Time for B2B networking to up its game

by Sonny Cutting

How gamification can dissolve the social anxiety of a networking event

Sonny Cutting, founder of B2B event specialist Net XP.

Business networking can be important to a successful sales and marketing programme, especially for B2B enterprises that work with relatively few high value clients. Yet the prospect of attending a networking event can conjure up feelings of apprehension, stress and even resentment. Event organisers need to change the game and inspiration could come from a psychology-based trend making waves across the business world.

Beyond its buzzword credentials, gamification has earned its place as a powerful business principle, transforming a range of sectors from fitness to military recruitment. Introducing game elements into a non-game setting works by triggering powerful human emotions such as intrigue, competitiveness and excitement. New ways of applying this simple but effective methodology are continually being found and business networking is just one of the many fields that could benefit.

Gamification in business

Gamification in businessAt its most basic, gamification uses game mechanics to reward participants for completing tasks – think fitness apps like Nike+ that act as the addictive grown-up equivalent of a toddler’s sticker chart. Such apps track users running statistics and measure individual progress towards goals. They also allow users to tap into social media, encouraging them to share their achievements. The net effect is to encourage more running (which ultimately boosts sales of Nike products), increase brand loyalty and cement the brand’s connection with fitness as a general concept.

Other examples tap into the human desire for exploration such as the coding learning tool Codecademy. This shows how gamification can work with challenging or dense content. Learning to code is a meticulous and process-driven exercise and one that particularly benefits from the motivating power of gamification. With badges, hot streaks and a dashboard taken straight out of video game aesthetics, Codecademy shows how gamification elements can make difficult tasks much more appealing. 

Why people dislike networking and how gamification can help

Similar to learning a complex skill like coding, networking is a perfect target for gamification, in that it is both valuable and beset by motivational challenges.

If you dislike the idea of a traditional networking event, with its formulaic structures, forced friendliness and salesy spiels check out these common reasons for disliking networking and how gamification can help people turn the cold impersonality of professional networking into the intrinsic human value of connecting.  

“Approaching new people makes me anxious”. The events industry has addressed the natural discomfort around approaching new people with a whole variety of ice-breakers, with the irony being some of these can be worse than a cold introduction. Ever had to stand up in front of a room as each person introduces themselves in 15 seconds? Or worse come up with a funny story or “unusual fact about yourself” on the spot? Gamification elements that are genuinely enjoyable, tapping into team spirit, competition or a spirit of adventure are a more effective, and pleasant alternative to dreadful corporate parlour games.

“Networking pros make me uncomfortable”. Ever felt the need to wash your hands, or shake yourself off after meeting too many over-eager business card bearers at a networking do? Meeting people who act like walking advertising boards can be one of the most unpleasant aspects of a bad networking event. The sensible advice from true networking experts is to stop networking and start connecting. Great advice, but it can be hard to follow in practice in a traditional trade show environment. Gamified events that are based around doing something, rather than simply meeting people, can help address this social awkwardness with a sense of purpose.“

"I’d rather be doing something else”. Networking may never be the most exciting event in a person’s social calendar, but as it’s such an important part of so many roles it’s worth seeking out those events that are changing the rules, creating experiences that are both enjoyable and effective. These events are far more likely to result in the kind of personal connections that underpin the best business relationships.

The Mid Sussex Expo, Net XP’s business networking event in Sussex is taking place on the 7th September 2017 at The King’s Centre, Burgess Hill, from 10.00-15.00. There is a golf theme and attendees will all be invited to participate in a game of crazy golf at the event.