People with a background in selling understand the job search process. They have lived it daily as they sold whatever product or service they represented for their previous employers. Networking uses those same principles.
Identify your target audience:
This means identifying which companies need your services. If you were selling something, you would develop a large pipeline of potential customers. You would do this by identifying what they are currently doing and using. You would identify them as having a problem your product or service could solve.
Create your value-add:
Once you have identified these targets, you would create a sales pitch for each individual company based on what they would gain by using your service. In many instances, you already know some of their problems or why your service would benefit them. In other instances, you will need to gather information about what the company is doing and how they are doing it. How might you gather that information? You could speak with people who are currently working there. You could read about them in publications and on their website. You could speak with people who used to work their or have some connection. Once you have this information, you would better understand which benefits are of the greatest value.
Who to pitch to:
You wouldn't dream of trying to sell your product or service to someone who doesn't control the budget. It would be a waste of your time. Instead, you would identify the Decision Maker for the department or company. They are the people who ultimately make the final decisions. Do they want to talk to you? Of course not. They are busy. And in many cases they don't believe they have a problem that needs solving or fixing. However, the great sales person, finds the magic words to get the meeting. It takes persistence. It takes confidence. Trying to push the concept from the bottom up is generally seen as a long and fruitless process. Sure, it has been done and can be done, but, the ultimate pitch has to be made to the decision maker.
As job seekers, we absolutely have to follow the same process. We need to keep the bigger picture in mind. It is great to meet new people and develop our network. It is equally important to remember our targets and goals…to present to the ultimate decision maker. Trying to push your message from the bottom up is difficult. Peers can be threatened by your experience/talent. How likely are they to become your cheerleader or advocate? Why would they do that for you? Sure, it can happen. Your return on these peer to peer conversations will seldom be as beneficial as a single conversation with a decision maker.
We don't know many decision makers. It is a difficult process to identify them. It is even more difficult to gain access to them. Begin by using LinkedIn to identify who's who in target companies.(Great article from Personal Branding on how to do this.) If that fails, you can read trade publications and local newspapers. If that fails, consult the local chamber of commerce.
One job seeker recently followed her targeted decision maker to a presentation he was giving. She attended and after his presentation, created the opportunity to connect with him and introduce herself. She demonstrated an interest in his company and began the process of developing a relationship/connection. As sales people know, this can be a long and arduous process. She, most likely, will face many rejections in trying to follow-up with this company owner. But, if, in her persistence, she demonstrates that she can solve a problem or be a solution, she will win the coveted meeting she is hoping for.
Connecting with decision makers is the brass ring job seekers must strive for. Anything less is like pushing a boulder up a huge mountain.