When you leave the military, the biggest question is "what's next?" It's a scary job market right now, but the skills you've received in the military make you highly marketable. The Legion sponsors dozens of veterans hiring fairs each year, and our employment experts also provide tips to writing resumes, networking and making a strong impression in the interview process.
When attending a trade show, conference or seminar, your sales presentation needs to be as specific as possible. Prepare a one-page capabilities statement per North American Industry Classification System heading (not per NAICS code). In other words, if you sell telephone and computer networking equipment, put them on two separate capabilities statements. Only pass along the one appropriate for the situation. Why? There may be different purchasing departments for each item. And when a contracting officer is looking for a telephone solution, he or she is going to be more inclined to seek out a company that looks like “telephone” is a primary focus of what they do. If “Telephone Sales and Services” are below “Networking Services,” you may never get a call.
Next, refine your elevator pitch. In most cases, you will have two minutes or less to capture the decision-maker’s attention. Always start with an impact statement (this is also called a ho-hum crasher), and after you have their attention, announce your name and the name of your company while handing him or her your card. This will help the person remember your name, and if he forgets, he’ll have the card for reference (unless you’re wearing a conference nametag).
Your elevator pitch should only seek to get your prospect to want to hear more. You will never close any sales with your elevator pitch on the floor of a conference. Do not lead with, “We are an service-disabled veteran-owned business.” As a matter of fact, don’t mention it until the end of the conversation. You don’t want to appear to be leveraging your socioeconomic status as a crutch; you want your company to be showcased based on its talents, and it will have much more of an effect if they ask you if you’re a service-disabled veteran-owned company.
Always try to ask fact-finding, open-ended questions – questions that start with “what,” “who,” “how,” “are” and “when.” Ask questions that require answers containing information, rather than yes or no. Informational answers foster continued conversation and offer critical intelligence you will need for your sales presentation. A “yes” or “no” answer ends the conversation.
When leaving the conversation, always ask for something. Never leave a conversation with a “we’ll-see-what-happens” statement: “OK, we’ll follow up later” or “I’ll look forward to hearing from you.” Try to turn those situations into definite appointments: “What day next week would be best to follow up with you?” or “If I don’t hear from you by then, do you mind if I follow up with you on a specific day?”
You might think that this approach sounds a bit pushy, but you need to remember that this person will interact with about a hundred business owners who are trying to get their foot in the door. They will appreciate your professionalism and decisiveness, and if they don’t, there’s a good chance that they weren’t really interested in the first place, and that’s good information to know up front.
As soon as you walk away (or right in front of the person, for that matter), make notes on the back of the rep’s business card to recall your memory about your conversation with him or her. You’re going to have 10, 20 or more similar conversations throughout the day; if you don’t take some type of notes, you’ll never be able to keep it all straight.
Finally, always follow up within 48 hours after the conference with a personalized e-mail. Get lazy here and you’re likely to blow all of the money and hard work you’ve invested in this outing.
Louis J. Celli Jr. is a retired Army master sergeant who has started and developed businesses, and has counseled hundreds of veteran entrepreneurs. He is CEO of the Northeast Veterans Business Resource Center. Readers can send questions for “On Point” to firstname.lastname@example.org.