can be great places to pick up information on the “who, what, when, where and why” of your market. Just one tip can make you seem like a genius to your manager or VP.
There are plenty of events for those outside of Washington, too. In every city where there is a major concentration of military or civilian agencies, there are also professional groups to support and promote your career. Many feds love these events as they’re smaller and held closer to home with people who are in the same physical communities as they are. All of these are factors that enable you to connect with your next customer or contractor partner.
No matter what our business card may say, we are all in marketing and sales at least some of the time. Too much introspective navel gazing hurts your firm’s growth as well as your own. If it’s been awhile since you’ve attended an outside event, now is the time to get going.
Businesses grow not just based on their 9-5 work, but on contacts and knowledge obtained before and after the official work day. The right investment of time can lead to advancement for your firm and yourself.